Spanish Wines: All you need to Know



With 1,200,000 hectares, Spain has more land under vine than any other country in the world. However, due to harsh climate, old vine age, and past regulatory constraints, Spain lags behind France and Italy in yields and volume of wine produced.

Spain houses many varietals. Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) are widely planted. Grenache, planted widely in Southern France, is actually Spanish in origin. Other varietals include Viura (Macabeo), Albarino, Verdejo, Airen, and Palomino and Pedro Ximenez.

Note there there are many local names for the same grape. For example, the massly planted Tempranillo is known as Ull de Llebre in Penedes, Tinto Fino or Tinta Del Pais in Rebera Del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, and Cencibel in Valdepenas!

Interactive Spanish Wine Map: Click on the text for a specific region.

Piedmont Tre Venezie Wine Region Piedmont Wine Region Tuscany Wine Region Sicily Wine Region Abruzzo Campania Wine Regions Spain Wine Map Rias Baixas Rioja and Navarra Ribera del Duero and Toro La Mancha and Valdepenas Penedes and Cava Jerez and Sherry Rias Baixas La Mancha Penedes Jerez Sherry

Appellation Classifications

Similar to France's, Spain classifies wine into tiered quality systems:

  • Vino de Mesa (Table Wine): Lowest, most basic table wine category. Wine made from blended grape varietals and regions. No vintage on label.
  • Vino de la Tierra (VT): Like France's Vin de Pays, the wine is associated to a classified region.
  • Denominacion de Origen (DO): Wine subjects to a minimum quality, under regional regulations on grape variety, yields per hectare, aging requirement, and vinification methods.
  • Denominacion de Origen - Pago (DO Pago): A category created in 2003 to identify outstanding single estates outside the DO system. ~15 estates qualify as of 2014.
  • Denominazion de Origen Calificada (DOCa): The most prestigious category. There are ~55 DOs in Spain but only two -- Rioja and Priorat -- are prestigiously classified as DOCa.

Useful Wine Label Knowledge

DO wine must go through a certain period of aging time. Look for the following terms on the wine label to assess the quality and complexity of the wine:

  • Vino Joven: A young wine that is bottled in the year after harvest. It may or may not have spent time in cask before bottling.
  • Crianza means nursury in Spanish. The red wine must be aged in oak barrel for 6 months and in bottle for 2 years before being sold to the public. Crianza white wines must be at least one year old.
  • Riserva red wine must be aged at least 3 years, of which 1+ year must be in oak cask. Riserva white must be aged at least 2 years, of which 6+ months must be in oak cask.
  • Gran Riserva wines are produced only in the best years, with approval from teh local viticultural authority. Red wines must be at least 5 years old before release, with 2+ years in oak cask. White must be aged for at least 4 years, with 6+ months in oak.


Rioja is the best known Spanish wine region. Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) are its two primary grapes that thrive in its limestone-rich soil and moderate climate environment.

Tempranillo means early ripening. It is Spain's most widely planted variety and the country's premium grape. Strawberry-scented and low in acidity, it blends well with other varieties.

Garnacha is the same grape as Grenache grown in Southern France. It produces wine high in alcohol, fruity, and friendly.

Over 60% of the wine produced in Rioja are "Rioja Joven" and meant to be drunk young. La Rioja Alta is a better known producer who focuses on Rioja Reserves and Gran Reservas.

Reliable Producers: Despite one of the two regions qualified to receive DOCa status, the quality of wine is still quite inconsistency. Reliable producers include: Marques de Riscal, Bodegas Muga, La Rioja Alta, Marques de Caceres, Marques de Murrieta, Contino, Finca Allende, and Palacios Remondo.

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Lies on the east of Rioja, downstream River Ebro, Navarra was once known for its rose wines. In recent years, it is well-known for its aromatic black berry fruit red made from Tempranillo blended with Cabernet and/or Merlot.

The law does not allow Rioja DOCa to include Cabernet or other internatinal grapes in its blend. The DOs, Navarra and Somontano, can and have been making wines are international palate friendly in recent years.

Ribera del Duero

High altitude, limestone rich soil, continental climate -- all give the Ribera del Duero reds a more powerful wine with good fruit concentration and astringent tannins.

Reliable Producers: Ribera del Duero is the home of Vega Sicilia, Spain's most prestigious producer. While Unico, released after 10-15+ years of aging, commands a high price, the estate also owns and produces two affordable, high quality wines -- Alion in Ribera del Duero and Pintia in Toro. Compared to Ribera del Duero and Rioja, Toro's wines are higher in alcohol (often reaching 14.5%) due to its hot summers. It is fuller-bodied and more mouth-coating, but as a result, does not offer the same aging potential.

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Rias Baixas

Albarino thrives along the damp, cool Atlantic coast on the north-western part of Spain.

Albarino is the same thick-skinned Alvarinho grape that makes Vinho Verde in Portugal. It is distinctly high in acidity, light bodied, with peachy, almond, citrus-peels aromas and at times, hint of carbon dioxide (frizz).

Reliable Producers: Adega Valdes Gundian, Bodegas Zarate El Palomar, Pazo de Galegos, Fillaboa (Seleccion Finca Monte Alto).


Once known for still wines, Penedes DO allow various varietals including international grapes in its planting and blends. Traditionally known for still wines, now Penedes is highly associated with its sparkling cava.

Cava is a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (like Champagne) with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle. Also like Champagne, it is made from a blend of grapes. Unlike Champagnes, all 3 grapes are local and whites: Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo.

Quality Producers of Cava include Freixenet and Codorniu.

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La Mancha & Valdepenas

La Mancha is actually Europe's largest single demarcated wine region, lying in the heart of Spain. The Moors called it "Manxa" or parched earth. As rainfall is unreliable, the drougt-resistant Airen grape thrives as it most widely planted white varietal.

Tempranciallo, locally known as Cencibel, is the dominant red grape. La Mancha regulations allow the planting and blending of many international grapes. In recent decade, technology and investment have revived La Mancha, giving it a variety of new exciting wines that are very reasonably priced.

Valdepenas is worth a mention. Lying in the south of La Mancha, its name means Valley of the Stones. Sharing a similar arid climate as La Mancha, Valdepenas however has enjoyed a better reputation due to its soft, supple reds. Traditionally they were made from Tempanrillo grapes and aged in olad American oak barrels. In recent years, many producers add international grapes to the blend.


Jerez is both the name of the town in Spain, as well as the name of the increasingly trendy fortified wine made from white grapes.

Sherry has long been misperceived as sweet and for aperitif only. Thanks to such misunderstanding, there are still complex and amazing old sherry in the market at very reasonable price. Visit our Sherry Guide: 12 Commonly Asked Questions.


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