The red wines of Rioja, the sherries of Jerez and the crisp Cava of Catalonia are the best known Spanish wines yet it is the lesser known reds of Ribera del Duero that have made the greatest impact at international wine fairs.
What to look for in Spanish wines
Look for these quality designations on the Spanish wine label.
- Crianza: Crianzas spend between 6-12 months in oak casks.
- Reserva: Reservas are aged a minimum of 1 year in oak casks and 2 years in bottles or a combination of both with a minimum of one year in casks.
- Gran Reserva: These wines are only made in exceptional years, undergo extensive ageing, with a minimum 2 years in oak and 3 in the bottle. The periods of ageing vary according to the local regulatory body.
Wine Classification: ‘Denominaciónes de Origen’
Spain was the first country to have laws defining quality. The country’s wine regions are known as ‘denominaciónes’ in the way that French wines are classified by ‘appellation’. This is a system which is used to classify and regulate grape variety and region of origin. Here are some details of the designations of origin in Spain with the best wines at the top of the list:
- Denominación de Pago (DO de Pago): The wines of ‘de Pago’ are of the highest quality which are usually produced by individual estates.
- Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC): These are wine regions which have earned a reputation for consistent quality and this particular status has only been awarded to Rioja and Priorato.
- Denominación de Origen (DO): There are sixty six wine regions throughout Spain with this status producing mainstream quality wines.
- Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD):This is the title given to the newer wine producing areas currently finding their place on the quality ladder.
- Vino de la Tierra (VdlT) :There are a total of 58 (including official and unofficial) Vino de la Tierra regions in Spain where country wines taking the name of the region in which they are produced can be found.
- Vino de Mesa :Vino de Mesa or table wine as we refer to it is bulk grown and more often than not produced from a wide selection of regions. This means it does not have a vintage and the label on the bottle will not show its area of production – it will simply say ‘Produce of Spain’.
Spanish Wine Regions
Wine Regions of Spain
There are more than 50 with the best reds coming from Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Navarra in the north and the top whites coming from Rueda and Penedes in Catalonia.
Rioja Wine Region
The Rioja wine region consists of three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. From these vineyards in the north of Spain come some of the country’s top red wines.
Ribera del Duero Wine Region
Less well known in the supermarkets of the world, this flourishing area of northern Spain produces the country’s finest red wines.
Penedes Wine Region
Winemaking technology in the Penedès region is way ahead of the rest of Cataluña, and ahead of most of Spain, largely because of the wealth and technical expertise generated by the booming cava industry.
Cava – Spanish Sparkling Wine
Cava comes from the Penedes Region of northern Spain near Barcelona. It’s very similar to French Champagne but much better value.
Somontano Wine Region
The Somontano wine region of northern Spain lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the province of Huesca.
Sherry Wine Region
The relentless heat of the Jerez sherry region in Andalucia is well suited to vines where the clay albariza soil acts as a sponge which soaks up and stores the winter rainfall until the vines need it in summer.
Rias Baixas Wine Region
The Rias Baixas region of Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic north-west coast is famed for its excellent Albariño wines.
Spain Wine Festivals
Throughout the country there are Fiestas de la Vendimia which celebrate the grape harvest. September is the best month for these.
Buying Spanish Wine in the UK
It’s never been easier to buy Spanish wine in the UK than it is today. You’ll find a good selection of red wines at Tesco and other mainstream supermarket chains whilst online wine clubs such as Laithwaites and the Sunday Times Wine Club have a regularly changing selection of fine reds and whites from all over Spain.
Spain Wine Tours
Rioja Wine Tours
The Rioja region lies on the River Ebro Valley in the north of Spain. It is easily accessible from Bilbao and Madrid. Although one of Spain’s smallest wine growing regions, the red wines from La Rioja are amongst the country’s finest.
Ribera del Duero Wine Tours
The Ribera del Duero region of northern Spain has never received the acclaim of its neighbour in nearby Rioja yet it is here that Spain’s finest red wines come from. Tours are available from Bilbao and Madrid as well as full day excursions from the capital.
Barcelona Wine Tours
The Spanish wine region of Penedes to the south of Barcelona is well known as a producer of quality white wines as well as being the biggest producer of Cava – Spanish champagne. A whole range of day excursions from Barcelona are available to this wine lover’s paradise.
Galicia Wine Tours
Galicia lies on the Atlantic in the north-west of Spain. It is a green and remote land with constant reminders of its Celtic history. Santiago de Compostela is its most famous city. Spain’s finest seafood comes from the region and its white Ribeiro and Albariño wines are outstanding.