There are more than 5,500 wineries in Spain occupying around 1.2 million hectares of land. The country is the world’s 3rd largest producer after France and Italy. There’s a great variety of wines produced in the wine regions of Spain (Denominaciones de Origen) ranging from the quality reds of Ribera del Duero to the fine whites of Galicia, the sherry wines of Jerez and the sparkling Cava wines from Catalonia.
Never having been a wine drinker when I first arrived in Mallorca I found myself drinking mainly local white Mallorquin wines at meals. Red wines never seemed to appeal considering the lovely warm climate and I don’t recall sampling the fine reds produced in Binissalem in those days.
Moving to Madrid after a few years this was all to change as I discovered heavy red wines and have never looked back. Not surprisingly it was Rioja wine that first caught my attention, the strong oaky flavour proving particularly appealing. When buying Riojas it’s easy to recognise supposed differences in quality according to whether they were labelled Rioja, Rioja Crianza, Rioja Reserva or Rioja Gran Reserva.
Classification of Rioja Wines: ‘Rioja’ simply means the wine has spent less than a year in an oak barrel whilst ‘Vino de Crianza’ is wine in its third year, matured for at least one year in the oak cask. ‘Reserva’ is aged for at least three years with at least one in an oak cask. ‘Gran Reserva’ is a vintage wine which has aged at least two years in an oak cask and three years in the bottle.
My favourite based on value for money is certainly the ‘Crianza’ wines. Personally I can’t justify the additional cost of buying ‘Reservas’ and ‘Grand Reservas’ as I can’t appreciate any noticeable jump in quality.
Personally, I’m a big fan of wines from the Navarra region which lies just east of La Rioja. Some of their Tempranillo-based reds are very similar to Rioja wines but at a much lower price. Palacio de La Vega and Ochoa are a couple of names worth looking out for when shopping for Navarra wines. Another nearby wine region to look out for is Somontano which lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Another solid wine which I enjoy comes from this region in Castile-La Mancha on the road south from Madrid heading for Andalucía. It produces some very good Reserva and Gran Reserva wines using 100% Tempranillo grapes and is always extremely good value compared with the wines of the more illustrious regions.
Ribera del Duero Wines
A surprisingly little known region outside Spain is Ribera del Duero which is centred on the town of Aranda del Duero on the road from Madrid to Burgos. This region produces some of Spain’s finest red wines using 100% Tempranillo grapes with many considered tobe of superior quality to those produced with the same grape in La Rioja. Two of their most famous wines are Pesquera and Vega Sicilia.
Catalonia is home to the Penedes wine region just south-west of Barcelona. Whilst I’m partial to the red Sangre de Toro as an everyday wine it’s the whites which are particularly rated for their quality, notably the Viña Sol and Viña Esmeralda from the Torres winery. This region is probably more famous as a producer of Cava, Spanish champagne, at a fraction of the cost of its French counterpart. Another quality Catalan wine to look out for comes from Priorat in the province of Tarragona to the south-west of Penedès.
Rías Baixas Wines
On the opposite side of the peninsular from Catalonia is Galicia where you’ll find a wine region called Rías Baixas, home of the Albariño grape. This grape is difficult to cultivate and yields are low yet it produces what for me is the finest white wine I’ve ever tasted. Albariño wines are known as the ‘wines of the sea’ given that their production is so close to the Atlantic ocean and how they complement the delicious seafood of the region so perfectly. If I lived in Galicia I’m sure I’d be a white wine drinker. The whites from the nearby Ribeiro wine region are also outstanding.
VT Cádiz Wines
Another white I’d recommend comes from deepest Andalucia and is one of Spain’s best selling wines. It is labelled Barbadillo (Castillo de San Diego) and falls under the denominación de origen of VT Cádiz. The wine is produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda which is one point of Spain’s ‘sherry triangle’ consisting of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar.
Jerez de la Frontera Wines
Sherry is produced within this ‘sherry triangle’ as part of the Jerez-Xérès-Wine Region. It comes in a variety of styles from very dry – ‘Fino’ and ‘Manzanilla’, through to the medium styles of ‘Amontillado’ and dry ‘Oloroso’ to the ultra rich sweet cream Sherries. This triangle represents the biggest sherry producing area in the world where you can combine a tour of one of the sherry bodegas with a visit to the Royal School of Equestrian Art.
Spanish Wine Festivals
Throughout the country there are Fiestas de la Vendimia which celebrate the grape harvest. September is the best month for these.