Did you know that Spain has 68 Denominacíon de Origen (DO, or “Designation of Origin”) wine regions?
As I started to plan this article, I realized that no one, not even me, would read a laundry list of 68 wine regions’ highlights. Narrowing my focus seemed like a brilliant idea. To accomplish this, I used a highly unscientific, but enjoyable, method — I visited several local wine shops and checked out their Spanish wine offerings.
I was agreeably surprised to discover that my favorite wine shops carried a good selection of wines from Spain. Offerings ranged from low-cost, summery white wines to high-end reds from famous Rioja wineries.
Let’s travel around Spain a bit and find out more about this beautiful country’s wine regions.
Calatayud’s wine-growing tradition dates back 2,000 years. Both traditional native and imported grape varieties are planted in Calatayud, with macabeo, garnacha and tempranillo leading the way.
This DO is unusual because it encompasses an entire Spanish region, covering the provinces of Lleida, Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona. Wineries within these four provinces can choose to bottle their wines under the Catalunya DO instead of under another (local) DO’s regulations. Catalunya wines are often blends of popular traditional or imported grape varieties.
One of Spain’s most famous wine regions and its first DO, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry is where the popular fortified wines are produced.
Jumilla’s wines, known since Roman times, have undergone dramatic changes. Many growers had to replant their vineyards after phylloxera devastated the region in 1989. Monastrell, a red wine grape, is the most commonly planted grape variety. While red wines predominate, Jumilla’s wineries also produce whites, mainly from Airen grapes, and rosés.
La Mancha’s association with Cervantes’ famous novel is reflected on many wine labels from this DO region. However, La Mancha is interesting for reasons other than Don Quixote. Not only Spain’s largest DO region, La Mancha is also the world’s largest wine region. Most white wines from La Mancha are made from Airén grapes. Red wine production, mainly from cencibel (tempranillo) grapes, is soaring.
Northern Spain’s Navarra, the former kingdom of Navarre, has long been known for its rosé wines. Today, however, red wines are at the forefront, usually made from garnacha, tempranillo or a blend of these two grapes with a third variety. Most of Navarra’s rosés are made from garnacha grapes. Whites – mainly chardonnays – and dessert wines are also produced in Navarra.
Penedès has a cutting-edge reputation in Spain. Whether it’s organic winemaking or the latest in equipment and technology, you’ll probably find it first in Penedès. The region’s wide range of altitudes (sea level to 2,600 feet) and Mediterranean climate combine to create dozens of microclimates. This, in turn, has meant that many, many varieties of grapes are planted in Penedès. Cava (sparkling white wine) is made here, and the chardonnays of Penedès receive high ratings. Tempranillo, garnacha, cabernet sauvignon and several other red grape varieties are also grown here, with good results.
Tiny Priorat, Spain’s second DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada, or “Qualified Designation of Origin”) is making a name for itself through effective use of modern technology, traditional and imported grape varieties and innovative winemaking. Blessed with volcanic soil and a fairly extreme climate, Priorat has a truly unique terroir. Best known for its carineña and garnacha reds, Priorat also produces whites, rosés and traditional dessert wines.
Best known for its high-quality albariño white wines, Rías Baixas also produces blended whites, still mostly albariño, carefully combined with treixadura, loureira or other white varieties. Nearly all of the wines produced in Rías Baixas are white.
Ribera del Duera
Ribera del Duera produces only reds and rosés under its DO laws. Tempranillo is the predominant grape variety, although garnacha and several imported varieties are also grown. Ribera del Duero’s red wines age well in the bottle.
Ribera del Guadiana
Located in western Spain, Ribera del Guadiana has six sub-regions. Some, like Cañamero, specialize in white wines, while others focus on garnacha- and tempranillo-based reds. Ribera del Guadiana’s DO laws encompass some 29 grape varieties.
Spain’s first DOCa and its flagship wine region, Rioja is famous for its high-quality red wines. Rioja’s white wines are less well known outside of Spain, but they are also well-regarded. Whether you’re looking for a young red or a wine that can age well, look to Rioja for Spain’s top-notch selections. The skillful cultivation of tempranillo and other grape varieties, combined with an exceptional terroir and an emphasis on innovation, come together in Rioja. The result is a spectrum of high-quality wines, comparable to the best offerings of other countries.
Since the 11th century, Rueda has produced white wine from the verdejo grape. This northwestern wine region is also known for its sparking wines and sauvignon blancs. In 2001, Rueda’s DO laws were changed to allow production of red wine.
Tarragona’s fortified red wines were exported to drinkers in ancient Rome. While sweet fortified wines, such as Clasico Licoroso, are still produced, Tarragona’s vineyards are now planted primarily with white wine grapes.
Reviewers use words like “powerhouse” and “blockbuster” to describe Toro reds. Malvasía whites and tinta de Toro and garnacha rosés are produced in the Toro region, but it’s the tinta de Toro reds, which age well and reflect the region’s continental climate, that have put Toro firmly on the Spanish wine map.
Even though the eponymous provincial capital lies on the Mediterranean coast, most of Valencia’s vineyards are located inland and are subjected to more extreme temperatures. Whites, generally made from merseguera or muscatel grapes, rosés and reds are produced here. In recent years, production of red wines from garnacha and monastrell grapes has increased. Valencia’s red wines aren’t aged as long as other Spanish reds; this reflects the effect of Valencia’s climate on the grapes.
Yecla, located north of its provincial capital, Murcia, used to produce only fortified wines. Yecla’s wineries now feature many different wine types, with monastrell reds being the most popular.
Whether you’re looking for a summery, herbal white, a fruity rosé or a truly noble red, you can find a Spanish wine to suit your taste. I hope this brief overview of some of Spain’s wine regions will encourage you to try some of Spain’s diverse, drinkable wines.