Discovering the exciting world of Spanish wines has been such a wild ride: an industry booming with quality, diversity and value. The third largest country in production, Spain ranks first in land under vine. Diversity and innovation are the key factors bringing Spain back into the world wine market. From robust reds or crisp whites, refreshing rosés, sparkling cavas or luxe sherries – you’ll find plenty to choose from along with food parings, and tasting notes. Also, fun fact: most Spanish wines are aged at the winery so they’re ready to drink once released! The country has an abundance of native grape varieties, with over 400 varieties planted throughout Spain though 80 percent of the country’s wine production is from only 20 grapes. The most popular red varieties of Spain include Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache). Whites don’t garner quite as much recognition, but there are some regional varieties not to be missed, like Albarino and Verdejo. Cava and Penedes, made with Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo, are famous for its sparkling wines. The popular red wine regions of Spain include Rioja, known for its outstanding wines of the Tempranillo grape; Ribera del Duero, producing high quality reds from Tempranillo and Garnacha; Galicia, with the sub-region of Rias Baixas, home to the deliciously crisp and floral Albarino grape; and Priorat, a region increasing in popularity with its high-quality cult reds. Other regions of note are Rueda, growing the Verdejo grape, La Mancha, a wide desert region, covered in the most planted white variety in the world, Airen, and Jumilla, making wines based on Monastrell (Mourvedre). Last but not least, let us not forget Andalucia with its complex Sherry, made with Palomino grapes, in certainly increasing in popularity (for good reason!).
Spain’s wine laws are based on the Denominacion de Origen (DO) classification system, devised in the 1930′s. A four tiered system, the most basic level is Vino de Mesa (table wine) followed by Vino de la Tierra (country wine), DO and at the top DOC. Currently, only Rioja and Priorat have DOC status, while over 65 DO’s scatter the country.
Most DO regions are classified and regulated by how long they age the wines. On a red wine label, one may find the terms Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva, denoting the wine’s barrel and bottle time. Crianza is usually two years between barrel and bottle (the time in each depends on the DO and/or the winemaker), Reserva up to 4 years and Gran Reserva 5 – 6 years. Classifications of each region and wine are controlled by the region’s Consejo Regulador.
I know what you are thinking: PHEW! There are a lot of different regions in Spain, and it is a lot of info to absorb in such a short space of time. Just know that there is no rush, get out there and try as many as you can cope with before falling over!