When most people think spain, wine, then Rioja would probably be the most popular. However, if you simply enjoy the odd quaf or are a dedicated lover of fine wines Spain will surely have one to suit your taste.
This wine guide will hopefully enlighten you to the excellent fine vinos on offer in Spain and includes wines by region, grape varieties, classification system and some of my personal favorites I have discovered along my travels.
Spain has a long history of producing fine wines, 50 percent of all the EECs vineyards are located here and it offers an excellent and memorable selection of Reds, White and Rose wines, which thankfully, are mostly inexpensive for the quality on offer. There are also many well known international companies producing fine wines
to suit all tastes and pockets.
Rioja ( from the yards around Logroño ) is rightly Spain's best known wine and available in most shops and restaurants , Cune, Berberana, Marques de Caceres and La Rioja Alta are also brands well worth a try. Another top-drawer and currently fashionable region is Ribera del Duero in Castilla-Leon which makes the countries most expensive wine, Vega Sicilia, other outstanding reds to look out for are Pesquera, Viña Pedrosa and Senorio de Nava.
There are also scores of other regional wines - some of the best are Navarra (Chivite, Palacio de la Vega) and Catalunya (Bach, Raimat, Caus Lubis and Alvaro Palacios), a region which also produces the champagne-like cava (Codorniu, Marques de Monistrol); Galicia too, in the temperate northwest is producing some notable white wines (Ribeiro, Fefiñanes and Albariño are prominent producers).
You will find many establishments in Spain offer excellent quality menus for around 6 to 10 Euros, some of which ( mostly those catering for the local clientele ) will even include a bottle of wine for two persons. For the most part the wine included is adequate in quality , most establishments serve Valdepeñas which is a reasonable mass produced wine from the central plains of El Castile, of course if you pay the lowest rates for a decent menu which includes wine you will be given the cheaper kinds which will probably taste better when mixed with a litte lemonade ( Casera ).
Most Restaurants though will offer a thoughtfull and varied Carta de Vino ( Wine List ) at very reasonable prices ,
it is not unusual to see good quality house wines for around 8 Euros. As you would imagine though the better wines are only normally
found at the higher class establishments.
Spain has a similar classification system to France with all classified wine regions regulated under the Denominación de Origen (DO) system.
Denominación de Origen is an appellation primarily used for Spanish wines It is parallel with the hierarchical AOC system of France, Italy . As of 2006, 72 wine regions have EU QWPSR (Quality Wine Produced in Specific Regions) status:
Denominación de Pago (DO de Pago): Individual single-estates with an international reputation.
Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ - Denominació d'Origen Qualificada in Catalan): Regions with (allegedly) a track record of consistent quality.
Denominación de Origen (Denominació d'Origen in Catalan - DO): mainstream quality-wine regions. There are 62 wine regions with this status.
Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD): a 'starter home' for wine regions climbing the quality ladder. There are 5 wine regions with this status.
Vinos de la Tierra -( VdlT) which do not have EU QWPSR status but which may use a regional name.
Vino de Mesa ( table Wine ) This wine has no vintage or area designation on the label (apart from 'Produce of Spain') is falling in quantity of production every year.
The 72 recognized wine producing regions in Spain grow a wide diversity of grapes, mostly of native origin. The great variety of wines with unfamiliar names causes confusion among many consumers.
Today Spain has more then 146 acknowledged varieties, making Spain one of the most varied wine cultures in the world. The Garnacha grape is the most common red grape in Spain. Among white grapes the most popular is Airén, which is also the most commonly grown grape in the world and has to be said produces some of the worst wine too, Spain has over 700,000 hectares of vines.
These are the most commonly used Grape Varieties
Tempranillo: Red Also known as Ull de Llebre, Cencibel, Tinto Fino. Red.
Harvested during late September. It has been planted throughout Spain and in the Rioja region. Temparnillo prefers a soil that is rich in calcium and limestone. It is thick-skinned and produces wines of deep-color, but not necessarily high in alcohol. The Tempranillo is lower in acidity wines made solely from this variety will hold back their color but not loose fruit over time. Generally, Tempranillo is blended with small amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and/or Graciano to compensate for lack of acidity and longevity.
Garnacha: Red. Also known as Garnacha Tito or Tina, This variety grows well in arid conditions; making it a very successful grape throughout the many areas of Spain. d in.) Mostly used for blending purposes, Its must is low in malic acid, which can cause easy oxidation although the wines it produces are high in alcohol , 12- to 16 percent is not unusual. The wines from Garnacha tend to have a more fruity, sweet flavor, which makes them perfect for Rosés. Red wines produced solely from this grape are not usually produced; although there is a very small handful of bodegas that have vinified 100% Garnacha wines very successfully.
Mazuelo: Red. Also known as Mazuelo Tinto, Cariñena. Originally from Aragon in Spain, this variety is one of the most widely planted in the world. However, it is not extensively planted in Spain due of its easy tendency to powdery-mildew which is a fungus that spreads rapidly. For this reason, the world knows it by Carignan and not by its Spanish name. Mazuelo buds late in the Spring and is susceptible to frost. It produces high yields, is thick-skinned, rich in color and high in tannins and acidity.
Viura: White. Also known as Macabeo, Macabeo Alcanol. Generally the wines made from this grape today are lighter in style, drier, relatively higher in acid, not easly oxidized, and are aromatic. In the Penedés region of Spain (located in the area around Barcelona), Viura/Macabeo is a predominant grape used in the production of cava. There are over 125,000 acres (50,000 hectares) planted in Northern Spain alone.
Malvasia: White. Also known as Blanca-Roja (Malvasia Fina in Italy and Portugal) takes a back seat to Viura in Spain and trebbiano in Italy. Believed to have originated in Asia Minor because its name has Greek origins, the true Malvasia is found mostly in Mediterranean countries. The grape is prone to oxidation and rot, but produces a more full-bodied, highly extracted, perfumed wine that is worth aging. It is for this reason that Italy uses it most-notably in its dessert wines. Spain traditionally uses Malvasia for dry, oak-aged wines that are very concentrated.
Xarello: White. Also known as Pansa Blanca. Used only in Catalonia, where it originated in the production of Cava ( Spanish Champagne ). It is planted in the lower levels of soils and produces an acidic wine perfect for sparkling wines. This grape is also the pre-eminent grape used in the small but highly regarded D.O. of Alella where the Parxet winery makes their acclaimed Marques de Alella Clasico from the Xarello grape.
Parellada: White. Also known as Montonec. A native to Catalonia, it grows best in the cooler areas of Penedés. It has a fruity quality and high acidity, which makes it pleasant and, therefore an integral part of Cava.
Airen is planted throughout central Spain and is drought resistant, occupying about twice as much land as any other variety. Airen traditionally produced base wines for Spain's Brandy industry and oxidized, alcoholic white wines for local consumption. As I said before some of which can only be described as witches brews . However, recently, with careful handling and improved vinification, it has been used to create simple, refreshing, dry wines. The vines are the principal grape variety of La Mancha and Valdepenas.
Bobal is a Spanish dark-skinned variety which produces deep colored red wines and even grape concentrate in Alicante, Utiel-Requena and other regions for bulk wine production in South East Spain. It is often grown with Monastrell. Bodal Blanco, also know as Tortosi, is still grown to a limited extent in Valencia.
Monastrell performs Garnacha's role in the Levante where it covers around 100,000 hectars. The variety yields dark, alcoholic reds and occasionally dry rose
Palomino is a white grape variety which is most closely associated with the making of sherry around Jerez. It is almost certainly of Andalucian origin and is planted now in Jerez, Rueda and parts of Galicia. In France, the variety may also be known as Listan or Listan de Jerez.
Pedro Ximenex: Also known as Pedro Jimenez or just Pedro, the white Pedro Ximenex is traditionally associated with Andalucia, Valencia and Extremadura. Because it is capable of producing very ripe grapes, it is particularly popular with Malaga producers, some of whom depend on grapes from the Montilla-Moriles region. Apart from its use in sherry production, it is also used to produce neutral-flavored dry table wines - although some rich, raisiny, sweet fortified wine, called "PX" is bottled.
Macabeo, which is also called Viura, is northern Spain's most planted white grape variety . The wine produced tends to have a floral characters and relatively low acidity; it also withstands oxidization well. This is one of the reasons why it has been enthusiastically used by the growers of Rioja, where it has all but displaced Malvasia.
Summary of the best Wines on offer in Spain.