Spanish Wine: Regions, Reds vs Whites, & Wine Tastings
It’s always a fine day for Vino, whether you’re sipping it responsibly as a regular part of your self-care routine or pairing it with delicious treats after dinner. Spanish wines are somewhat integral in Spanish culture, a tour around Madrid will show you just that.
We’re all accustomed to the fruity pitchers of sangria that are a Friday night delight or a pivotal way to quench the thirst when you’re entertaining large groups of people. However, wine in Spain has a much larger variety and can offer so much more to the budding oenophile (a connoisseur of wines).
Spanish wine classification varies from that of regular Italian or French wine. It can get a little bit confusing for the first-time Spanish wine drinker. Alas, knowledge is meant to be shared. So, we’ve jotted down everything a beginner needs to know – whether you’re a wine enthusiast or simply wanting to impress your friends with a bit of expertise.
Spanish Wine Regions
Spain is known as the third-largest wine producer in the world, with about 2.4 million acres of vineyards. The country produces an average of around 33.5 million hectolitres of wine a year.
The production of Spanish wine is coupled with a somewhat strict (and puzzling) order of classification. There are about 138 different wine-producing regions throughout the country.
In order to classify within a specific standard, each wine-maker has to follow specific guidelines set out by their DO (Denominación de Origen), which is then managed by the regulation police – better known as the Consejo Regulador.
There are seven main wine regions which are then broken up into smaller bits and pieces.
- Northwest Spain: Rias Baixas, Ribeira sacra, Bierzo, Txakolina.
- Ebro and Duero River Valley: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Rueda, Carinena.
- Northwestern Mediterranean coast: Cava, Priorat, Montsant.
- Southern Mediterranean: Utiel – Requena, Yecla, Jumilla, Bullas.
- Central Plateau: Mentrida, Ucles, Vinos de Madrid.
- Andalucía: Jerez, Sierras de Málaga, Montilla- Moriles.
- The Islands: Illes Canarias, Iles Baleares.
Why is the Region so Important?
The growth region plays a role in the wine classification system. Six different classification tiers dictate farming practices and techniques, along with the grapes that are allowed to be used within each region. Their specific classification links to their standard of quality.
On the other hand, the regions rely heavily on consistent farming practices. If a vineyard can cultivate grapes with high yield and good caliber – they will most likely continue using that Spanish grape varietal. It helps the farmer fight off disease or pests and combats any produce loss due to inclement weather.
This suggests to the avid wine-drinker what flavors they might expect when trying a new bottle. Since the wine can only incorporate certain grapes and those grapes can only tantalize certain taste buds.
Spanish Wine Classifications
This is different from regular wine classification by grape. Usually, if you’re buying a cabernet sauvignon, you can trust that those grapes will be among the bouquet of flavors you shall be drinking.
If you’re looking for your favorite pinotage, merlot, or shiraz, you’re looking for the name of the grape or cultivar to find the type of wine.
Although, in Spain, each tier allocates a different classification and there are certain standards that each region has to obey to fall under this level of classification. Let’s learn some Spanish while addressing the basic classification statuses.
- Vino de Mesa, (Table wine) – The lowest status given to wine-makers who source their grapes from other regions of Spain, or around the world. Doesn’t necessarily mean “bad wine” but there is little to no regulation within this classification.
- Vino de la Tierra, (Country wine) – VdT makes up about 46 regions throughout Spain. Slightly better than Spanish table wine, yet still has little regulation.
- Vino de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica, (Quality wine with Geographic Indication) – This is a transitional status as many VdT’s attempts to move on to their DO status.
- Denominación de Origen, (Domination of Origin) – The basic standard of “good” wine. The DO could also be considered as a type of brand. One that is highly regulated and has strict rules for farming techniques employed in the grape production stage through to the bottling and aging phases of wine production. If a winery would like to join a specific DO, they have to fall within that region. They will also have to follow strict protocols as laid out by the Consejo regulador (Regulatory Council).
- Denominación de Origen Calificada, (Qualified denomination of origin) – Once a wine-maker has fulfilled DO standards for a solid 10 years without falter, they may be allowed into this very exclusive tier. Currently, only two regions hold the title, namely La Rioja (since 1991), and Priorat (since 2009).
- Vino de Pago, (Estate wines) – This category was included once Spain joined the EU, in order to align standards across Europe. It specifically applies to estates and vineyards. It does not have to apply to regions.
The region, along with the classification, is what you should be looking for when purchasing a bottle of wine. Higher tiers mean a better quality which in short might mean a slight price increase.
Although, that doesn’t mean a lower quality wine will always be terrible. Taste is subjective. Regardless of what your local sommelier tells you, you’re allowed to like what you like.
Spanish Wine Types: Red, White, or Sparkling?
Lo and behold, Spain does not only nurture red wine! We say nurture because their winemaking philosophy revolves around nourishment over mass production. It seems that the Spaniards have a oneness with the process, that comes from a long-standing tradition built parallel with quality.
Spanish Wines and Ageing
You might see one of these labels on your bottle as well. It relates to the age of the wine in both barrel and bottle. There are varying age gradings according to the status classification. It seems the Spanish wine industry loves labels. But this essentially helps you to understand how fruity or flavorful your wine will be.
Younger bottles will have primary or secondary notes and they might be moderately more pungent than a more mature bottle. Alcohol and the acidity of the grapes are in constant motion within the barrels and bottles. The flavor is always changing. Most people tend to agree that the more mature wines are more refined.
Terms to look out for from youngest to oldest:
- Vino Noble, Vino Añejo, and Vino Vieja (usually lower classed wines)
- Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva, (usually from DO onwards)
Quick and Easy Spanish Wine List
La Rioja has been the most popular of wines from Spain. Mostly because of its longevity but also because of its quality. Although many others rival this flavorful red.
Priorat, another Spanish red wine, which has been called evocative several times.
Verdejo, a beautifully light-bodied white wine.
Cava, sparkling wine which is the Spanish counterpart to French Champagne.
These are among the best Spanish wines out there. It’s not a comprehensive Spanish wine list, but it’s enough to get you started.
Quick Tip: How to Order Popular Spanish Wines
Use these handy Spanish words for wine whenever you’re at a restaurant.
- Rosado – Rosé
- Tinto – Red
- Blanco – White
- Cava – Sparkling wine (Spanish Champagne)
- Jerez (he-res) – Sherry
- Vermouth – Vermouth
They’ll most likely bring you whatever they’ve got on hand (or on tap if you’re ordering vermouth). It’s only polite to check with your waiter which local wines they have in-house. You wouldn’t go to your grandmother’s and eat her neighbor’s cooking, would you?
Spanish Wine Tasting
Whether you’re asking for the spittoon or not, wine tasting is fun for almost everyone. Spain has something for all tastes, from wine tours through Barcelona to Seville’s tapas and wine pairings. Wine Tours are an absolute must while in Spain.
But, What is Spanish Wine Without Spanish Tapas?
Tapas are usually served throughout the night in bars and restaurants around Spain. Instead of a big bulky plate of food, you’re offered one or two plates of munchable snacks, at a time. The rule of thumb with any wine-tasting is to always start with light-bodied wines and lighter food before cruising your way up to heavier tastes and flavors.
Vermouth is a great way to start your tasting. If you’re a lover of pickled things, this aperitif will leave you feeling warm and ready for the wine-derful adventure that awaits. Some people suggest certain pairings as a standard. Like sherry with salmon, followed by Txakoli with seafood or Rosada with tostas and cured meat.
There are about a hundred different ways to pair good food with great Spanish wine. The key is to make sure that you’re keeping in mind their location. Remember, that Spain is super-charged with tradition and long-term values. Good food and wine are a staple and so the location of your wine can help determine which tapas you should get.
A Final Word on Spanish Wine
That’s quite a bit of information for wine, isn’t it? Well, it’s only the beginning. When you’re in Spain or enjoying your tours through all the major cities (including a wine tasting in Madrid, of course, you’ll have some basic information to help you pick out the perfect wine or figure out the best tapas.
Ultimately, there are years of tradition and hard work that have gone into your next glass of Spanish wine. As much as we appreciate the beverage, we can’t help but appreciate the heritage too.