Spanish Red Wine Guide

Spanish wine, unfortunately, does not always get the attention it deserves. Red wines especially are very unique in Spain with many different styles and flavor profiles to suit everyone’s taste.

Spain’s wine regions are put into three sections: Green Spain, Northern Spain, and Southern Spain.

Green Spain is the Northern-most part of Spain, but it is not considered to be in the same category as Northern Spain because of the climate.

Green Spain has a cool climate and produces wines that are acidic, tart, and full of mineral flavors; especially in their white wines.

Northern Spain has a warm climate and produces wines that are medium to high acidity, fruit-forward, and have minerality.

Southern Spain has a hot climate and produces medium acidity wines that have sweeter fruit flavors.

Only red grape varietals will be listed; to keep on topic.

Here is a list of Spanish wine regions that go in order from largest to smallest.

Castilla-La Mancha

Area: Southern Spain

Varietals: Bobal, Monastrell, Tempranillo

Known for: International recognition and high level of wine production allows them to lead Spain in exporting their wines. Located in Central Spain and near Madrid, you will also find a lot of old vines and wines made for vines that have been growing grapes for a hundred plus years.

Valencia

Area: Southern Spain

Varietals: Monastrell and Bobal

Known for: While Monastrell and Bobal may not be the most recognized grape varieties, Valencia is the second-largest wine region in Spain and production of these grapes is high.

Extremadura

Area: Southern Spain

Varietals: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah

Known for: Tempranillo grape production

Rioja and Navarra

Area: Northern Spain

Varietals: Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Rioja (red blend)

Known for: Their red wine blends called Rioja. Rioja is is a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha, Mazuelo, and other native grape varieties. This allows winemakers to get creative and make unique wines.

Castilla y Leon

Area: Northern Spain

Varietals: Tempranillo and Mencia

Known for: Tinto de toro or Tinto Fino (local names for Tempranillo) is the most popularly grown grape in the region. Much of the wine for local consumption is produced here. Rueda is one of the most recognized regions from these areas.

Catalonia

Area: Northern Spain

Varietals: Garnacha and Carinena

Known for: The Priorat sub-region, with rich bold red wines that have gained loads of positive international attention in the past 10 years or so. Penedes, also belonging in Catalonia, is also one of the most recognized wine regions. Catalonia is also home to most of the Cava production, the Spanish sparkling wine. This attracts a lot of tourists because of the proximity to the Mediterranean coastline.

Aragon

Area: Northern Spain

Varietals: Garnacha and Tempranillo

Known for: Less known for wine and more known for the Medieval Kingdom of Aragon, these wineries and vineyards have great history, views, and architecture.

Andalucia

Area: Southern Spain

Varietals: Sherry

Known for: Sherry production and the region of Jerez. Most of Spain’s Sherry production takes place in this region.

Galicia

Area: Green Spain

Varietals: Mencia

Known for: Rias Baixas is on of the most popular wine regions is Spain. This region has helped Mencia and other Spanish wine varietals get international recognition. Mencia is also a staple Spanish wine for locals.

Pais Vasco

Area: Green Spain

Varietals: Hondarrabi Beltza

Known for: This region mostly grows indigenous varietals that is sold to wineries for blending purposes for for making Vino de Mesa (table wine).

The Islands (Canary)

Area: Southern Spain

Varietals: Listan Negro

Known for: Less known for their wine and more known for being a beautiful vacation spot. The bodegas here (wineries) are some of the most unique.

*The varietals listed only include red varietals. Common white grapes grown in Spain include Verdejo, Albarino, and Airen.

Varietal Profiles

Spanish red wines have a certain spice and boldness to them that is not found anywhere else in the world. While so many regions and consumers are focused on French varietals, there are so many other types of wine to experience.

Bobal

One of the most produced varietals in Spain yet has very little recognition worldwide.

Body: Medium

Acidity: Medium to high

Tannin: Low to medium

Flavors: Cocoa, pomegranate juice, blackberry, herbs

Pair with: Turkey with cranberry sauce

Try if you like: Gamay or Dolcetto

Monastrell

90% of Monastrell is grown in Spain, however, small amounts are also grown in France, Australia, the United States, and South Africa where they are mostly used for blending.

Body: Full

Acidity: Low to medium

Tannin: High

Flavors: Blackberry, tobacco, cocoa, black pepper

Pair with: BBQ or slow-roasted meats

Try if you like: Syrah or Petit Verdot

Tempranillo

One of the most common and widely recognized Spanish red wines. The large majority of this grape grows in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Spain.

Body: Medium to full

Acidity: Medium to high

Tannin: Medium to high

Flavors: Cherry, dates, cedar, tobacco

Pair with: Cheeseburgers or steak

Try if you like: Sangiovese or Aglianico

Cabernet Sauvignon

But…isn’t this a French grape? Yes, however, it also grows in many other places, including Spain. It was brought to Spain hundreds of years ago and has been ingrained in their wine culture since then.

Body: Full

Acidity: Medium

Tannin: High

Flavors: Cherry, cedar, black currant, baking spices

Pair with: Steak with Jack Daniel’s sauce

Try if you like: Bordeaux blends or Cabernet Franc

Syrah

Yes, this is also a French varietal. For Spanish Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, expect a bit more spice and a fuller body. If you like bold red wines and enjoy Bordeaux and Rhone’s then you have got to try ones from Spain.

Body: Full

Acidity: High

Tannin: Medium to high

Flavors: Blueberry, plum, cocoa, tobacco

Pair with: Rack of lamb or Asian pork

Try if you like: Petit Syrah or Cabernet Franc

Garnacha

Also known as Grenache. Garnacha is the pride and joy of Spain and worth it if you can get your hands on a Gran Reserva bottle.

Body: Medium to full

Acidity: Medium

Tannin: Medium

Flavors: Dried herbs, dried plum, strawberry preserves, leather

Pair with: Roasted duck

Try if you like: Merlot or Zinfandel

Mencia

Also grown in Portugal, this red wine is very aromatic and a great choice for those wanting to tuck a bottle away in the cellar.

Body: Medium to full

Acidity: Medium to high

Tannin: Medium to high

Flavors: Blackberry, gravel, black licorice, cherry

Pair with: Cured meats or grilled pork

Try if you like: Barbera or Syrah

Other red wines that are listed are indigenous varietals that are grown mostly for the purpose of blending in small amounts. They are not typically seen on their own, nor do they have much significance elsewhere in the world.

Where to find Spanish red wines?

Some of these varietals may seem unfamiliar to you. Varietals like Mencia and Bobal are often overlooked by wines shops and restaurants. There is so much focus on France, California, and the other big players in the wine industry that these gems are not given a second thought.

Where can you find these wines?

Try looking in larger wine or liquor stores, especially those that are focused on international brands. Spanish wine labels are pretty straight forward so you should not have any trouble identifying the varietal or region. If you have any questions, ask the wine shop clerk.

One of the great things about Spanish wines is their affordability. You can get a good bottle of Spanish red for $15 (Red wines from Valdepenas, Castilla la Mancha are a great value) and an excellent bottle for $30. Even the Gran Reserva or library wines run for $40 to $50 usually (Vega Sicilia wines are some of the most expensive).

Remember not to be shy about talking to the staff at wine shops, if they do not have what you are looking for, ask to see if they can get some on the next shipment. They will not order something if they do not think there is a demand for it.

BONUS: Guide to Rioja Wines

Rioja has there own special tier system that reflects their winemaking and is similar to some of those in France and Italy. How long the wines age in oak barrels and in the bottle are the qualifications to what they are able to put on the label. Some other regions in Spain also follow this system, however, you will always see this from wines of Rioja. These do not apply to Spanish white wines.

Here are terms that will be on the labels of Rioja red wines and what they mean:

Rioja: Little to no oak. 1-2 years of aging. Typically cost $13 or less.

Crianza: Two years of aging, one in oak and one in bottle. $13-20.

Reserva: Three years of aging, one in oak and two in bottle. $25-40.

Gran Reserva: Five years of aging, two in oak and three in bottle. $35+.