Spain has more vines planted than any other country with 2.9 million acres of vines. However, they are only the third-largest wine-producing country; followed by Italy and France. What gives?
Low yielding vines is not a bad thing. In fact, it is preferred. This means that the bunches of grapes are not competing for nutrients and water and the focus is on quality over quantity.
Spain is also only ninth in the world for wine consumption, resulting in a lot of exporting. But with how much wine they are exporting, why don’t we see more Spanish vino?
Well, a lot of those wines are exported to other countries in Europe. So if you live outside of Europe you will likely see more ‘local’ wines (local meaning from a wine-producing region closer to you than Spain) along with French and Italian wines.
Frankly, Spain does not get the attention it deserves when it comes to the quality (and great price points) of their wines.
The Bobal and Tempranillo grapes are known as the red grapes or red wine of Spain. Airen and Verdejo are known as the white grapes or white wine of Spain.
History of Spanish Wine
Evidence of grapes in what is now Spain goes back millions of years. There is evidence that grapes began to be cultivated between 4000 and 3000 BC. This is quite some time ago, however, other regions began producing winemaking far before this. Because of this, Spain has an impressive amount of old vines.
Before modern times, Spanish wines were heavily exported and heavily sought after. During the Roman Empire, the largest wine-producing regions in Spain were modern-day Tarragona and Andalucia.
However, there was a large decrease in production during the 8th century AD when the Moors invaded Spain. Because the Moors were Muslim, they did not drink and prohibited the making of wine in most places except those whose rulers allowed wine.
To continue, the colonization of the New World, Phylloxera epidemics, politics, and war have taken their toll on Spanish wine and its popularity and production throughout the years. However, we have seen a continual rise in production, exportation, quality, and consumption over the decades, resulting in becoming the third-largest producer of wine in the world.
Top 5 Spanish Wine Regions
Located in the northern-most part of the Southern Spain region, La Mancha is a hot climate. These wines have medium acidity and fruity flavors. The most common types of wines are Tempranillo, Monastrell (Mourvedre), Bobal, and Airen.
This is the largest Spanish wine region by size and the most popular, as it is home to Madrid.
Next door to La Mancha is the Valencia wine region. This region has some coastal vineyards as well as inland. The Valencia region is home to the city of Valencia and Alicante.
Common varietals produced here include Monastrell, Airen, and Bobal.
To the left of La Mancha and bordering Portugal is Extremadura. This region is also part of the larger Southern Spain region. The climate is very hot here.
Common wines produced are Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
Rioja is part of the Northern Spain region and home to the city of Haro. Rioja is a bit cooler than Southern Spain but still considered a warm climate. The wines here have medium acidity and warm fruit flavors.
Common wines produced include Garnacha and Rioja.
Castilla y Leon
The fifth-largest Spanish region is Castilla y Leon. Part of this region borders Portugal.
Common wines include Verdejo, Tempranillo, and Mencia.
Other wine regions include Catalonia, Aragon, Andalucia, Valdepenas, Jumilla, Bierzo, Penedes, Jerez, Rias Baixas, Rueda, Navarra, Galicia, Crianza, Priorat, and Ribera del Duero.
Spanish Wine Varietals
Spain is known for its light and tart white wines to its fruity and full red wines. Spain has over 400 native grape varietals planted today. However, only 20 of these varietals make up the large majority of their plantings.
Here are Spain’s top 10 most notable varieties in no particular order:
Profile: High acidity, light-bodied, dry
Common Flavors: Saline, melon, grapefruit, lemon
Pairs with: Fish, salads, chicken
Similar to: Verdejo and dry Riesling
Profile: Fruit forward, medium tannins, full-body, medium acidity
Common Flavors: Plum, strawberry, leather, licorice
Pairs with: Tomato-based pasta dishes
Similar to: Zinfandel
Profile: Full-bodied, tannic, medium to high acidity
Common Flavors: Cherry, blackberry, licorice, gravel
Pairs with: Cured meats and pork
Similar to: Syrah and Barbera
Profile: Full-bodied, highly tannic, medium acidity
Common Flavors: Cured meats, tobacco, blackberry, black pepper
Pairs with: Roasted meats and steaks
Similar to: Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere
Tempranillo (Tinto Fino)
Profile: Full-bodied, medium tannins, medium acidity
Common Flavors: Cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco
Pairs with: Lamb and tomato-based pastas
Similar to: Nebbiolo and Sangiovese
Profile: Light-bodied, off-dry, low acidity
Common Flavors: Grapefruit, banana, pineapple, baked apple
Pairs with: Spicy international cuisine
Similar to: Off-dry Riesling
Profile: Full-bodied, tannic, medium acidity
Common Flavors: Cherry, blackberries, black pepper, tobacco
Pairs with: BBQ and teriyaki
Similar to: Syrah and Zinfandel
Profile: Medium-bodied, medium acidity
Common Flavors: Blackberry, licorice, herbs, cocoa
Pairs with: Honey glazed ham
Similar to: Gamay and Dolcetto
Profile: Dry, light-bodied, high acidity
Common Flavors: Lime, melon, grapefruit
Pairs with: Chicken, light fish
Similar to: Sauvignon Blanc
Profile: Dry, medium-bodied, medium acidity
Common Flavors: Melon, lemon, lime, hazelnut
Pairs with: Curry and noodle bowls
Similar to: Chardonnay and Semillon
Other grape varieties grown in Spain include Petit Verdot, Graciano, Pinot Noir, Parellada, Mazuelo, Maturana Tinta, Merlot, Tinto de Toro, and Carinena. Spain is also known for their Cava sparkling wine and Sherry dessert wine.
You can find most of these Spanish wines at any of your local wine shops and liquor stores. For the best variety, go to ones that have a large international section. Many Spanish wines are meant for early consumption. Wines range from Joven (young wine) to Gran Reserva (aged wine).
Spanish wine labels are fairly simple to understand. Most of them will have the varietal and bodega (winery) listed. The most common category you will see is DO (Denominacion de Origen) which is the equivalent to France’s AOC. DO Pago is a single estate wine. These are normally very high quality.