Spain is one of the most diverse wine-producing countries in the world. A large portion of the wine-regions are in hot, desert conditions where wine-growing was often thought impossible, yet it has regions that are at such high altitudes, and close to the coast, they are capable of producing crisp whites with mouth-watering acidity.

It was almost always considered to be a home of cheap red wines – and still is a home to many a bargain filling supermarket shelves the world over – but in the last few decades it is now a major player in fine wine. Many overseas investors have fuelled Spain’s top wine regions with enough cash to bring up standards creating some of the most dynamic, clean and precise winery facilities in the world. Top wines from the regions of Ribera del Duero and Rioja are now known across the world.


Main Grapes or styles

Tempranillo – is arguably the most important red grape variety behind the best known wines of Spain. It is the red that behind the wines of Ribera del Duero and Rioja as well as being the main grape in Toro and Navarra. It produces wines that are full-bodied reds with ripe red and black fruit flavours.

Garnacha – behind Tempranillo in importance for the top red wines in Spain but is planted twice as much as Tempranillo. It is planted en masse in the region of Castilla-La Mancha and across the south of Spain where it makes single-varietal or blended red wines for bulk-wine production. Garnacha does produce the top-quality wines of Priorat and Carinena.

Monastrell – is a thick skinned red grape variety, known as Mouvedre in France, that needs a very hot climate to ripen. It is planted across the southern regions of Jumilla and Yecla. In these regions it is the leading grape variety and makes red wines that are dark ruby, high in tannin and alcohol, with flavours of fresh, jammed and dried black fruits.

Verdejo – is white grape varietal behind the white wines of Rueda. It is often regarded to be similar to Sauvignon Blanc as it makes wines that are light and crisp with melon, citrus and peach flavours. The best wines are often aged in oak for a portion of time.

Albarino – is a white grape varietal that produces the whites of Rias Baixas in the eastern region of Galicia. These are arguably the best, and most famous, white wines of Spain. At their best they have rich flavours of peach and apricot tied in with lemon and lime.

Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo – these three white grapes are mentioned as they are equally important but are all focused in producing some of Spain’s most known wines: Cava – the ‘Champagne of Spain’. They are planted across the cooler region of Catalunya (around Barcelona) where Cava is produced.


Main Regions

La Rioja – is the most famous wine region of all of Spain, home to the red, rose and white wines of Rioja. The reds are full bodied and deep in colour and are blends of Tempranillo and Garnacha. The roses are also full-bodied, deep in colour and have rich red fruit flavours, these are made predominately of Garnacha. The whites are oaked, medium-full bodied with toasty oak and citrus flavours, these are made with Viura – also known as Macabeo.

Castilla Y Leon – is home to a series of top sub-regions: Ribera del Duero, Toro and Rueda. Ribera del Duero and Toro both make red wines out of Tempranillo, here called Tinta Fina or simply Ribera del Duero. These wines are fuller in flavour and with less oak than those of Rioja allowing for the complex fruit flavours to speak for themselves. The whites of Rueda are made of Verdejo and are very refreshing.

Galicia – though home to a few sub-regions the most important is Rias Baixas. This is white wine country – all of which are made from Albarino. Galicia gets more rainfall than the rest of Spain, as it is of a lower average altitude and on the coast – this leads to a shorter growing season and higher acidities resulting in refreshing wines.

Catalunya – two main regions are found here and are equally important for Spain as a whole. First, Cava is produced from vineyards all across Catalunya. The grapes used are mainly Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, see above, but can be joined with Tempranillo, Monastrell and Garnacha for rose Cava production. Garnacha is also used in the second leading sub-region of Priorat. Priorat is based on a steep hill with staggered vineyards encapsulating this hill. The wines are rich, concentrated reds with high tannins and alcohol – the perfect structure for long ageing.

Aragon – is in the northeast of Spain and is made up of three smaller regions all of which are solely devoted to red wine production. The regions are: Carinena, Catalunya and Somontano. The reds are medium-full bodied reds made from Tempranillo and Garnacha, and can offer very good value.

Valencia – along the eastern coast line made up of the smaller regions of Yecla and Jumilla. Here the wines are red and roses made from the Monastrell grape, see above. They are both full-bodied wines with rich dark fruit flavours and deep in colour.

Castilla-La Mancha – right in the centre and is the single largest wine region in the world. It doesn’t have sub-regions but rather is a full region. It is mountainous and perfect for red and white wine production. It is the hub of the bulk-wine production of Spain but the occasional top-end wine can be found here too. The number one white grape planted here is Airen which is used for Spanish Brandy production.


Overall climate – how it effects the wines

Overall Spain has a hot, desert-like climate which are largely capable of producing red wines with great thanks to irrigation usage. Not only irrigation is to thank, though, as it altitude which allows for cooler climates in otherwise warm-hot climates. The average altitude of all vineyards in Spain is over 600m high. These high altitudes help to cool down the vines and produce higher acidities and more complex flavours. The vineyards at lower altitudes produce wines that are significantly riper, fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol – and this is exactly what Spanish wines, especially the cheaper side, are known for.

The coolest regions are Galicia and Catalunya. The hottest being Castilla-La Mancha, Jumilia and Yecla.

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