Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world, the largest being Italy and France. Historically, Spain has been known from the production of fortified wines and the best known Spanish wine is considered by some to be the fortified wine Sherry, which is produced in the region surrounding Jerez de la Frontera. Other wine regions well known outside of Spain include: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Cava and Penedès.
In Rioja, the law permits the use of four red grape varieties. Tempranillo is the primary grape used, followed by Garnacha (also known as Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo. The latter two are excellent but difficult to grow varieties. Crianza wines are those that have been aged for two years, Reservas are aged three years, and Gran Reservas (also known as Reserva Especial) are aged at least five years.
Ribera del Duero lacks the long history of Rioja and was recognized as an official wine region in 1982. Priorato is a region with low yields and produces wines of rich intensity. Notable pioneer Rene Barbier is credited by some with bringing fame to this region. Penedes produces both red and white wines, but is mainly known for being the region that Cava was first made by the Reventos family who own and operate Codorniu . The largest Spanish wine brand name, Torres, is a major producer there.
It has been said that the grapevines spread through the mediterranean thanks to the Roman empire. Spain has had early Greek settlements (the word "Iberian" is claimed to have a Greek origin) and was Romanized by the first Century B.C. (the Roman word for Spain is "Hispania"). As a consequence, Spain has a long tradition in winemaking. However, until about 25 years ago, Spanish wines were generally not merchandised and they were little known internationally, Sherry (called vino de Jerez in Spain) being a major exception as it has long been actively sought by British merchants and exported to the United Kingdom.
Spanish wines usually aged in Spanish and French oak (nowadays American oak barrels are commonly used). They often had high alcoholic graduation, and in some cases the oak aging process was too long, overpowering the wines freshness and fruit character. The poor development of brand quality standards made difficult the identification of good wines to foreign customers. However, the use of marketing has helped them to rise to a point where they are now competing successfully in the international market.
Wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. has made mention of the following Spain's great estates: Artadi, Clos Erasmus, Alvaro Palacios, Tinto Pesquera, Dominio de Pingus, and Bodega Vega Sicilia. Mas La Plana 1970 (then known as 'Gran Coronas Black Label') received first place in the important Cabernet blend category of the Wine Olympics, a major wine competition.
Geography and Climate
Spain is located in southern Europe. The influence from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea provide a warm/hot and dry climate. This climate results in high yields for Spanish grapes/wines. The harvest occurs from August - October.
Denominación de Origen is an appellation primarily used for Spanish wines, but also other foodstuffs. It is parallel with the hierarchical AOC system of France (1935) and Italy (1966) although Rioja (1925) and Sherry (1933) preceded the full system. 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. There are 3 wine regions with this status.
- Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ - Denominació d'Origen Qualificada in Catalan): Regions with (allegedly) a track record of consistent quality. There are 2 wine regions with this status.
- 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.
- There are also some 55 country wine areas (Vinos de la Tierra - VdlT) which do not have EU QWPSR status but which may use a regional name.
- The simplest wine is classified as Vino de Mesa. 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.
Rioja wines are labeled according to the amount of aging the wine has received. These are the national minimum, but many producers far exceed them:
- Cosecha wines (meaning "vintage") are young and are not usually aged in wood. Alternatively, these may be the new-wave 'High Expression' wines which don't use the traditional epithets as they are considered to be old-fashioned: the price should be a guide as to which is which.
- Crianza wines are aged for two years with at least one year in a cask.
- Reserva wines are aged for at least one year in an oak cask and at least one year in oak, with a further year in either.
- Gran Reserva wines are aged for at least 18 months in oak, and at least three years in the bottle and a minimum of five years total at the winery.
Sherry is produced in southern Spain in the region of Jerez. Palomino is the most popular grape to produce sherry, but Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez are also used. Sherry is made using the Solera system to blend wine of different vintages. Younger wine is moved through barrels of older wine to develop flavor.
Sherry Has Many Categories
- Fino Sherry is a very light and delicate Sherry. These wines are characterized by flor (the surface growth of yeast in the barrels). From 15 to 18% of alcohol.
- Manzanilla Sherry comes from the Sanlucar district along the sea coast. The sea air leads the Sherry to develop a salty taste. These wines also have flor. This wine is produced using exactly the same process than Fino, but as weather conditions are very different in Sanlucar district it grows to a slightly different kind of wine. From 15 to 19% of alcohol.
- Amontillado Sherry is similar to Fino, however it does not have the as much flor development. These are deeper in color and drier than Finos and are left in the barrel longer. From 16 to 22% of alcohol.
- Oloroso Sherry is deeper/darker in color and have more residual sugar. These are more fortified. From 17 to 22% of alcohol.
- Cream sherry is very rich and can be a good dessert-style wine. From 15,5 to 22% of alcohol.
- Pedro Ximénez Sherry is very rich and is the most popular dessert-style wine. It's made from raisins of Pedro Ximenez grapes dryed al the sun. About 18% of alcohol.
- Palo Cortado Sherry is very rare to get, as its an Oloroso wine that gets older in a different way only produced by nature (not able by human interaction). From 17 to 22% of alcohol.
Recently Sherry wines are used in very different kinds of high cuisine dishes to add special flavour. For example pork steak with Oloroso (very intense taste), artichoques with amontillado wine (short but deep taste), or pedro ximenez (reduced to 50% of its liquid content) with cakes of fruits. More information in Sherry Institute of Spain's promotional website for cooking with sherry.
Spain has a relatively large number of distinct wine-producing regions, more than half having the classification Denominación de Origen (DO) with the majority of the remainder classified as Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT). There are two regions nominated as Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) - Rioja and Priorato - the flagship regions of Spanish winemaking. In 2006 the Spanish government passed a new law permitting Vinos de Pago, a method of identifying and regulating individual estates reputed to be among the finest in the country. Since it embraced the EU-sponsored QWPSR (Quality Wine Produced in Specific Regions) regulatory code - Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD) - in Spanish, production of Vino de la mesa has declined and geographically-verifiable production has become the norm.
Denominación de Origen Calificada
The Rioja is easily the most famous wine-producing region in Spain. It focuses on red wines and is often called the Napa valley of Spain. The top red wines are made predominantly from Tempranillo with Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo blended in. Many of the vineyards are field planted and bring in lower yields. The Priorato is a relative newcomer, based in the hills to the west of Tarragona.
Denominación de Origen
A full list of regions can be found at the main Spanish wine regions page. Notable DO regions include:
- Campo de Borja has recently become more prominent. It features a number of cooperatives who produce Garnacha and Tempranillo.
- Penedès is located near Barcelona and is notable for the production of the sparkling wine Cava. The more popular red wines produced here include Tempranillo (the number one red grape in Spain and equivalent to the Pinot Noir), Garnacha and Carinena.
- Rías Baixas is located in the Galicia region in the northwest of Spain. This DO is known for Albariño wine, Spain's number one white wine. The other white grape varieties here include Treixadura, Loureira, Caino Blanco, and Torrontes. The popular red grapes in this region include Caino Tinot and Souson.
- Ribera del Duero is located just south of Rioja and challenged Rioja for the best red wines produced in Spain. Almost all of its wines are made from the Tempranillo grape.
- Rueda is located west of Ribera del Duero. This region produces good reds and whites less expensive than those from Rioja or Ribera del Duero.
- Toro is located in the province of Zamora, in Castilla y León, and west of Rueda.