It is no secret that Spain has a lush terroir, bringing us the world’s most interesting cultivars and high-quality wine. As a result, Spain is now known for being one of the world’s biggest wine exporters, the world’s largest organic wine producers, and the most grape vineyards.
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Introduction to Spanish Wine Regions
It is unbelievable to think that Spain has 78 wine regions spread throughout the country – all with unique climates and terroirs – producing some truly unique wines. There are, however, five regions that any armchair sommelier should know.
Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez is known for producing some of the best Sherries in several different styles. The grapes grown for the Sherry production are predominantly Pedro Ximenez, Moscatel de Alejandria, and Palomino Fino.
The reason for the remarkable Sherry produced by this region is the uniqueness of the elements. The soil is either clay-like and chalky or extremely sandy. The ocean breeze that moves across this region helps aid the acidity in the grapes, and the never-ending sunlight concentrates the juice within the grapes enough to create the sweetness needed to produce the Sherry.
The perfect combination of all these elements is why this region can produce the Sherry it does today, an essential Spanish wine.
When it comes to word renowned white wines, Rias Baixas is at the top of the list. Being located on the coast of Spain, this area’s grapes develop a strong mineral flavor – popular among those of Sauvignon Blanc lovers. In addition, the climate in this area is exceptional – with winters not dropping below freezing and summers just being hot enough to ensure proper development of the grapes. Although this area does experience devastating winds and storms, the vines that survive produce exceptional quality.
Right up on the border of France lies the Atlantic region of Pais Vasco. The region’s unique characteristics and quality grapes have resulted in the region gaining quite a reputation. Although not famous for its wine as much as it is for its cuisine, the region has proven to develop some refreshing wines. Some of the varietals include Hondarrabi Zuri, Hondarrabi Beltza, and Petit Manseng.
Ribera Del Duero
This region has a truly unique profile. Based along the Duero River, the soil in this region comprises a combination of soils – including limestone, chalk, and clay – which gives it a real Ribera Del Duero touch. In addition, this region prides itself on the fact that it grows predominantly quality red grapes – with the wines being extremely complex and able to age well. Ribera is most applauded for their high-quality, bold Tempranillo, with most of their vines being more than 25 years old.
Costers del Segre
Costers del Segre’s vines can endure a lot, incorporating both trellis and low bush in their production. Not only does this region experience extreme heat and extreme cold, but it also has to endure hailstorms and periods of drought throughout the year. These harsh conditions do, however, allow the grapes to become highly concentrated and flavourful. These varietals include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Parellada, Merlot, and Syrah.
The evidence shows that wine grapes were grown here for over 2000 years – and has continued to do it successfully all these years. It is Spain’s smallest wine region, but they manage to grow various cultivars here. The success of the vines in this harsh, dry climate is thanks to the limestone soil that holds water throughout the dry season. In this region, you can expect to find predominantly Mourvedre and Grenache.
This Spanish wine region predominantly grows Tempranillo – being over 95% of the region’s plantations. The climate in the region allows the grapes from this region to generally develop high alcohol levels that also make the wines grippy and acidic. It wasn’t a well-known region, but it has come to build itself a great reputation with time.
Priorat is well known because it holds rich, free-draining soil – and produces top premium grapes. Annually, this region gets up to 3000 hours of sunlight and less than 15 inches of rain. One of the unique parts about the terroir here is that most of the vineyards are situated on extremely steep slopes that have incredibly dense soil – which is where the quality grapes are developed.
However, this area does receive shockingly low yields, but the quality of the grapes produced compensates for the lack of yield. This region produces the country’s top Carignan and Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah: almost always as blends.
Moving toward the central part of the country, some of the main varietals in this area are Maturana, Carignan, Grenache, and Macabeo. The significance around this region is the Cantabrian Mountains that shelter the vineyards from cold temperatures and strong winds.
This region’s soil is also rich in limestone, so the grapes have good drainage and are slightly sweeter. Wines from this area are famous for having firm tannins, exceptional fruitiness and, great aging potential. They are, however, mainly used in blending as the grapes from this region often have too much acidity and almost no aroma.
Spanish Wine Grapes
It isn’t well-known that Spain actually grows over 400 different grape varietals, but only 20 of these varietals are commonly used to produce wine. In fact, there is an entire festival to celebrate the grape harvest in Spain –which has different parades, competitions, and tastings throughout.
This full-bodied red is unique to Spain – it is regularly used to make sparkling wine and Rosé. A red, it is an up-and-coming wine.
Great full-bodied wine with immense meatiness and dominant herbaceous aromas. An ancient grape that dates back to the Phoenicians.
Grown in Northwest Spain, this fruity, medium-bodied red is a great varietal for keeping long-term.
Probably the most well-known grape in Spain, Tempranillo is a full-bodied red that is not known for its huge aromatic or flavor characteristics. It is, however, the ideal match for rich, meaty meals.
This wine is often a wine with many berry and spicy flavors; this wine can be lighter in color and is rarely aged in oak. Full-bodied with low acid and aromas of lavender.
A great light wine to pair with food, this varietal often has lemon, grapefruit, and peach flavors.
A red wine, often used for blending or Rosé, this rare grape is similar to Tempranillo and has prominent flavors of berries and has noticeable minerality.
A wine commonly paired with lighter meats, Listan Negro because of its soft tannins and lighter body and has distinct flavors of banana and spices. In the Americas, this is known as the Mission grape.
It is no wonder that Spain produces such fantastic wines, considering their distinctive terroir and interesting varietals.