The Best Spanish Wines: Full Guide by Variety and Region
Spain has long been known as a country that is a prime location for wine lovers and the country itself has a very rich history when it comes to the cultivation of wine grapes and the production of wine.
If you’re a true wine lover and connoisseur, chances are you’ve probably heard of Spanish wine varieties before but you may be unaware of how intricate each variety is and how vastly they differ from one another.
There are a plethora of Spanish wine varieties available on the market and each of them is grown in separate regions which add to the overall taste and profile of the wines in question.
If you’ve been craving a premium Spanish wine variety but simply don’t know where to begin looking for the perfect option that fits your taste buds and needs, hopefully by the end of reading this guide you’ll walk away with increased knowledge about the various types of Spanish wine options out there and how to go about choosing the right one for you.
Before we begin discussing Spanish wine varieties in-depth, we must first take a look at how the various regions that Spanish wine varieties are produced to affect their overall taste profile and other features.
There are so many different wine varieties available on the market that it can become quite difficult trying to find the perfect choice to match your taste buds and specific flavor profile. Luckily for you, there is an abundant amount of information available to help you better understand how to select Spanish wine varieties and why they are the perfect accent to virtually any gathering or event.
Spanish wine varieties are grown in various different regions throughout Spain and bordering countries which adds to the versatility and complexity of each wine variety that comes from Spain.
There are a lot of factors that you need to consider before deciding on which Spanish wine variety is perfect for you to ensure that you get maximum taste and enjoyment out of every sip. One of the best ways to experience Spanish wine in its purest form is by visiting the local areas in which vineyards are located that produce the various types of Spanish wine varieties popular on the market today.
In order to help you find the perfect Spanish wine variety in no time when you go shopping, we’re going to give you a detailed breakdown about all of the different regions and locations that Spanish wine varieties are grown in and how these various areas affect the overall flavor profile of said wine types. In this guide, you’ll find all of the information that you need to know about how to choose a Spanish wine variety that perfectly fits your specific taste needs.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about all of the various Spanish wine varieties available on the market and how you can approach deciding which one is best for you.
Spanish Wines: By Region
When it comes to choosing a great Spanish wine option, the region in which it is grown will play a major role in the overall taste and profile of the wine itself. There are several different regions in which Spanish wine varieties are grown and they all infuse their own unique attributes into the various types of wines that are produced from these locations across Spain.
Depending on your taste preference and ideal wine profile, there are several different types of Spanish wine that you can choose from. In this section, we’re going to cover all of the various Spanish wine varieties available on the market which come with a unique and distinctive taste that you can enjoy anytime.
Spain is a very diverse country so it helps to get a lay of the land. This map of the wine regions of Spain helps to put into context the various kinds of wines that grow throughout the country. Somehow, Spain seems to fly under the radar compared to its next-door neighbor, France.
Spain is actually the third largest wine producer in the world and has the most land dedicated to vineyards–over a million acres. Spanish wines range from great values to highly prestigious wines, such as Alvaro Palacios’ L’Ermita and Vega Sicilia’s Unico.
The coast is a very diverse macro-region that contains the sub-regions of Valencia, Catalonia, and Murcia. Catalonia is known for Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and a highly acclaimed red wine sub-zone, Priorat. Valencia and Murcia are warmer growing regions that produce a bulk of value wines from deep red Monastrell to aromatic white Malvasia and the wide diver flavor profiles.
“Green” Northwest Spain
Galicia, very unlike the rest of Spain, is where lush green valleys are plentiful and the common cuisine includes lots of fresh fish. Albariño is the champion grape of the sub-region called Rias Baixas (REE-us BYE-shus), which skirts the coast. The area specializes in zesty white wines and a few aromatic red wines made with Mencía (men-THI-yah).
Duero River Valley
The Duero River is the same river as the Douro in Portugal. This region is notable for the minerally white wine, Verdejo, of Rueda, and the bold red wines of Toro, Ribera del Duero, and Leon. The wine grape of this region is Tempranillo and in Toro, it’s called Tinta de Toro, where it is considered to be a slight mutation of the Tempranillo grape. Ribera del Duero is home to one of the most famous wineries in Spain: Vega Sicilia.
Ebro River Valley
The subregions of La Rioja and Navarra are found in the Ebro River Valley. Here, Tempranillo is king and long-standing bodegas such as Lopez de Heredia and Marques de Murrieta make age-worthy wines. Navarra is known mostly for Rosado (rosé) wine made with the grape Garnacha (aka Grenache). The region also produces oak-aged white wines of Viura (Macabeo). In Basque country, zesty white wines called Txakoli (“CHAK-o-li” ) are common.
Andalucía is a very hot and dry region famous for Sherry. Stark white albariza soil makes Palomino Vineyards in Cádiz look like a moonscape. The even hotter, Montilla-Moriles produces fortified dessert wines that are called “PX“. An aged PX, such as those from Bodegas Toro Abala, have similar nutty-date flavors like Tawny Port.
The central plateau or Meseta Central is the inner plateau of Spain which is home to the capital city, Madrid. The area has an average elevation of 2,300-2,600 feet and is dry and sunny. Because of its climate characteristics, vines are spaced very far apart and close to the ground. Some of the best value red wines of Spain can be found here made of Garnacha, Tempranillo, and even the rare, Petit Verdot.
The Canary Islands & All Other Islands
The Islands of Spain offer a wide range of wines from Listen Negro-based reds to dessert wines made with Moscatel. The volcanic soils of the Canary Islands add a gritty taste of rustic minerality. Currently, there are very few exporters of the limited wines of the Islands of Spain although you can find a few from places like Tenerife. Perhaps you might as well just make a point to visit.
La Rioja (Rioja)
Without a doubt, Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine-growing region. People have been growing wine grapes there since the 2nd century BC. The wines are based on the Tempranillo grape variety but are usually blended with Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo (along with a few others). Rioja is divided into three distinct growing regions: Rioja Alta is the coolest of the three and makes the finest wines, Rioja Alavesa is just southeast of Alta and makes wines of high tannin and structure, and Rioja Baja, the warmest of the three, which makes simple, everyday drinking wines.
Castilla y Leon (Ribera del Duero DO)
This is one of the most famous and most respected regions in Spain. It is home to Spain’s most famous winery Vega Sicilia and its wines are based on Spain’s most famous grape, Tempranillo (at least 75% of the wine must be comprised of Tempranillo).
Priorat has seen a great resurgence in production over the last decade. For a long time, many of these extremely steep slopes had been abandoned because they were too difficult, dangerous, and expensive to maintain and work. They are home to some of the oldest vines in Europe though.
The black schist and quartz soil (known locally as llicorella) are resistant to the vine disease phylloxera, so these vines were spared when the pest ravaged the vineyards of Europe. Made from mainly Garnacha and Cariñena with the possible additions of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, and others. Look for these wines to be among the best Grenache-based wines in the world (with costs to match).
Castilla-La Mancha (Toro DO)
This region has seen rapid growth as of late. After becoming a DO in 1987, this region had four wineries established here. After leaks revealed that the famed estate of Vega Sicilia had been quietly purchasing land in Toro under an assumed name starting in 1997, this region exploded in growth! Now there are around 40 wineries making wine here. The Tempranillo, Malvasia, and Garnacha grapes tend to be dominant in the region.
Castilla y Leon (Rueda DO)
This tiny little DO between Ribera del Duero and Portugal is a region where white wine flourishes. It used to be known mainly for fortified wines, but now it is most famous for its light, dry wines made from Verdejo. You will often see a little Sauvignon Blanc blended in as well.
Galicia (Valdeorras DO)
This DO rivals Rías Baixas as the best white wine in the northwest of Spain. Made predominantly from Godello, the wines are fresh, light, clean, crisp, and very refreshing. The influence from the Atlantic Ocean can almost lend a saline-like quality to the wines.
Cava (Pais Vasco/ Catalonia / Aragon / Valencia / Extremadura / Navarra/ La Roja )
Cava is one of the oldest sparkling wine appellations in Europe. It is always made by the Traditional Method or Champagne Method, which stipulates that the second fermentation (creation the carbonation), always takes place in the bottle. Cava is not actually one region but a patchwork of regions with defined borders throughout the country that are approved to make it.
The allowable white grapes are mainly Xarel-lo, Macabeo (aka Viura), and Parraleda, though Chardonnay and Malvasia may also be used. The allowable red grapes are Pinot Noir, Garnacha, Monastrell, and Trepat. Trepat may only be used in the production of Rosé.
Galicia (Rias Baixas DO)
Most known for its whites made from the Albariño grape. This DO sit right on the border to Portugal along the Atlantic coast. Its wines are lively, spicy, and highly acidic with tropical fruit flavors.
Madrid is not very well-known as a wine-producing region. Despite this, excellent wines are produced locally. Old small wineries have found in old Grenache vines new inspiration, and new modern producers have brought innovation to this city. In Madrid itself, a large number of tapas bars and restaurants offer wine from all over Spain and some of the best wine lists in the country are to be found here.
We recommend when you plan your short-break that you consider joining one of our tours to wineries in Madrid. Madrid is also close to some astonishing Cities like Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial, Avila, or Cuenca.
We find a very interesting 1-day activity to combine a visit to one of these Unesco heritage sites with a wine tour. We offer a Toledo Tour with a strong local gastronomic flavor. You can find more information about Toledo on the City´s official tourism site. Our Segovia tour has been designed following a similar logic. You can also find more information about Segovia on its official tourism site.
Barcelona is famous for the production of cava wine (Spain´s equivalent to Champagne) but there are also many wineries that produce high still wines. The best way to enjoy the wine country in Barcelona is to enjoy one of the tours that operate daily from Barcelona City Center. Some of these tours offer the possibility to combine a visit to the Monastery of Montserrat, but most Barcelona wine tours mainly focus on wine and cava, with normally 2 or 3 wineries being visited.
There are two different ways of making wine in Malaga. The Denomination of origin Malaga specializes in sweet wines from the Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grape varieties. It covers an area close to the sea.
Jerez de la Frontera
Jerez de la Frontera and Marco de Jerez has a collection of wineries that are true monuments to wine. The word ´Jerez´ means ´sherry´ in Spanish, meaning that the name of this wine region reflects its best produce. Jerez makes wines that are unique to the world: vino fino, amontillado, oloroso.
You will not find other wines that have been elaborated by the same art or taste the same as sherry. One of the best ways to learn about these wonderful wines is to join a guided Sherry wine tour. The Puerto de Santamaría, San Lucar, and Jerez´s interesting history: wine tourism perfect for a relaxing holiday break.
These are the primary regions in which many popular Spanish wine varieties are grown and cultivated. Spain has over 60 different regions in which wine grapes are grown and fermented in order to create the delicious tasting products that we all know and consume.
Regardless of what region your desired wine is grown in, they all have one thing in common, it takes time to create wine. The next section is going to give you some detailed information about how the aging process involved with various types of wine products so that you can make the right decision.
Aging Spanish Wine: Requirements for different varieties
Certain terms on labels of Spanish wine carry legal definitions as to how old they are before being released and how they were aged. They can be clues to the quality of the wine in the bottle as well. Here are some of the more common ones you will encounter.
- White & Rosado (Rosé): Wine must be 1 year old and spent at least 6 months in wood.
- Red: Wine must be 1 year old and spent at least 6 months in wood. In Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Navarra it must be at least 2 years old and spent a minimum of 1 year in wood.
- White & Rosado (Rosé): Wine must be 2 years old and spent at least 6 months in wood.
- Red: Wine must be 3 years old and spent at least 1 year in wood.
- Cava: Wine must spend a minimum of 15 months on the lees.
- White & Rosado (Rosé): Wine must be 4 years old and spent at least 6 months in wood.
- Red: Wine must be 5 years old and spent at least 18 months in wood. In Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Navarra, it must be5 years old with a minimum of 2 years in wood and a minimum of 3 years in bottle.
- Cava: Wines must spend a minimum of 30 months on the lees.
This is great information to know for those who are serious wine enthusiasts and want a deeper look into exactly how long it takes to create the perfect bottle of wine that they enjoy. Another very critical element that plays a huge role in how well any Spanish wine will come out is the type of grapes used during the fermentation process. There are several types of grapes used in the creation of Spanish wine varieties and the following section is going to list them in detail.
Spanish Wine: The types of Grapes Used
Let’s look at some grape varieties that come from Spain. Most people around the world would not necessarily recognize these names but they are the main force of traditional Spanish wine. Grape names are not much used in Spain. In most restaurants or wine shops, wines are classified according to their origin. Spanish wine regulations limit regions, which means that in order to understand how a wine will be you should know something about that particular region! More and more producers do however include the name of the grape in their labels. We will list here the most important and common Spanish grape varietals.
Spanish Red Wine Grape Varieties
A grape of Spanish origin despite most people associate it with the Rhone valley in France. This grape can be found in nearly all wine countries around the world. In Spain, it is found in the Northeast area, La Rioja, Navarra, Aragón, and Cataluña. In Rioja, it is normally blended with Tempranillo.
This grape can produce fruity wines, with raspberry aromas. This grape is more commonly known as Grenache, when it grows in the south of France, such as the Rhône Valley. It is a thin-skinned grape that is often blended with other varietals. In Spain, it comprises the majority of the best wines of Priorat and is also used as a blending grape in Rioja and in Cava sparkling wines. It produces dried red fruit flavors with herbal and spicy notes.
Tempranillo is the best-known quality Red Wine Grape in Spain. “Temprano” means early in Spanish, and the name Tempranillo refers to the early time the grape has been traditionally harvested. Tempranillo is also known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Cencibel in La Mancha and Ull de Llebre in Catalonia.
Its home is, however, La Rioja. Tempranillo produces fresh and fruity young red wines but it shows its best when oak-aged. This is the most ubiquitous grape in Spain. It is the mainstay and backbone of two of the country’s most famous wines: Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Different regions have different names for Tempranillo, it is also known as Tinta del Pais, Cencinbel, Ull de Llebre, Tinto Fino, and Tinto del Toro, among others. It makes wines of structure and age-worthiness that have aromas of dried red currant, and red cherry with notes of smoke, cedar, and leather.
Found mainly in Valencia, Bobal wines are full-bodied and colorful. Their quality has witnessed a very important increase in the last years.
You are right, this is not a Spanish grape varietal! The increasing demand for varietal wines in importing countries has made many Spanish plant cabernet. As Cabernet grows well nearly everywhere, the results have been very good in Spain. As Cabernet is fairly tannic it is often blended with other grapes to produce more complex wines. You will find Cabernet wines in different regions in Spain (La Mancha, Catalonia, Navarra, etc.)
It is the typical grape of Murcia and the south of Valencia. It produces powerful wines with great structure and strength somewhat higher than normal. A few years ago, these wines were very successful in Anglo-Saxon countries.
Yet again another French grape variety in Spain. Merlot has also been quite successful (though to a lesser extent than Cabernet) in Spain and can be found in many different regions.
Syrah has become relatively popular in Spain, mainly in La Mancha and in the Mediterranean areas. In Spain, you will find a very different Syrah to the Rhone or Australian Syrah. Spanish Syrah wines are normally full bodied, high in alcohol.
Tinta de Toro is of the Tempranillo grape family and is most typically grown in Zamora. The Cariñena and Garnacha grape varieties are both widespread in different regions of Spain and in other wine-producing countries around the world.
There are many more red wine grape varieties: Manto Negro from the Balearic islands, Negramoll and Listán Negro from the Canary islands, Prieto Picudo from León, Brancellaoand Caíño from Galicia. Also, in Galicia, Alicante, and Albacete, we can find the interesting grape variety called Garnacha Tintorera, the only variety of red grape whose pulp is also purple.
Spanish White Wine Grape Varieties
Sometimes this Spanish grape varietal is thought to be the name of the appellation of origin where the wines are produced (Rias Baixas in the Northwest of Spain, in Galicia) Albariño wines are aromatic, crispy and with a distinctive aroma. It produces acid wines, but also with high glycerine that gives them a silky texture.
This white grape is one of the country’s most famous. It grows mostly in northwestern Spain in the Autonomias of Galicia. Its best examples come from Rías Baixas DO on the Atlantic Ocean coast near the border of Portugal. The wines are tropically scented with layers of sea spray, notes of orange and bergamot oil. They brim with juicy acidity, which makes them great with food.
Typical grape of the D.O. Rueda. Wine from this grape has gained lots of commercial strength in the recent past. Verdejo wines are aromatic (with a tropical character), with the body. Some producers opt for oak aging, and the results have been very good.
There is only one place, where Palomino is made into quality wine and that is in the southernmost part of continental Spain, Andalucía. Here, it is made into the famous oxidized and fortified wines of Sherry/Jerez. While Palomino does not make for great table wine, it brings something precious to the table when it is aged and fortified in the Sherry-making process.
Though unknown to many people, this Spanish white varietal is the world’s most planted grape in the world. The grape was traditionally used for the production of alcohol that served as the base for Brandy.
Viura / Macabeo
Along with Xarel-lo and Parraleda, this is one of the three main grapes used in the production of Cava, Spain’s most famous sparkling wine. It is also used as the main grape for the white wines of Rioja. It is a dense grape with flavors of green apple and pears that brings weight and texture to its wines.
Cariñena / Mazuelo
Used all over Spain and also found all throughout the Mediterranean corridor, where it often goes by the name Carignan. It is typically used as a blending grape in Rioja and is also the other top grape of Priorat. It brings structure, weight, and tannin to the wines, as well as blue fruits like plums and dried blueberry.
Popular Spanish Wine Varieties
Below, you’ll find a complete list of all of the various Spanish wine varieties available on the market. Use the list below to determine which Spanish wine variety is best suited for your flavor profile and wants.
Complete list of Spanish Wine Varieties:
- Aguardiente – A strong transparent spirit distilled from vegetables, called “Firewater”, drunk as a digestif after a heavy meal to aid digestion
- Albariza – The famous sparkling white soils of Jerez Sherry country, characterized by its high limestone content.
- Albariño – Fresh, crisp white wine from the Rias Baixas appellation of Galicia. It’s also the name of the primary grape in these elegant wines.
- Alella – The smallest D.O. in Spain, located just north of Barcelona. Known for fresh crisp white wines and excellent Canvas. Top names are Carmenet and Marques de Alella.
- Amargo – Bitter
- Amontillado – A type of Sherry or Montilla, aged and amber colored with a nutty flavor
- Barrica – The classic 225-liter oak barrel used to age wine, made from French or American oak.
- Bodega – Means “Winery”, “Cellar”, and confusingly, even “Wine Bar”
- Bodeguero – The winery owner/manager
- Capataz – A master wine taster in Jerez Sherry country
- Cava – A sparkling wine, usually from Penedés (with Xarel.lo, Parellada and Macabeu grapes) made in accordance with the Methode Champenois and aged at least nine months. There is a Gran Reserva qualification for aged Cavas of the Penedés
- Cepa – Grape Varietal
- Cosecha – Vintage, harvest
- Deguelle – The disgorging process used for sparkling wines. Called “Degorgement” in French.
- Dorado – a fortified wine made in the Rueda region with the Verdejo grape.
- Dulce – sweet
- Enologia – Winemaking
- Espeso – Heavy (“thick”), weighty wine
- Espumosa – Sparkling
- Fino – A type of sherry or Montilla, young, salty, tasting of the sea
- Galicia – Coastal region in Northwest Spain famous for seafood, dry white Albariño based wines and it’s the Celtic culture
- Garnacha– Grenache grape varietal
- Garnatxa d’Emporda – A sweet dessert wine made in the Ampurdan, Costa Brava (north of Barcelona)
- Generoso – A fortified aperitif or dessert wine
- Jerez de la Frontera – The principal Sherry wine town, located in southwest Spain in the province of Cádiz.
- Jumilla – Area in Murcia known for robust red wines whose best wines are made with the Monastrell and Petit Verdot grapes. L’Ermita is a great winery.
- Manzanilla – Very dry sherry style wine, Manzanilla only comes from the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, part of the Sherry Triangle.
- Moscatel – Sweet dessert wine, excellent Moscatels are made in the Alicante region
- Navarra – Wine region located just east of La Rioja. Traditionally famous for Rosado wines, now more and more for international blends. Top names are Ochoa and Chivite.
- Oloroso – Dark, rich aged sherry
- Orujo – Typical digestif from Galicia. Similar to Aguardiente, it can be “white” (clear and strong) or flavored with honey or herbs)
- Pacharán – Sloeberry liqueur from Navarra/ Basque country.
- Pago – single vineyard, Château style estate bottled wine
- Priorat – the most exciting wine region in Spain at the moment, with serious winemakers such as Rene Barbier, Alvaro Palacios and Carles Pastrana making an international name for these prestigious wines. Located in Tarragona province, eastern Spain.
- Rioja – La Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine region, whose DO was established in the 1920s, but whose wineries were founded in the 1800s. Mainly red, oaky wines.
- Roble – Oak
- Rueda – the region for good value and great quality white wine in Spain. Fresh fruity whites are made with native Verdejo grape and often blended with Sauvignon Blanc
Spanish Wine Recommendations
Here are some recommendations for the best Spanish win varieties out on the market.
Spicy plum and cassis aromas come with a sweet note of cinnamon-infused jam. A gritty but fun palate loses energy and bounce as this airs out, while flavors of chocolate and plum finish creamy before falling off. For a simple but good taste of Mencía, give this a go.
This nose is rich, savory in aromas of blackberry, black olive, chocolate, and iron. A flush, pulpy palate is tannic and overall a bit broad and clunky, while friendly black plum and cassis flavors darken up on a thick finish. Big fruit and a ripe flavor profile are what this Mencía delivers.
Aromas of creamy oak, vanilla, plum, and raspberry are best early on, then leatherier and more broken as this process airs out. A rubbery, reduced palate is grabby and heavy. Stewed berry and fig flavors are beefy, while this delivers cheek-pounding tannins on a bruising finish.
Red wine from Bierzo · Spain. Aromas of creamy oak, vanilla, plum and raspberry are best early on, then more leathery and broken as this airs out.
FAQs About Spanish Wine
Spain is the leader in making wine, so they usually resell their wine to France or Italy, where they add more ingredients or simply change the labels, reselling it for almost double the price.
Yes. Despite the popular opinion that reds should be served as warm as possible, in Spain you get a cold red wine in restaurants and pubs and not just cooled and it’s still perfect to wine lovers who prefer a chilled wine like me.
Yes. Salut Wine Studio is a wine subscription box, and also a store in Barcelona which offers wine tasting and many other events related to wine. The bad side of this story is that they don’t offer international shipping, so you can try it only if you are there.
Use all of the information in this guide to help you locate the right Spanish wine variety for your specific taste buds. All of the tips and knowledge included in this guide can help you determine what factors to look for when selecting a Spanish wine variety to ensure that you make the right purchase decision about which products will provide you with the most joy. All of the Spanish wine varieties mentioned in this article can be found either online or in a local liquor store near you.