7 Sip-Worthy Spanish Wine Regions
by: L.M. Archer, FWS
“Beber este vino es como hablar con Dios.”
(“Tasting this wine is like talking with God.”)
For the adventurous yet frugal traveller, Spain abounds with fresh, food-friendly wines, most for well under $10.
And Spain’s diverse meso-climates – broad, limestone central Meseta, complex coastlines, and steep, granitic massifs – translate into equally versatile food pairing options.
But first…Some Spanish Wine History
For centuries, Spanish wine making operated on the rustic side. But in the late 1800’s, thanks to France’s phylloxera epidemic, many French wine makers moved south to Spain. Once the louse departed France, the French wine makers returned home, leaving behind their methods.
Some French practices remained, such as the use of oak barrels instead of traditional large stone troughs, known as lagars. Spaniards added a twist to the barrel making by importing cheaper American oak wood and fashioning, then toasting, barrels according to French methods.
Spanish Cava, first produced in Penedès in 1872, also owes its heritage to French champagne making methods.
Like France, Spain enacted their first wine laws in 1932. Similar to France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, Spain’s own Denominación de Origen (DO) laws outline and safeguard specific geographic regions. Today, Spain’s DO’s number fifty-four. Additionally, Rioja ranks as Spain’s highest, and only DOCa (Qualified Denomination of Origin) classified region.
Unlike the French, however, Spanish wine makers long emphasized process and maturation, rather than vineyard site. However, many of Spain’s emerging modern wine makers now challenge this notion. And while two world wars, a civil war, and a repressive dictatorship hobbled Spain’s wine industry through the 1970’s, Spain has quickly moved ahead on the world stage, emerging as a worthy competitor in the 21st century.
Seven (7) sip-worthy Spanish wine regions offering both value and variety:
- Location: NE Spain, directly south of Barcelona
- Claim to Fame: Birthplace of Spanish sparkling wine (cava) in 1870’s.
- Primary Grape varietals: Cariñena, Garnacha, Macabeo, Monastrell, Parellada, Tempranillo, and Xarel-lo.
- Fun Fact: Where Freixenet invented the rémouge-inducing gyroplate, or girasol (Spanish for sunflower) in 1972.
- Food Pairing Suggestions: Perfect as an apéritif, with seafood or tapas.
- Location: NE Spain, inland SW from Barcelona
- Claim to Fame: Small, low-yield estates producing high-quality, much-demanded reds.
- Primary Grape varietals: Cariñena, Garnacha.
- Fun Fact: The region’s name stems from a Medieval monastery Priorato de Scala Dei (‘Priory of the Stairway of God.’)
- Food Pairing Suggestions: Tapas, ham, lamb, chicken, delicately seasoned fare.
La Mancha DO
- Location: Spain’s central Meseta region.
- Claim to Fame: Spain’s largest wine region, and it’s driest.
- Primary Grape varietals: Airén (for brandy), Garnacha, Pardian, Tempranillo, Viura.
- Fun Fact: Home to Man of La Mancha’s tilting windmills
- Food Pairing Suggestions: Tapas, heavier meats and informal meals.
- Location: Northern Spain – Ebro River Valley. Rioja contains three (3) regions:
- Rioja Alavesa– Northernmost
- Rioja Alta– Northwestern
- Rioja Baja – Southeast
- Claim to Fame: Spain’s first (1981), and most famous designated wine region. Rioja employs unique, stringent aging requirements, designated by four (4) categories, with corresponding color-coded labels on the back of each bottle:
- Joven: Wines under 2 yrs. old.
- Crianza: Wines 3+ yrs old; aged 6 mos. + in barrel
- Reserva: Wines of best vintages 3+ yrs. old; aged 1 yr + in barrel.
- Gran Reserva: Wines of exceptional vintages 5+ years old; aged 2+ yrs in oak barrels and 3 yrs in bottle. White Gran Reserva: Wines aged 4+ yrs, at least 1 yr. in barrel.
- Primary Grape varietals: Graciano, Garnacha, Malvasía, Mazuelo (Cariñena), Tempranillo, Viura.
- Fun Fact: Supposedly named after the Ebro River tributary, Rio Oja.
- Food Pairing Suggestions: The Little Black Dress of Spanish wines – dresses up or down for any occassion and meal, depending upon the aging and vintage.
Ribera Del Duero DO
- Location: Duero River Valley
- Claim to Fame: Cult-following high-quality reds.
- Primary Grape varietals: Garnacha, Tinto del País (Tempranillo)
- Fun Fact: Spain’s second (1982) designated wine region.
- Food Pairing Suggestions: Segovia’s famous succulent baby lamb.
- Location: SW Spain in Cadiz near Jerez de la Fronterra.
- Claim to Fame: Birthplace of Sherry, which deserves an entire future feature.
- Primary Grape varietals: Moscatel Gordo Blanco (Muscat de’ Alexandrie), Palomino, Pedro Ximénez.
- Fun Fact: The region is known for its prized, white limestone soil, albariza. Also for its Andalusian horses.
- Food Pairing Suggestions: Truly eclectic – suitable as an apéritif, with afternoon tapas, as well as after dinner.
Bizkaiko Txakolina/Getariako Txakolina/Arabako Txakolina DO
- Location: Three (3) separate geographic appellations within Spain’s northern Basque region.
- Claim to Fame: Slightly fizzy (pétillant), crisp, highly acid white wines.
- Primary Grape Varietals: Ondarrabi Zuri (Corbu Blanc), Ondarrabi Zuri Zerratia (Petit Corbu), Izkiriota (Gros Manseng).
- Fun Fact: The proper way to serve txakoli: Pour from a raised bottle to waist-high glass below in order to aerate the wine.
- Food Pairing Suggestions: Designed to pair with tapas and seafood.
For travellers contemplating a trip to Spain, or simply a visit to the international wine section of your local market, these Spanish palate pleasers provide an affordable gateway to its eclectic food and wine culture. ¡Salud!
Copyrighted 2013. All Rights Reserved. All photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.