Spain’s Wine Regions
Located in the north of Spain, the Rioja region has been a center for viticulture since Roman times and is Spain’s most famous winemaking area. The province is divided into three sub-areas, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. Approximately 1,200 vineyards are located here. Like most of Spain, you can still find wineries operating the same way they were centuries ago right next to ultra-modern newcomers. It is one of only two wine regions in Spain with the highest quality designation, labeled as DOCA. What defines this region are rich red wines made primarily from the Tempranillo grape.
Wineries are generally open by appointment only and wine tourism is still relatively new but visitors are welcome and some English-speaking tours are available. The small medieval towns, vineyards and wineries that dot Rioja province are only a 90-minute drive from Bilbao, home to the Guggenheim Museum and a huge tourist destination. The Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa areas are considered to make the best wines.
With so many outstanding producers to choose from, wine enthusiasts will have ample opportunities to sample every class of Rioja wine from the everyday Crianza (less aging in oak barrels and bottles) to Riserva and Gran Riserva bottlings that are aged for many years. Highly rated producers would include Baron de Lay, Bodegas Luis Canas, Marques de Murietta, Marques de Riscal, CUNE, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Sierra Cantabria and La Rioja Alta.
Ribera del Duero Wineries
South and west from Rioja or roughly 100-miles north of Madrid is the Ribera del Duero wine region and home to Spain’s most famous winery, Vega Sicilia. Although wines have been made here since medieval times and Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864, it was not until the 1980s when the region became an official viticultural area and an influx of international investment occurred that the region came into the world spotlight.
As in Rioja, Tempranillo is the primary red grape varietal but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are commonly used as blending grapes. Ageing classifications are also similar to Rioja but it’s far smaller in terms of production. Excellent wineries in this region include the highly-touted Bodegas Vega Sicilia, Abadia de Acon, Arzuaga, Asenjo & Manso, Dominio de Atauta, Callejo, J.A. Calvo Casajus, J.C. Conde, Emina, Hermanos Perez Pascuas, Emilio Moro, Dominio de Pingus and many others.
Spain’s southwest coastal province of Cadiz is the birthplace of the world-famous fortified wine, Sherry. Established in 1933 as an appellation, it is Spain’s oldest and largest in terms of volume of wine made. Only three grape varietals are allowed to produce Sherry wines – Palomino, Pedro Jimenez and Moscatel. Through fortification with brandy, a complicated aging system and blending of older wines with newer wines, the various classifications of Sherry emerge.
With roughly 100 or so wineries to visit in the area, there are numerous options for touring, tasting and learning about how Sherry and its cousins are made. Some wineries will require appointments and charge modest tasting fees. Popular tourist stops include Harveys of Bristol, Williams and Humbert, and Gonzales Byass. Many famous Sherry houses are actually British companies, not surprising given the popularity of Sherry in the UK. Other highly regarded producers include Fernando de Castilla, Emilio Lustau and Bodegas Tradicion.
Priorat Wineries and rest of Spain
In northeastern Spain, the tiny up and coming wine region of Priorat is producing some of the most highly-acclaimed wines in the country. Garnacha (Grenache) is the primary grape here. Although not as popular as a tourist destination, serious wine enthusiasts will amazed by these complex, powerful red wines. Recommended producers include Costers del Siurana, Cellar Cal Pla, Cims de Porrera, Clos I Terrasses, Clos Mogador, Genium Celler, Mas Igneus, Mas de les Pereres and Cellers Pasanau. Appointments for winery visits are a necessity in this region.
Throughout Spain, great wine and food are part of everyday life. Each province has its own delicacies and affordable, food-friendly wines to match. While powerful red wines are the star, there are many delightful white wines, especially those made from the Albarino grape. Grown throughout Spain, Albarino takes on different characteristics in each area. For those who love sparkling wine, a trip to the Cava region near Barcelona would be ideal. Whether it’s the rugged Basque countryside or the swanky beach resorts of the south, a wine vacation in Spain will be a memorable adventure.