Spain has become the sleeping giant of the wine world, third in the world for production, with more land planted under vine than any country in the world. The largest land area of vines in the world (over 1 Million acres) yet the low yields produce an ever growing level of exceptional quality for value. Spain's history of wine and olive oil production dates back over three thousand years. There are over 60 different regional DOs producing everything from light and zesty Albariño to inky black Monastrell. The best way to start understanding the area is to break it into 7 distinct climates.
Northwest “Green” 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).
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 widely planted Airén.
Ebro River Valley
The sub regions 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.
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.
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.
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 Islands (includes The Canary Islands)
The Islands of Spain offer a wide range of wines from Listan 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..