Although France and Italy generally get the glory, Spain’s diverse wine-producing regions should not be overlooked. Home to a plethora of grape varieties and countless talented producers, the country’s viticultural scene has seen a major boom over the past two decades, including in quality.
Whether seeking out age-worthy bottles to lay down or simply looking for tasty options to open in the present, some of Europe’s top quality-to-price ratio options are to be found within this versatile Iberian country — it’s simply a matter of knowing where to look.
- Location: Iberian Peninsula.
- Size: more than 2,372,000 acres of vines.
- Main grape varieties: Tempranillo, Grenache, Mencía, Albariño, Verdejo.
Spain is famous for the reds produced in Rioja, Priorat, and Ribera del Duero, as well as for its sparkling wine production in Catalonia, referred to as Cava. In the south, fortified wines known as Sherry are produced around the city of Jerez, while in the center and western parts of the country, crisp white wines are made from Verdejo and Albariño, respectively.
Wine-producing subzones of Spain
Spain is home to numerous wine regions that produce wines across the entire flavor and color spectrums. The most popular regions include the País Vasco, known as Basque Country, Rioja, Navarre — Navarra in Spanish — Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, Andalucia, Castilla y León, Madrid, Galicia, and the Canary Islands.
Within these regions, Spain boasts 68 Denominación de Origens, more commonly known as DOs, which are similar to France’s AOP and Italy’s DOC designations. Only two prestigious Spanish appellations, Rioja and Priorat, hold DOCa status, which is the highest in all of Spain.
Located in northern Spain, Rioja is by far the country’s most prestigious and globally recognized region. The area is best known for producing luscious, age-worthy reds from Tempranillo-dominant blends. Small amounts of full-bodied white and rosé wines are also produced here.
Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, Catalonia’s claim to viticultural fame is its sparkling wine production, best known as Cava. In recent years, Catalonia has also become an unofficial hub for natural winemaking, with handfuls of new and exciting producers popping up every year.
Castilla y León
Castilla y León is the overarching region that houses Spain’s famed Rueda and Ribera del Duero appellations, which are known for their Verdejo and Tempranillo productions, respectively. Here, the climate is quite dramatic, marked by scorching summers and below-freezing winters. Castilla y León is the largest of Spain’s wine-producing regions.
Situated along Spain’s western coast, Galicia is a wet and chilly region that is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The region is home to five famous DOs: Rías Baixas, Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, and Valdeorras. Wines from Galicia are produced mostly from Albariño and Mencía.
Andalucia is Spain’s most southerly wine-producing region. Here, mostly fortified wines — Sherry — are produced in a variety of styles, from bone dry to syrupy sweet. Andalucía is characterized by hot temperatures and sun-drenched days.
Now taste Spain for yourself:
La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2015 (~$33)
With roots dating back to 1890, La Rioja Alta represents the coming together of five quality-focused winemaking families eager to share Rioja’s potential for delicious, age-worthy wines around the globe. In 1904, the group acquired Bodegas Ardanza, which provided access to some of the region’s most prestigious Rioja Alta-based vineyards, which is where this cuvée gets its name. Ardanza is a rich and smooth red wine produced from 78% Tempranillo and 22% Grenache. These wines are released after extensive aging — generally five years — though their cellar-worthy potential beyond release goes for decades.
Compania Bodeguera Valenciso Blanco Fermentado en Barrica (~$20)
Valenciso was founded by Luis Valentín and Carmen Enciso in 1998, both of whom shared a passion for producing fruit-forward rather than oak-driven wines from Rioja. This 70/30 blend of Viura and Grenache Blanc is plush, full-bodied, and laden with flavors of stone fruit, honey, and white flowers. Although the wine ages in neutral oak for nine months, fruit remains the focus of this ripe, palate-coating wine. Since 2018, Valenciso’s vines have been farmed with organic certification.
Basque Country/País Vasco
Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina 2021 (~$24)
Don’t be intimidated by the spelling. Wines from Txakolina, pronounced chalk-oh-leen-ah, are some of the most refreshing and easy-drinking bottles coming out of Spain. Produced from the Hondarribi Beltza and/or Hondarribi Zuri grapes, these spritzy white wines are citrusy, saline-tinged, and generally boast a relatively low ABV. This expression from Ameztoi is a favorite amongst industry insiders and consumers alike — taste for yourself and see why.
Viña Zorzal Rosado 2021 (~$10)
Rosé skeptics, listen up. The wines of Navarra promise to please a variety of palates, especially those of red wine lovers wary of drinking pink. Produced mostly from Grenache, or Grenache-based blends rounded out with Tempranillo, Merlot, and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, these dark-hued wines jump with flavors of cranberry, cherry, and strawberry. Viña Zorzal’s expression is fruity, zesty, and pairs unbelievably well with a variety of savory foods, from appetizers to main courses and beyond.
Martin Codax Albariño Rias Baixas (~$14)
Founded in 1986, Bodegas Martin Codax is a Galicia-based cooperative that now represents 550 individual families that farm over 1,400 parcels of vines around the region of Cambados. This accessible, easy-to-find Albariño is a great introduction to just how tasty this Iberian grape variety is. Expect a vibrant, high-acid wine laden with flavors of lemon zest, green apple skin, white flower blossoms, and loads of saline.
Castilla y León
Raúl Pérez Saint Jacques Bierzo Tinto 2019 (~$20)
Raúl Pérez is one of Galicia’s most exciting winemakers. A pioneer of organic farming and low-intervention winemaking, Pérez’s wines are reflective of the unique places of Spain from which they come. This varietal Mencía is vinified with 80% whole clusters, which adds texture and freshness to this juicy, fruit-driven wine. Flavors of dark fruits, raspberry, violets, black pepper, and herbs lead to a lengthy finish. If you love Loire Valley Cabernet Franc or fuller-bodied expressions of Gamay, this bottle is a must try.
Fontana Mesta Verdejo 2020 (~$10)
Along with Albariño, Verdejo is one of Spain’s emblematic white wine varieties. Cultivated mostly within the Castilla y León region — specifically within the appellation of Rueda — these crisp and easy-drinking wines are all-around crowd pleasers — and their attainable price tags make the deal even sweeter. This zesty, mineral-tinged expression from Fontana Mesta shows a more herbaceous and grassy side of the variety. If you generally reach for Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo promises to please.
Dominio del Soto Ribera del Duero 2016 (~$15)
Dominio del Soto is the Ribera del Duero-based project of renowned French winemaker Michel Chapoutier. Here, the family practices exactly what they preach in the Rhône Valley — that is, organic viticulture with biodynamic practices and meticulous vinification, which lead to concentrated, versatile wines that promise to satisfy a variety of preferences. This varietal Tempranillo is bold and fruit-driven, marked by pleasant oak-spice undertones that linger on the finish. For those already familiar with the Tempranillo-based reds of Rioja, the Ribera del Duero region is definitely to be discovered.
Alvaro Palacios Camins Del Priorat 2020 (~$23)
In terms of international renown, Priorat has Álvaro Palacios to thank for much of its reputation. Palacios first settled in the region back in 1989 and has spent the last 30-plus years proving the appellation’s potential for world-class, age-worthy wines year in and year out. The Camins del Priorat cuvée is his entry-level wine, though make no mistake, this cuvée is vinified with just as much care as his higher-end wines. This Grenache-dominant wine is silky, fresh, and very drinkable in its youth, especially when served with a slight chill.
Codorniu Clasico Cava Brut NV (~$11)
In the world of bubbly bottles, Cava is Spain’s signature wine. Produced from Catalonia’s native grape varieties of Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parellada, these traditional method sparklers offer budget-friendly alternatives to Champagne — think of them like Spain’s version of France’s crémants. Codorniu is by and large one of the most accessible and easy-to-find producers of this distinct style of sparkling wine.
Gramona Corpinnat Brut La Cuvée 2016 (~$21)
For a glimpse into higher-end sparkling wines from Catalonia, look for the word Corpinnat. These sparkling wines are no longer part of the Cava designation, as they generally boast a higher level of quality and are made with stricter regulations. All wines with the Corpinnat designation must be produced from 100% organically-farmed, hand-harvested grapes from Penedès. The wines must also be vinified on site at the winery that produces them — that’s to say, no cooperatives or négociant wines allowed. Gramona is a great gateway into the category, and at the price at which it’s sold, offers a great quality-to-price ratio in the realm of sparkling wine.
Lustau Jarana Light Fino Sherry (~$16)
Sherries are fortified, meaning that a neutral distillate is added to the final wine, whether still or dry. The main styles of Sherry are Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, and Oloroso, though other expressions such as palo cortado and cream also exist. Manzanilla and fino sherries are dry, nutty, and loaded with acidity. Produced from the Palomino grape, this bone-dry expression from Lustau shows flavors of lemon, roasted nuts, biscuit, and salinity. Serve as a pre-dinner aperitif with Spanish tapas, including Manchego cheese, briny olives, marcona almonds, and beyond.