Spanish Wines

In Spain, there is also a governing body similar to France and Italy. Most wines are covered by the DO – Denominación de Origen. There is a second status that consistently maintains quality called the DOCa or DOCQ – Denominación de Origen de Calificada. This is one status, but one region uses the abbreviation DOCa and one region (Basque) uses DOCQ.


The DO governs the standards of viticulture and winemaking practices. It can cover the types of grapes that can be planted, allowed crop yields, aging time, and labeling of bottles. Spanish wines are classified in a 6 tier system. The DO & DOCa/DOCQ wines must be inspected, tested and approved by the Consejo Regulador laboratory. Those wines will have “Consejo Regulador” stamped on their wine bottles. The other levels of wines are Vino de Mesa (table wines), Vinos de la Tierra (indicates a broad geographical region), and  Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (the level before DO).


The last classification was created in 2003; it’s called the Vino de Pago. This is a wine made by a single vineyard and can only use estate grown grapes. There are currently more than a dozen wineries that produce wine under this classification. There are less stringent rules on the wine makers and it is likened to the IGT Super Tuscans of Italy. However, it has not quite gained the same success and popularity.


The other requirements of the wine system are the aging time and vessels. The following levels appear on wines and will tell consumers the minimum amount of aging.


Crianza – Red wines must be aged for 2 years, 6 months of which must be in oak. For whites and rosés, it is 1 year, 6 months in oak. In Rioja, the time in the barrel for Crianzas is extended to 12 months.


Reserva – Red wines must be aged 3 years, 1 year of which must be in oak. For whites and rosés, it is 2 years, 6 months in oak.


Gran Reserva – Red wines must be aged 5 years, 1.5 years of which must be in oak. For whites and rosés, it is 4 years, with 6 months in oak. Gran Reserva wines are usually only made in years that are considered to have exceptional vintages.


Spain also follows the Old World style of calling the wines by their region, not the grape. Spain has several native grapes that are grown throughout the country. The 2 most popular ones are Tempranillo and Garnacha. Some regions have other synonyms for Tempranillo, such as Ule de llebre in Catalonia, but it is the same grape.


Starting in the northeast corner of Spain, there is the wine region known as Green Spain, or Galicia. Because this area is cooler and considerably wetter than the rest of Spain, this area is mostly known for highly acidic wines. Within Galicia are several sub-regions. The most notable are Rías Baixas, Ribeiro, Valdeorras.


Rías Baixas is one DO with 5 sub-regions of its own. The area is known for dry whites with very high levels of acidity. These wines are mostly made from the Albariño grape, as well as Loureira and Treixadura.  The region has a damp maritime climate and granite soils. The Albariño grape grown in this area has characteristics of minerality, citrus and brininess from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.


The Ribeiro region is known for its whites made from Albariño and Torrontés. Ribeiro translates to “river banks” in Galician. The vineyards are planted along the Miño river and its tributaries. This region also makes a dark-colored but light-bodied red from Garancha Tintorera. Here the grapes receive an influence of the Atlantic Ocean and a more Mediterranean climate. The Albariños from this region tend to have more body and a floral richness.


Valdeorros is the eastern most and highest elevation in Galicia. They are starting to plant some international grapes, but mostly use the indigenous grapes Godello and Mencia. Godella is a white wine grape often made in 2 styles. The first is a mineral driven wine compared to Chablis. The 2nd is an oak aged wine compared to white Burgundy. Mencia is an easy drinking red wine.


Centered around the Duero River is the Duero Valley region. This area lies in the northern Meseta and has cold winters and the potential for hot summers, and has considerably less rain than Galicia. The Duero River flows through the DO sub-regions of Toro, Rueda, Cigales and the famous Ribera del Duero.


The Toro DO region makes its red wine from the Tempranillo grape, where it goes by the name Tinta de Toro. This region is continuing to modernize practices and also produces whites and rosés. The Toro DO reds must contain at least 75% Tinta de Toro, but can be up to 100%. Most are 100%, but those that are not, can only add the Garnacha grape. Some whites are made from the Malavasia and Veredejo grapes.


Rueda is mostly known for their white wines made from the Verdejo grape. These wines are usually light and aromatic. Their continental climate leads to a significant diurnal temperature variation that helps the grapes ripen while retaining their high levels of acidity. There is a very small output (5%) of red wines.


Cigales makes reds and rosés from Tempranillo with Garnacha as a blending partner. In this region, Tempranillo is referred to as Tinta del País. A significant amount of their wines are rosés.


Last, the Ribera del Duero is considered among the top regions of Spain. With high elevations and a great diurnal shift, many quality red wines are made from the Tempranillo grape. These wines must have 75% of Tempranillo, although in this region it is referred to as Tinta del País or Tinto Fino. The remaining percentage may be Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Merlot or Malbec.  The red wines of Ribera del Duero are usually long-aging and complex. Rosés are also produced from Garnacha.


Going northeast, the next region is the famous La Rioja. This was the first region named DO in 1925, then elevated to DOCa in 1991. Lying in the Ebro River Valley, Rioja has a Continental climate tempered by a Mediterranean influence that comes up the Ebro Valley. 90% of the region is planted with red varieties, with Tempranillo being the most widely planted. The other reds are Garnacha, Mazeulo (also known as Carignan) and Gracíano. The red wines are Tempranillo based blends and spend significant time aging, usually in American oak. These wines can age for long periods of time and can be quite tannic. They can have a leathery bouquet with an earthy quality. Some wine makers are now starting to focus on making wines more approachable at a younger age with a more fruity quality. The white wines of Rioja must contain 51% of the Viura grape. (also known as Macabeo). It can be blended with Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. White Rioja is usually cold fermented and released young. Some producers still use the barrel-aged method to produce an oak-aged style.


More to come on the region of Catalonia, the region that produces the countries sparkling wine, Cava and has the other DOCa region of Priorat.