A Beginner's Guide To Spanish Wine

Tara Jessop

Spain is the third largest producer of the wine in the world, behind only France and Italy, and is famous for big names such as Rioja and Ribera del Duero. With so much to choose from, navigating a Spanish wine list can be a little tricky if you don’t know what to look out for. We’ve compiled an easy guide to understanding and appreciating the best of Spanish vino.

The History Of Wine Making In Spain

The history of viticulture in Spain is long, with evidence of grapes growing in the area as far back as the year 4000 BC. Under the Roman empire, Spanish wine was traded across Europe and the Mediterranean but was hampered during the Moorish invasion of the Iberian peninsula from the 8th Century onwards. By the 14th Century, Spanish wine was once again being sold across Europe, especially in England where it would be shipped straight from Bilbao to Bristol in regular supply. During the colonisation of the Americas, Spanish missionaries brought vines with them and introduced viticulture to the conquered lands. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Spanish wine production benefited from the phylloxera epidemic which ravaged many of the French old vines and created a shortage in European supply. Many French producers moved to Spain bringing with them their expertise and introducing progress in the production method. For a long time, Spanish wine was considered by some of inferior quality to the wine of its neighbours, but since the late 20th Century, Spain has established itself as a serious producer with some top quality wines appreciated the world round.

The D.O. regions of Spain in purple

The Main Wine Making Regions

Rioja: produced around the La Rioja region, the Basque country and Navarre, D.O. Rioja wines typically display oaky notes as result of maturing the wine in oak barrels. Those in search of a pronounced oaky flavour should look out for the mention ‘Gran Reserva’ indicating that the wine has been in oak for at least two years. Best known for its full-bodied reds, oaky white Riojas are also very popular.

Priorat: this is one of the highest quality wine-producing regions in Spain. Located in the region of Catalonia, the volcanic nature of the soil in which the vines are grown gives the wine a distinctive flavour; it also means that yields are much lower than in other regions due to the hardy conditions. Best known for its distinctive reds which have continued to grow in popularity since the 1990s.

Oak barrels

Ribera del Duero: named after the river Duero which runs through the area, this is a mostly red wine producing region home to one of the most famous bodegas in Spain, Vega Sicilia. The region now rivals the Rioja region as one of the largest wine-producing regions in Spain and is growing in popularity among foreign drinkers, attracted to its full-bodied and oaky flavour.

Cava: one of the most widely spread regional appellations, the name ‘Cava’ refers to the sparkling white wine mostly produced in the region of Catalunya. Although not enjoying the same repute as French ‘Champagne’, cava is becoming increasingly well-known on the international stage and enjoys great popularity at home in Spain. Look out for ‘método tradicional’ as an indication that the fizz has occurred as a result of a natural process of fermentation.

Sherry: known in Spanish as Jerez, this is the home of the classic fortified wine generally referred to as Sherry. However there are many different kinds of Jerez, varying from syrupy and sweet (such as Pedro Ximenez) to crisp and dry (such as Fino or Manzanilla), with many in between (such as Palo Cortao, Oloroso or Amontillado in growing order of dryness).

Xarel.lo Cava grapes

There are many other regional appellations from which excellent wines are produced and are well-worth exploring when in the area. Anyone in Catalonia should not miss an opportunity to try a D.O. Rueda wine, just as those in Galicia should try a D.O. Rías Baixas. In any case, locally produced wines will always be the best accompaniment when enjoying the local cuisine, as the flavours tend towards a wonderful natural harmony.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article