Spanish wine often finds itself in the shadows of neighboring France and Italy, though it’s often delicious enough to shine on its own. Spain is home to 12 major wine regions, 400-plus grape varieties and 1.2 million hectares under vine, and its annual wine production is larger than any country on the globe. Although it was known in the past for mass-produced table wine, Spain’s winemaking scene is rising up to claim its proper place among the top players.
Now more than ever, Spanish winemakers are focusing on terroir reflection, indigenous grape varieties and an overall quality-over-quantity mentality. Looking to dive deeper into the world of Spanish wine? Get to know six of the country’s major regions and their signature grape varieties through these delicious yet affordable bottles.
Andalucia may be Spain’s most underrated wine producing region. Although sherry suffered from a bad reputation for most of the 20th century, this Spanish fortified wine is seeing a revolution. There’s so much to love about it. Sherry is produced all across the flavor spectrum, from salty and bone-dry expressions to unctuous and sticky-sweet dessert juice. However, when basking beneath the Spanish summer sun, nothing satiates the palate like a pour of dry fino. These saline Mediterranean-influenced wines are perfect for pairing with all of southern Spain’s best snacks, from jamón Ibérico to marcona almonds to pescaíto frito (fried fish). Serve cold and drink up.
Castilla y León is a rather large wine-producing area located in northwestern/central Spain. The region is most famously home to the Ribera del Duero and Rueda appellations, which produce tempranillo-dominant reds and crisp verdejo-based whites, respectively. However, since you can score some top-notch tempranillo in Rioja (see below), this is a good opportunity to highlight mencía, another one of Spain’s indigenous red grapes. Castilla y León’s mencía production is mostly focused around the appellation of Bierzo. Mencía-based wines are known for their flavors of dark fruit, cracked black pepper, wet earth and violets. Think cabernet franc meets gamay meets pinot noir. Simply put, it’s delicious.
Spain’s eastern coast is globally regarded for tapas, Sangria and nonstop nightlife (Barcelona, we’re looking at you), though in the realm of viticulture, Catalunya is the region’s claim to fame. Although plenty of still table wines are produced here, Catalunya is best known for its affordable and delicious sparkling wine production known as cava, though in a sea of mass-produced bubbles, knowing whose to drink is key. We recommend seeking out organically grown wines from reputable producers like Raventos i Blanc. This covetable cava is made in the same way as Champagne (albeit with different grapes), tastes just as delicious and costs a fraction of its French counterpart.
Love salty, sea-influenced whites? Then the wines of Rías Baixas need to be on your radar. Produced from the albariño variety, these high-acid bottles are perfect for sipping during long meals. This bottle from Raúl Pérez is the perfect gateway juice to falling in love with the region. Raúl’s wizard-like appearance is a serendipitous reflection of the way in which he commands his vineyards and cellars. This varietal albariño is produced from organically farmed old-vine fruit and is vinified in oak. The wine’s thirst-quenching palate is noted with flavors of citrus peel, lime juice and coarse sea salt. Pair with oysters, fresh seafood or crisp seasonal salads.
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Home to the Guggenheim, countless Michelin-starred restaurants and a revamped waterfront, Spain’s northerly Basque Country always promises a good time—and the local wine is just as fun. The region is best known for its production of txakoli (chalk-oh-lee) wines, which are made from the hondarribi zuri and hondarribi beltza varieties. These spritzy saline-tinged wines are similar to those produced in Vinho Verde, though generally on a much smaller scale, with less mass-produced juice and from more family-owned wineries. Pour a glass of Ameztoi’s affordable and thirst-quenching bottle and mentally escape to the shores of San Sebastian.
In the world of Spanish wine, Rioja is king. These powerhouse reds are produced mostly from tempranillo, are aged for generous amounts of time in American oak and are some of the best cellar steals on the market (these high-end wines tend to cost a fraction of their French or Italian counterparts). López de Heredia is one of Rioja’s most highly regarded and well-respected viticultural names. At just $30 a pop, getting a sip from one of Spain’s finest producers never tasted so good. Notes of dark fruit, red cherries, used leather, earth spice and smoke dominate the wine’s savory yet balanced flavor profile. Drink this now and snag a second bottle to revisit five to eight years down the line.