Saturday, July 18, 2015

Spain Unit 2 - Green Spain: Galicia and Basque Country

Galacia Vines
The following are my notes for the Advanced Study of the Wines of Spain covering Green Spain: Galicia and the Basque Country. The notes include information about the history, topography, climate, soils, important red and white grapes, the various Denominación de Origen (DO) of the region and the wines I tasted during this study.


Green Spain (España Verde) is located just north of the Portugal border along the northwest Atlantic coast in Galicia, north of the Cantabrian and Basque mountains, along the Bay of Biscay. The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela. This region includes Asturias, Cantabria, and the northern half of the Basque Country and Navarre all the way from Galicia through the French border. The topography is known for its heavily forested mountain valleys, rias (estuaries) from the west coast and slow-moving rivers with terraced vineyards, winding mountain roads, and remote villages.


While much of the rest of Spain is dry, hot and arid this region is called “green” because of its wet and temperate Maritime climate caused by the Atlantic influences that create a landscape similar to that of Ireland, Great Britain, and the west coast of France. The region receives more rain than the rest of Spain and the inland regions of central Europe with an average precipitation of about 1,200 mm. The main exception to this northerly rainfall trend is the Sierra de Grazalema, in the southern province of Cadiz, which experiences a rain shadow affect as the mountains block the Atlantic moisture-carrying winds.

The sheltering fortification of the Cantabrian Mountains or Cantabrian Range (Spanish: Cordillera Cantábrica) stretch east-west, nearly parallel to the sea, as far as the pass of Leitariegos, extending south between León and Galicia to the Pyrenees. The regions of Ribeiro, Ribera Sacra, Valdeorras, and Bierzo experience pockets of protection from the cold and often wet coastal influences. Rías Baixas on the other hand experiences the full force of Atlantic weather. The result is Western Green Spain regions tend to produce high–acid white wines from relatively under ripe grapes, while sites in the Pyrenees generate shockingly bracing white wines under the rubric of Txakoli.


The name Galicia is a cognate of Gaul (France) and its earliest settlers were the same Celtic peoples who colonized most of the prehistoric European west coast well before the birth of Christ.[1] The result is Green Spain is one of the least “Spanish” parts of the country as the Galicians and Basques left behind a non-Castilian culture.[2] But, the Celts had no written language so modern Galicians speak Gallego, a dialect related to Portuguese.

The region was then occupied by the Romans, Swabians (a Germanic people), Visigoths and the non-wine drinking Islamic Moors. Then in the 9th century the region was assimilated into the Kingdom of Asturias and the remains of St. James were discovered in Santiago de Compostela (Pilgrim’s Road). Subsequently through the 10th and 11th centuries it became a tourist destination for Christian pilgrims.

In 1492 Galicia became part of Greater Spain and the Moors were expelled. In the 18th century the port city of La Coruna was licensed to trade with the American colonies, which brought prosperity to the region.

Autonomias of Green Spain
Within Green Spain there are four autonomías:
Portugal in the northwestern corner of the country. It is a verdant region of lush vegetation and dense forests, riddled with rías (estuaries) and small rivers cutting through low mountain ranges. The cooler maritime climate of the region is ideal for the production of crisp, refreshing white wines. As the nickname “Green Spain” implies, Galicia is a world removed from the popular conception of an arid Spanish landscape.
This autonomía produces wine but there are no DO, VdiT or VC classified wines.
This autonomía produces wine but there are no DO, VdiT or VC classified wines.

Denominación de Origen (DO) of Galicia
Within Galicia there are five DOs:[3]
Rías Baixas DO
Established as a DO in 1988. Rías Baixas, pronounced (ree-ahs buy-shuss), is Galician for “ “lower estuaries” and it borders Portugal along the coast. The dominate white grape is Albariño which makes up 90% of the vineyard acreage. A wine labeled “Rías Baixas Albariño” will be 100% Albariño. There are 5 subzones: Val do Salnés, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior, O Rosal, and Condado do Tea. If the wine is labeled with one of the northern subzones (Val do Salnés or Ribeira do Ulla) it must contain a minimum 70% Albariño and if it is from the southern subzones of O Rosal and Condado do Tea the remaining 30% may be either Loureira or Treixadura (also used in Portugal’s Vinho Verde). Some producers subject Albariño to malolactic fermentation and barrica aging which is indicated on the bottle. The remaining 10% of production is dedicated to red wines made from grapes such as Caiño, Espadeiro and Mencía.
Ribeiro DO
Established as a DO in 1957.  It is located along the Miño River to the east of Rías Baixas. It has a transitional climate zone between Maritime and Mediterranean. About 80% of wine production is devoted to white wines, the dominant varietal is Treixadura. Ohers include Albariño, Godello, Torrontés, Loureira, Macabeo and Albillo. Authorized red varietals include Caiño, Ferrón, Sousón, Brancellao, Mencía, Garnacha and Tempranillo. From the Middle Ages up to the 18th century the region was renowned for its sweet wines, known as Viño Tostado, which were produced from sun-dried grapes known as Ribadavia. These wines were consumed by the pilgrims passing through the area on their way to Santiago and were exported to England as far back as the 17th century making it one of the oldest wine producing regions in Spain.
Ribeira Sacra DO
Established as a DO in 1997. The name Ribeira Sacra means “sacred bank” or “sacred shore” and is named for the 18 monasteries and hermitages that were founded in the early Middle Ages between the 8th and 12th centuries located further inland and upriver. Ribeira Sacra has 5 sub-regions: Amandi, Chantada, Quiroga-Bibei, Riberas do Sil and Riberas do Miño. The vineyards are planted on terraces (known as bancadas) on the steep slopes of the valleys and canyons of the rivers Miño and Sil. The Romans built the original terraces around 2000 years ago. The 3 dominant white varietals include Albariño, Treixadura and Godello. Other authorized white varieties include Loureira, Torrontés and Dona Branca. The dominant red varietal is Mencía followed by Grand Boir, Brancellao and Merenzao.
Monterrei DO
Established as a DO in 1996. The name Monterrei means “King of the Mountain”. It is located in the province of Orense just across the Portuguese border and is the southernmost DO in Galicia. The Atlantic influence is not as strong here and summer temperatures are the highest of the region, which enables the production of both white and red wines. Most of the vineyards are located on the slopes lining the River Támega. The dominant white grape has been Doña Blanca, but more impressive white wines are made from Godello or Treixadura grapes. The dominant red varietals are Mencía and Bastardo (also known as Trousseau or Trousseau Noir and it originates from eastern France and it mostly found today in Portugal) but there has been an increase planting of Tempranillo.
Valdeorras DO
Established as a DO in 1957. It is the easternmost DO in Galicia located around 150 km (31 miles) from the coast, consequently it has the most continental climate of all the DOs of Galicia. It is made up of three towns: A Rúa, Villamartín and O Barco. The River Sil, which flows from east to west through the DO, is the dominant feature on the landscape. The principal white grape is Godello and red and rosé wines are made from Mencía.

Country Wines of Galicia
(Provinces are in brackets)
Betanzos VC (La Coruña)
Approximately 114 ha (281 acres) are planted on alluvial clay around the town of Betanzos, mostly on the slopes of the Mandeo River Valley about 30 km (19 miles) southeast of the city of Coruña. There are around 40 bodegas and one co-op that produce around 2,000 hectoliters (52,834 gallons) of wine per year. Traditionally the focus has been on light red wines made from Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante), but recent trends have been towards white wines made from Palomino and Albariño.[4]
Ribeiro do Ulla VC (La Coruña)
Approximately 600 ha (1482 acres) in the Ulla River Valley located about 15 km (9 miles) southeast of Santiago de Compostela. The center of production is Boqueixón and most of the vineyards are planted to hybrid vines. However, Palomino and Albariño is also used for making white wines and Albarello and Caiño Tinto are used for making red wines.[5]
Val do Minho VdiT (Ourense)
Now part of Ribeira Sacra DO.
O Bolo VC (Ourense)
Now part of Valdeorras DO.

The Basque Country

The Basque Country (Pais Vasco in Spanish) is an Autonomous Community in northern Spain located on the Spain’s border with France along the Pyrenees Mountains with hundreds of miles of coastline on the Bay of Biscay. It is divided into three provinces - Álava, Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya. The Basque people have a unique sub-culture and unique language. The region has a long history of winemaking as vineyards have been there since the Iberian Peninsula was part of the Roman Empire. Most of the wines produced in the region are light, fresh, white wines, that pair well with the traditional fish and seafood dishes in the Basque cuisine.

Denominación de Origen (DO) of Basque Country (País Vasco)
Approximately 80%-95% of plantings in the Basque Country is Hondarribi Zuri which produces pale crisp, light wine (9.5-11.5˚) with subtle notes green apple, herbs and sometimes a little spritz. Others white grapes include Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Corbu. The principal red grape is Hondarribi Beltza. The rare rosado wines, traditionally known as Ojo de Gallo (eye of the rooster), are often blends of the two grapes. Within the Basque Country there are three DOs which are: [6]
Chacolí de Álava DO (Spanish)
Arabako Txakolina DO (Basque)
Established as a DO in 2002. It is located around the towns of Amurrio, Llodio, Artziniega, Okondo and Aiara in the province of Alava, Basque Country. It has about 70 hectares under vine.
Chacolí de Getaria DO (Spanish)
Getariako Txakolina DO (Basque)
Established as a DO in 1990. It is located around the towns of Getaria and Zarautz, small fishing towns on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, in the province of Guipuzcoa, Basque Country. A small amount of grapes are also grown around the town of Aia. It has about 400 hectares under vine which are planted on planted on native Vitis Vinifera American rootstock because the phylloxera virus has never affected this region.[7]
Chacolí de Vizcaya DO (Spanish)
Bizaiko Txakolina DO (Basque)
Established as a DO in 1994. It is located in the province of Bizkaia, Basque Country. It has about 276 hectares under vine, which were replanted on American rootstock in the 19th Century when they were devastated by the phylloxera virus. Today there are 69 wineries (bodegas) registered with the DO.[8]

The Wines

While studying Green Spain I tasted the following wines:

2013 Condes De Albarei, Albariño

The wine is made from 100% Albariño. It is a clear pale straw-yellow wine with a slight tint of green around the rim and moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of lemon pith, peach skin, chive, and crushed clamshells. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it has high acidity, medium- body and a medium+ length finish. It is well balanced and refreshing, for only $17.99 at BevMo it makes a nice summer wine.

2013 Bodegas Aizpurua “Aizpurua B” Getariako Txakolina

The wine is made from 100% Hondarrabi zuri. It is a clear very pale straw colored wine with a slight tint of green around the rim and low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of lime, melon rind, and a hint of salty sea breeze. On the palate it has flavors of tart under ripe lemons, lime, asparagus water with a slight salty minerality. The wine is dry with high acidity, light body and a medium length finish. It is a fairly neutral wine yet refreshing, it needs to be paired with light dishes in which the food and not the wine is the star of the show. The wine sells for only $17.99 at K&L in Redwood City, CA

2011 Valdesil “Pezas de Portela” Godello, Valdeorras DO

It is a clear white wine, golden-yellow, youthful, day bright with moderate viscosity. On the nose it has medium intense aromas of dried apples, peaches, honeycomb, wet autumn leaves with a hint of nuttiness and baking spices. On the palate the wine is dry, rich and bold with medium+ acidity, medium weight and a long finish with lingering spicy notes. This wine sells for $34.99 at K&L in Redwood City, CA and is a superb alternative summer wine to the ocean of California Chardonnay on the market.

2014 Vina Godeval Cepas Vellas Godello – Valdeorras, Spain

The wine is made from 100% Godello. It is a clear white wine, pale straw in color with moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium+ intense aromas of peach skin, lemon zest, melon and salty sea breeze. On the palate it dry, somewhat tart and very crisp with high acidity, medium- body and a long finish. This wine sells for $19.99 at the Spanish Table in Berkeley, CA.

2013 Algueira Mencia Joven, Ribera Sacra DO

This wine is made from 100% Mencia. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core violet at the rim with slight rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with medium+ intense aromas of black plums, black cherry, freshly cracked black pepper, lavender, with a touch of anise. One the palate it is dry with soft refined moderate tannins, medium+  acidity, medium bodied and a long finish. The wine is very “old world” and seems like a softer, lower alcohol (12.5%) Rhone blend. This wine sells for $16.99 at K&L in Redwood City, CA

2012 Valdesil “Valdeorras” Mencia, Valdeorras DO

This wine is made from 100% Mencia. It is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core violet at the rim with slight rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of black cherries, blackberries, violets with minor notes of black licorice, a hint of black pepper and a touch of smoke. On the palate it is dry yet fruit forward with moderate tannins, medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied and medium length finish. This wine is similar to the previous wine but with far less peppery notes. This wine sells for $14.99 at K&L in Redwood City, CA

[1] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 26.
[2] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 24.
[3] Much of the following information was taken from
[4] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 45.
[5] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 45.
[6] Much of the following information was taken from

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Spain Unit 1 - Introduction to the Advanced Study of the Wines of Spain

In the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Study Center in California, where I studied under four Master Sommeliers (MS), we covered all of Spain in 9 hours over a 3-day period.[1] After graduating the 17-week 200-hour course, and passing the Certified Sommelier exams two weeks later, I knew the first wine region in the world I wanted to study Italy more in depth followed by France and then Spain. Not only did I want to further study these and other wine regions, I also needed to maintain what I had studied in my long-term memory. It is one thing to cram for an exam it is quite another to be able to recall what you studied several weeks, months or even years later.

How many of the people who passed the Certified Sommelier exams, who are not continuing to study, could still pass it today?

I then did a 6-month self-study in which I bought wines from all 20 regions of Italy and wrote extensive notes. Then for a more in-depth study of France I went through the French Wine Society’s French Wine Scholar program at the San Francisco Wine School where I studied under David Glancy MS and Catherine Fallis MS. I wrote and posted extensive notes for each region of France and passed the French Wine Scholar exam on June 2, 2015. The exam is NOT easy and there is only about a 60% passing rate. In fact, I didn’t pass it on my first attempt, which was mostly due to poor time management and having my studies divided between preparing for FWS and WSET Diploma exams.

In this study I’ll be focusing on the wines of Spain and the primary texts books used in these notes are:

John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006)

Ana Fabiano, The Wine Region of Rioja (Sterling Epicure, 2012)

Jesus Barquin, Luis Gutierrez, Victor de La Serna, The Finest Wines of Rioja (Aurum Press, 2011)

Oz Clarke, Encyclopedia of Grapes (Harcourt Books, 2001)

Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible (Workman Publishing, 2001)

Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006)

Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine (7th Edition, Octopus Publishing, 2013)

Tom Stevenson, The Sotheby Wine Encyclopedia (5th Edition, Sands Publishing, 2011)

Study of Spain Outline

1. Spain Unit 1 - Introduction to the Wines of Spain: History and Classifications

2. Spain Unit 2 - Green Spain: Galicia and Basque Country

3. Spain Unit 3 - Castilla y León

4. Spain Unit 4 – North-Central Spain

5. Spain Unit 5 - Catalonia (Catalunya) and the Balearics

6. Spain Unit 6 – The Levante

7. Spain Unit 7 – The Meseta

8. Spain Unit 8 – Andalucia and Jerez

9. Spain Unit 9 – The Canary Islands

The Geography of Spain

Spain covers the entire Iberian Peninsula except for the southwestern corner which is covered by Portugal. The southern latitude of Spain creates warm conditions that are moderated in the west and in the north by the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea warms the climate to the east and south. Overall, Spain is quite arid with very little rainfall with the exception of a few coastal regions. Northern Spain is dominated by mountain ranges and river valleys that create microclimates. At the center of Spain is an enormous plateau that covers half of the country’s landmass known as the Meseta Central. This entire region is hot and dry and it is sparsely planted.

The History of Spanish Wine

The ancient wine history of many European countries such as France and Italy begins with the Greeks and then is further developed the Romans. However, in Spain the earliest makers of wine were the Phoenicians, who founded the city of Gadir (modern Cádiz) on the coast of southern Spain around 1100 BC and planted vines in Andalucía.[2] From there the Phoenician sea-merchants transported grapes from the Middle East to North Africa, the Mediterranean islands and the Iberian Peninsula. Winemaking in Spain was furthered under the occupation of the Romans who improved on the fragile, large amphorae in used for storage and transportation of wine.

Then came the occupation of the Moors who were Muslims. Because Islam forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages the sale of wine in Spain was declared was illegal, but the Moors were somewhat indifferent so consumption of wine was often tolerated. During this time Spanish wine became renowned for its power and was often exported and used as a blending component in Italian and French wines.

In 1492, the Moors were expelled from Spain and Christopher Columbus with other the Spanish explorers developed wine trade in the Spanish colonies of new world as well as in the West Indies. Because of the environment of the ships the wines were often made intentionally, or developed into, a rancio style of wine. As a result Sherry wines became increasingly popular with the English market from the end of the 15th century even though the relationship between Spain and England deteriorated after English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

In 17th century Spanish law barred the colonies from producing their own wine, which protected Spanish exports such as Málaga and Sherry. As a result of law rather than a competition of quality, few of Spain’s table wines could compete with quality of France and Italy.

During the mid-19th century oidium and phylloxera plagued France so Bordeaux began looking to Spain for a new supply of wine. During this time Spanish winemakers also began looking to France for innovation on how to improve their own style of winemaking and yet put their own stylistic twist. During this time the Bordeaux-trained Marqués de Riscal and Marqués de Murrieta returned to Rioja and brought with them grape varieties and winemaking techniques such as barrique aging (barricas) and estate bottling in their newly constructed bodegas. But, in the adaptation of French style of winemaking in Rioja Spanish winemakers used American oak (Quercus alba) barrels, rather than French wine barrels, which they acquired during their transatlantic colonial trade. During this time many Rioja’s traditionalist bodegas were founded including López de Heredia, Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), La Rioja Alta, and Berceo as well as San Sadurní d’Anoia which produced Cava (originally called champaña), the Spanish traditional method sparkling wine.

At the turn of the 20th century the phylloxera plague came to Spain. Yet, in the 1930s Spain focused on quality with the establishment of the Spanish regulatory board (Consejos Reguladores) for Rioja, Jerez, and Málaga.

While much of Europe became more democratic following World War II, Spain underwent a bloody civil war in the 1930s and came under the dominion of the general and dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) who ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death. He rose to power with the help of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy when his Nationalist forces overthrew the democratically elected Second Republic, adopting the title of “El Caudillo” (The Leader).[3] He persecuted political opponents, repressed the culture and language of Spain’s Basque and Catalan regions, censured the media and under his rule winemakers were hindered and Spanish wine suffered as bodegas were forced to emphasize quantity over quality. Yet, several advances were made such as when Miguel Torres brought stainless steel and temperature-controlled fermentations to Catalonia in the 1960s and in 1970 the Denominación de Origen (DO) regulations were established. When Francisco Franco died in 1975 Spanish winemakers experienced a new freedom. 

Subsequently new winegrowing regions were developed in the latter half of the 20th century with a new generation of innovative winemakers that incorporated a blend of mix of traditional and modern winemaking techniques, thus developing both “old world” and “new world” wine styles in Spain.[4]

Spanish Grape Varieties

White Grape Varieties
Also known as Aidén, Lairén, Burra Blanca, Burrablanca, Manchega, Valdepeñera or Valdepeñas, Forcallet Forcayat and Valdepenas. This native drought-resistant grape is planted throughout central Spain, particularly La Mancha and Valdepenas wine regions and it represents about 30% of all grapes grown in the country. The vine's high yields and low maintenance requirements took precedence over the quality of the wine it made, so Airen has traditionally been used by Spain's brandy industry, and to produce oxidative, high-alcohol white wines. It was also blended with Cencibel (Tempranillo) to produce lighter-bodied red wines. In the Canary Islands, Airen goes by the name Burra Blanca (“white donkey”), and is used mainly as a blending ingredient to produce dry white wines, alongside Malvasia, Breval and Listan Blanco (aka Palomino).[5]
It is primarily grown in Galicia (northwest Spain), Monção and Melgaço (northwest Portugal) where it is known as Alvarinho and sometimes as Cainho Branco. It is also used in the Rías Baixas DO, especially in the town of Cambados and in Barbanza e Iria It is believed to have been brought to Iberia by Cluny monks in the 12th century. Its name “Alba-Riño” which means “the white (wine) from the Rhine”. It was once believed to be a Riesling clone or a close relative of the French grape Petit Manseng.[6] It is not related to nor should it be confused with the Alvarinho Liláz grape of Madeira.
Also known as Albillo de Toro, Albillo Real, Blanca del Pais and Pardina. At a young age Albillo has a distinct golden-yellow hue. It is a fairly neutral white grape with a light perfume aroma. This grape is heavy with glycerin and usually exhibits touches of residual sugar and expressive notes of tropical fruits. It is often blended with Muscat à Petits Grains in Spanish versions of Moscatel or used as a blending grape with Garnache to lighten red wines. It is planted primarily in the Ribera del Duero region, and also in Vinos de Madrid DO, Ávila and Galicia. It is sometimes added to the red wines of the Ribera del Duero for added aromatics.[7]
Also known as Viura, Macabeo or Macabeu. It is widely grown in Rioja, the Cava producing areas south of Barcelona, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It is mostly used to produce mildly acidic and young white wines or for blending with other white and red varieties. It is the primary grape of white Rioja and is sometimes blended in small amounts with Tempranillo and red Garnacha, both in un-oaked and oaked versions. It was introduced in Rioja after the phylloxera epidemic, where it largely replaced Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, partially because of the ability of its wines to better withstand oxidation. It is also used in Reserva and Gran Reserva white Rioja subjected to extended ageing that can span decades, resulting in a highly distinctive and aromatic wine.[8]
Pronounced “go-DAY-oh”, it is also known as Agodello, Berdello, Godelho, Ojo de Gallo and Trincadente. It is part of the Verdelho family of grape varieties. The best are from Galicia’s Valdeorras and Monterrei DOs and Castilla y León’s Bierzo DO, although quality offerings can also be found in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Ribeiro DOs. Godello-based wines have the big fruit and acidity of albariño (peaches, citrus, apple), but with a bit more body and slightly higher alcohol.
Cultivated primarily in Galicia and in Portuguese wine region of Minho where it is known as “Loureiro” and used in Vinho Verde. It is an aromatic variety and typically wines made from the grape are richer than Albariño with attractive peachy fruit. It is made either as a varietal wine or in a blend with Treixadura.[9]
A family of grape varieties grown historically in the Mediterranean region, Balearic islands, Canary Islands and the island of Madeira where it is known as “Malmsey.” Scholars believe it is likely the wine given highest accolades by the world’s first authority, Pliny the Elder, who coined the phrase “Vino Veritas” (“In wine there is truth”).
A little-known white wine grape variety grown along the southeastern coast of Spain, primarily in the Alicante, Jumilla and Valencia regions. It lacks varietal character but it has high levels of acidity and polyphenols and is very tolerant of warm, dry climates. It is best used in blends.[10]
A member of the Muscat family of grapes, it is a particularly aromatic grape variety, with citrus, flowery, ‘grapey’ flavors. It ripens to high sugar levels and is ideal for making sweet, fortified wines. It is grown in Spain as well as two regions of Portugal that are famous for sweet, fortified Moscatel: the Douro and the Peninsula of Setúbal. In Spain the wine is produced in a similar way as Pedro Ximénez, with the grape variety being at least 85% Moscatel de Alejandria. The musts can hardly ferment and fermentation is stopped by fortification really soon anyway. The Moscatel Pasas or Moscatel de Pasas is made from grapes that were dried in the sun for up to three weeks. These raisin wines have a sweeter, darker profile.
In France the grape is known as Listán, and in South Africa it is known as Fransdruif. It is home to Andalucia, southwestern Spain, and is categorized in the three sub-varieties: Palomino Fino, Palomino Basto, and Palomino de Jerez. The grape widely grown in Spain and South Africa, and best known for its use in the manufacture of sherry.
Also known as Martorella, Montonec, Montonech, Montonega, Montoneo, Montonero, and Montonet. The grape originates from the Catalan origin specially grown in Catalonia. Along with Macabeu and Xarel·lo, it is one of the three traditional varieties used to make Cava in which it adds aromas of blossom and green apple to the wine.[11]
Pedro Ximénez
Also known as Pedro Jimenez, Perrum, Don Bueno or simply referred to as “PX”. It is best known for its role in the sweet sherries of Jerez. It has very low acidity so it does not produce quality table wines.
The grape originated in North Africa and was spread to Rueda in about the 11th Century, possibly by Mozarabs. It is now best known in the Rueda region of Spain. The grape is easily prone to oxidization so it was originally used to make a strongly oxidized, Sherry-like wine. Now, due to modern wine making techniques such as night-time harvesting, cool fermentation and the use of an inert gas blanketing have led to the delicate and youthful aromatic freshness of the wines being preserved. It is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to add body and richness to Sauvignon's aromatic lift. Its finest manifestation is Rueda Superior, which must contain a minimum of 85% Verdejo. Typically Verdejo dominated wines are crisp with soft, creamy, nutty overtones, and sometimes accompanied by notes of honey. Arguably Spain's finest white grape variety.[12]

Also known as Cartoixa, Cartuja, Cartuxa, Moll, Pansa, Pansa Blanca, Pansal, Pansalat, Pansalet, Pansar, Pensal, Prensa Branco, Vinate, and Vinyater. It is primarily grown in Catalonia. Along with Macabeu and Parellada, is one of the three traditional varieties used to make Cava.[13]

Red Grape Varieties
The grape is native to the Utiel-Requena DO in Valencia where it represents about 90% of all vines grown, and is also present in significant quantities in Valencia, Cuenca and Albacete. The name derives from the Latin bovale, in reference to the shape of a bull’s head.  It is the third most planted variety in Spain with 90,000 ha (8%), coming behind Airén 305,000 ha (27%) and Tempranillo 190,000 (17%). At its best, Bobal makes wines known for their dark color, chewy tannins and spicy dark fruit notes with a juicy acidity. It is also widely used for making rosé. [14]
Also known as Carignan Noir, Carignane, Carignano, Mazuelo, Gragnano, Pinot Evara, and Samso. The grape is native to Aragon in northern Spain (specifically the town of Cariñena). It is found in wines along the Mediterranean coast and in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region. It grows best in warm, dry climates and it produces wine with black fruits, pepper, licorice, spice and savory accents with deep color, high tannins, and acidity.
Garnacha Tinta
Also known as Garnatxa (Spain), Madrid region as Tinto Aragonés (Madrid), Grenache (France) and Guarnaccia (Italy). It is a late ripening variety so it needs hot, dry conditions to achieve full maturity. It is generally spicy, berry-flavored (raspberry and strawberry) with a subtle, white pepper spice notes. Structurally, it tends to be soft on the palate due to low tannin and acidity yet with a relatively high alcohol content. As Grenache ages the wines tend to take on more leather and tar flavors. Grenache wines are highly prone to oxidation with even young examples having the potential to show browning (or “bricking”) coloration that can be noticed around the rim when evaluating the wine at an angle in the glass.[15] It is commonly blended with Carignan and Tempranillo or outside of Spain with Syrah and Mourvèdre. It is also used in the pale colored rosados of Rioja.
Also known as Bastardo Nero, Morrastel (France), and Graciana (Argentina) it is grown primarily in Rioja DO (395 ha, 0.7%) where produces low yields and is a key component of Gran Reservas in Rioja and Navarra, contributing structure and aging potential.[16] It produces wines with intense black fruits, red cherries and red plums and can be very long lived.
Juan García
Also known as Mouratón, Negreda, Negreda preta, Negrera, Nepada and Tinta Negreda. It is a minor red grape variety that is native to the Arribes (Fermoselle) region, near the Portuguese border. It is found throughout in Central Spain, and in the provinces of Zamora and Salamanca and in the autonomous region of Galicia. It tends to produce wines that are bright purple with light- to medium-body and strongly aromatics.
Listán Negro
A black skinned variety of Palomino it is also known as Listán Prieto. It is widely planted in the Canary Islands, particularly on the island of Tenerife, in the Tacoronte-Acentejo DO, Valle de la Orotava DO, Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO and Valle de Güímar DO. In the USA it is known as the Mission Grape.[17]
Manto Negro
Grown in the Balearic islands where it used in wines produced under the Binissalem-Mallorca DO and Plà i Llevant DO as well as the Illes Balears appellations. Most of it is planted on the island of Majorca with 320 hectares (790 acres) making it the most widely planted grape variety on the island accounting for over 20% of the total vineyard land in production. It tends to produce lightly colored, soft, light bodied red wines that are often high in alcohol. [18]
Also known as Jaen, Fernao Pires Tinta, Giao, Loureiro Tinto, Mencin, Negra, Negro, Mencia Roble, Tinto Mencia and Tinto Mollar. The grape is primarily found in the Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras regions. The grape produces light, pale, relatively fragrant red wines for early consumption.[19]
Also known as Mataró and Mourvèdre (France), it is grown in the Valencia DO and Jumilla DO. It tends to produce wines with aromas of red fruits, with wild game and/or earthy notes that are tannic wines that are high in alcohol. Young wines can come across as faulted due to the reductive, sulfur notes and “barnyard” aromas that mellow with age.
Also known as Concejón, Juán Ibáñez, Miguel de Arcos and Miguel d'Arco. It is mainly found in the autonomous region of Aragon and is one of the authorized varieties of the Somontano DO. It has medium-sized, compact bunches with medium-sized, cylindrical-shaped berries with a blue hue. It is commonly used as a blending grape to add body and color to wines, particularly with Parraleta (another black grape native to Somontano) and more recently with Garnacha, Tempranillo and Syrah.
Also known as Tinta Negra Mole, the name means literally means “black soft”. Some believe it is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Grenache.[20] It is best known as the dominant grape of Madeira. It is found on the Canary Islands and accounts for roughly 70% vines on Madeira.[21]
Also known as Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, and Tinta del Pais. The name is the derived from the Spanish word temprano (“early”). It is native to northern Spain and is widely cultivated in Rioja and as far south as La Mancha. It is an early ripening variety that tends to thrive in chalky vineyard soils found in the Ribera del Duero DO. Table wines tend to be ruby red in color, with aromas and flavors strawberries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather and herbs. In Portugal, it is known as Tinto Roriz and Aragonez and is used to make fortified Port wines.[22]

Spanish Wine Classification System

The regulatory body which oversees the nation’s wine industry is called Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origen (INDO). Spain’s system of wine laws are known as the Denominación de Origen (DO) laws and they are based on the French AOC laws and is similar to the Italian DOC classification system. There are five designated categories solely for wine, which are as follows:

Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC)
Abbreviated as “DOCa” or “DOQ” in Catalan, this is the strictest and highest quality classification regulating only select appellations.[23] Wines for this classification have the name “Vino de Calidad” on the label followed by the name of the specific region of origin.
Denominación de Origen (DO)
Considered equivalent to an AOC in France. Each district has its own Consejo Regulador to monitor quality and classifications. The Vinos de Pago (DO Pago) is a sub-category of DO with single estates only (15 as of 2012), with each estate guiding its own production.
Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (VCIG)
Includes stricter and higher quality requirements for wines from important regions.
Vino de la Tierra (VT or VdlT)
It means “Country Wine” and it is a sub-classification of Vino, it is similar to the IGT classification in Italy. It is table wine of a demarcated area with a minimum of 85% of the grapes coming from that region.
Vino de Mesa (VdM)
The lowest level of wine and loosest quality requirements.

Spain has three additional designated quality terms:

Vino de Pago (VP)
A special term for high-quality, single-estate wines (Pago is the Spanish term for a vineyard) which in some cases also belong to DO or VdlT appellations.
Vinum Optima Signatum (VOS)
Very Old Sherry, it applies to sherries with an average age of at least 20 years.
 Vinum Optimu Rare Signatum (VORS)
Very Old Rare Sherry

Regions and Wines

As of 2011, Spain has 120 identifiable wine regions under some form of geographical classification.[24] The following is an overview of the DOCs and more prominent DO regions:

Named after the La Rioja river. The red (tinto), white (blanco) or rosé (rosado) wines are made from grapes grown in the Autonomous Community of La Rioja as well as parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava.
A small, dynamic wine region in Catalonia, north-eastern Spain, that covers 11 municipalities. It primarily produces powerful red wines.

Jumilla (Murcia)
A very successful DO producing notable wines from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera Monastrell vines.
Campo de Borja
Recently become more prominent. It features a number of cooperatives who produce Garnacha and Tempranillo.
Jerez-Xérès-Sherry (Cádiz)
A traditional fortified wine made from white grapes made in a variety of styles, from very pale, dry finos to deliciously sweet wines.
Penedès (Barcelona)
Notable not only for the production of the sparkling wine Cava, but popular red wines from Tempranillo, Garnacha and Carinena grapes.
Rías Baixas (Galicia)
Known for its Albariño varietals, Spain's number one white wine. Other whites grown here include Treixadura, Loureira, Caino Blanco, and Torrontes. Popular red grapes in this region include Caino Tinto and Souson.
Ribera del Duero (Castile and León)
Challenges Rioja for the best red wines produced in Spain. Almost all of its wines are made from the Tempranillo grape.
Rueda (Castile and León)
Located west of Ribera del Duero, it produces notable reds and whites typically less expensive than those of its more famous neighbors.
Priorat (Tarragona)
Along with Rioja, it is one of he two highest-regarded wine producing regions in Spain and carry the special Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa)
Toro (Castile and León)
Located between provinces of Zamora and Valladolid, along de River Duero, producing notable reds, from Tinta de Toro, the local name for Tempranillo.

Autonomous Communities
Spain has 17 autonomias, autonomous communities, each of which consists of a number of provinces, of which there are 50 in total.[25] The 17 autonomous communities with their wine regions Denominación de Origen (DO) are as follows:
(1) Andalucia
Provinces: Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Hulva, Jaen, Malaga, Sevila.
DO Wines: Condado de Huelva, Montila-Moriles, Jerez /Xeres / Sherry y Manzanilla.
Vinos de La Terra: Cadiz, Contraviesa-Alpujara.
Vinos Comarales: Laujar, Vilaviciosa, Lopera, Aljarale, Lebrija, Los Palacios
(2) Aragon
Provinces: Huesca, Terul, Zaragoza
DO Wines: Caltayud, Campo de Borja, Carinena, Somontano.
Vinos de La Terra: Bajo Aragon, Tierra Baja de Aragon, Valejalon.
Vinos Comarales: Alto Jiloca, Muniesa, Belchite, Daroca
(3) Asturias
Asturias is a principality.
Province: Oviedo
(4) Baleares (Baleric Islands)
Provinces: Palma de Mallorca (Four islands: Mallorca, Menorca, Eivissa, Formentera)
DO Wines: Binissalem
Vinos de La Terra: Plà i Llevant de Mallorca
(5) Canarias (Canary Islands)
Provinces: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Three islands: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria)
DO Wines: Abona, El Hierro, Lanzarote, El Monte, La Palma, Tacaoronte-Acentjo, Valle de Orotava, Ycoden-Daute-Isora.
Vinos de La Terra: La Gomera
(6) Cantabria
Provinces: Santander
(7) Castilla-Leon (Castile-Leon)
Provinces: Burgos, Leon, Palencia, Salmananca, Segovia, Soria, Valladolid, Zamora
DO Wines: Bierzo, Cigales, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro
Vinos de La Terra: Cebreros, Fermoselle-Arribes del Duero, Tierra Del Vino de Zamora, Valdevimbre-Los Oteros
Vinos Comarales: Benavente, La Ribera del Arlanza, La Sierra de Salmanca, Valtiendas
(8) Castilla-La-Mancha
Provinces: Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Toledo.
DO Wines: Almasa, La Mancha, Méntrida, Mondéjar, Valdepenas
Vinos de La Terra: Galvez, Machuela, Pozohondo, Sierra de Alcaraz
(9) Catalunya (Cataluña / Catalonia)
Provinces: Barcelona, Gerona / Girona, Lenda / Lleida, Tarragona.
DO Wines: Alella, Ampundan-Costa Brava, Cava, Conca de Barbera, Costers del Segre, Penedes, Pla de Bages, Priorato, Tarragona, Terra Alta.
Vinos Comarales: Conca de Tremp, Bajo Ebre-Montasia
(10) Extremadura
Provinces: Badajoz, Caceres
DO Wines: Ribera Del Guardiana,
Vinos Comarales: Azuaga, Cilleros
(11) Galicia
Provinces: La Coruna / A Coruna, Lugo, Ourense / Orense, Ponteverda
DO Wines: Monterrei, Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Valdeorras.
Vinos de La Terra: Val do minho
Vinos Comarales: Betranzos
(12) Madrid
Provinces: Madrid
DO Wines: Vinos de Madrid
(13) Murcia
Murcia is a region.
Provinces: Murcia
DO Wines: Bullas, Jumilla, Yecla
Vinos de La Terra: Abanilla, Campo de Cartegna
(14) Navarra
Navarra is a comunidad foral
Provinces: Navarra
DO Wines: Navarra, Rioja (DOCa)
(15) Pais Vasco / Euskadi
(The Basque Country)
Provinces: Alava / Araba, Guipuzcoa / Gipuzkoa, Vizcaya / Bizkaia
DO Wines: Chacoli de Getaria / Getariako Txakolina, Chacoli de Vizcaya / Bizkaiko Txakolina, Rioja (DOCa)
Vinos de La Terra:
Vinos Comarales:
(16) La Rioja
Provinces: La Rioja
DOCa Wines: Rioja
(17) Valencia
Provinces: Alicante, Castellon de La Plana, Valencia
DO Wines: Alicante, Utiel-Reguena, Valencia
Vinos de La Terra: Benniares, Lliber-Javea, San Mateo / Sant Mateu

Spanish Wine Ageing Classifications

Red Wine
Rosé and White Wines
Vino Joven
Less than Crianza
Less than Crianza
2 years w/ 6 months in oak
18 months w/ 6 months in oak
3 years w/ 12 months in oak
2 years w/ 6 months in oak
Gran Reserva
5 years w/ 18 months in oak
4 years w/ 6 months in oak

Aging terms for non-DO wines (in barrel and/or bottle) are as follows:

Spanish Term
18 months
24 months
36 months
(Wines must show oxidative character)

Spanish Wine Labeling Terms

There are several Spanish terms that one must know in order to read the wine labels, which are as follows:

Spanish Term
Vintage (85%)

[2] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006),

[4] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 8-11.

[6] Oz Clarke, Encyclopedia of Grapes (Harcourt Books, 2001), 167.

[7] Jancis Robinson, Jancis Robinson's Wine Course (Third Edition, Abbeville Press 2003), 100.

[8] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 414.

[9] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 112.

[10] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 113.

[11] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 506.

[13] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 777.

[15] Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Wine and Spirits: Understanding Wine Quality (Second Revised Edition), 6-9.

[16] Jancis Robinson, Vines, Grapes & Wines (Mitchell Beazley, 1986), 214.

[17] Tom Stevenson, The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley), 306–311.

[18] J. Robinson, J. Harding and J. Vouillamoz, Wine Grapes - A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavors (Allen Lane/Ecco), 592-593.

[19] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 435–436.

[21] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 698.

[22] Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 691.

[24] Janis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006), 655.

[25] John Radford, The New Spain: A Complete Guide to Spanish Wine (Mitchell Beazley; 2nd edition, 2006), 15