The Classic Wine Regions of Western Spain
Spain has a long winemaking history which stretches back before the Romans or Phoenicians ever reached the Iberian Peninsula's shores. As a winemaking country, Spain boasts the most hectares planted to vines, although it falls just behind France and Italy for overall production. It's a nation of sensational wines, from the rich reds of Rioja and Ribera del Duero to the racy whites of Galicia and delicious sparkling Cavas.
Let's take a look at some of western Spain's need-to-know wine regions.
For many of us, if there's one Spanish wine region we know, it's Rioja. It was the first region to be awarded Denominación de Origen Calificada or DOCa status – the highest classification level on the Spanish wine quality pyramid. To the north, the Cantabrian Mountains offer Rioja's vineyards protection from strong winds and storms from the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Ocean.
Rioja has three subregions Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. Each produces wines of a slightly different style. Rioja Alta is the most traditional but tends to be lighter compared to Rioja Alavesa's fuller bodied, higher acid wines. Rioja Baja, the most eastern of the three, is both warmer and drier, which results in more alcoholic wines with a deeper colour.
Although we associate Tempranillo with Rioja, in truth the wines can be made of any number of approved grapes – Garnacha (aka Grenache), Mazuelo (which you might know as Carignan), Graciano, and others. While in practice most are made from a majority of Tempranillo, there are some Riojas out there which don't use it at all!
In the northwest corner of Spain, sharing a border with Portugal is Galicia. Part of 'España Verde' – so called because of the abundant greenery that defines the region's topography, Galicia has recently come into the limelight thanks to its excellent wines. Rias Baixas is the star region, leading the charge for high-quality Spanish whites with the Albarino grape. Also in Galicia is Valdeorras, which is following in Rias Baixas' footsteps. Rather than Albarino, Valdeorras is known for Godello, a white wine prized for its mouthwatering minerality, citrus and stone fruit.
Castilla y Leon
Castilla y Leon covers a wide swathe of Spain. The historic region is home to stunning architecture, soaring mountain ranges, and a system of rivers which help moderate Castilla y Leon's continental climate. There is a cluster of wine regions which follow the snaking path of the River Duero, but there are a few which are a cut above the rest.
Ribera del Duero, Toro, and Rueda are the first regions to explore when getting to know the wines of Castilla y Leon. Both Ribera del Duero and Toro produce tremendously delicious reds based on Tempranillo, which is locally known as Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro, respectively. Rueda is white wine country, making lively whites from the native Verdejo grape. Although the climate in Rueda is continental, there are some maritime influences coming inland off the Atlantic to help temper summertime heat.
Up and coming regions like Bierzo, which is gaining recognition for its red wines based on the Mencia grape, and Cigales, home to delicious rosés, should definitely be on your radar as well.
Whether you're a die-hard red fan, prefer complex, mineral-driven whites, or enjoy a quality rosé, you'll find something fabulous to drink in any one of these classic regions of western Spain. Discover your new favourite wine today!