There are more than a hundred different Spanish wine regions. Many of them focus on reds. The three most popular are Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat.
Rioja is located in the north central area of Spain. It is one of two Spanish wine regions with the Denominaction de Origen Calificada (DOC) quality ranking, the ranking for the highest quality wines in the country. It was the first to receive this ranking in 1991.
Over 90% of Rioja production is red and about 5% is rose. The main red in this region is Tempranillo. It accounts for around 75% of the vines.
Garnacha (Grenache) is a very prominent Spanish red. It is the second most grown red in Rioja.
Garciano, Carignan and Maturana Tinta are three other native Spanish reds. The name for Garciano in the Languedoc in France is Morrastel and it is a great compliment to Tempranillo. The name for Carignan here is Mazuelo. Maturana Tinta grows in Rioja and is in no other region in the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon is an international type of red grown in Rioja.
The majority of the wines from this region are blends. They typically carry the name Rioja Tinto or red Rioja.
There are three distinct climates. Most of the area has a Mediterranean climate, but there are also areas with either a Continental or Atlantic climate. The difference in climates within the region creates different characteristics in its famous red wines.
Due to the different climates and varied terrains, the region splits into three different zones. Rioja Alta is located in the western part. Rioja Baja is located in the eastern side and has a slightly warmer and drier climate. Rioja Alavesa sits in the middle of the two.
Many of the wineries are at a high altitude. The cooler nights slow down the ripening process and create reds with balanced alcohol and acidity.
Young Rioja red wine is fruity and spicy. As it ages, it becomes smoother and even more balanced.
Spanish producers usually age it before releasing it, so it is almost at its full potential when you buy it. The longer it is aged, the higher the quality and usually the price.
There are four age categories in Rioja. In 2008, the regional wine council created new aging labels. These are on the back of all bottles of all Rioja. Here are the four categories:
Vintage is also important when buying and tasting Spanish wines. Here are the top vintages from red Rioja wines:
So many people also love Rioja wines because they are affordable. Find 90+ rated Rioja wines for $20 and less.
The Ribera del Duero is the second most important of the Spanish wine regions behind Rioja. This is one of the Spanish regions located in the central, northern part of Spain. It spans an area of around 71 miles (115 km) long and only 21 miles (35 km) wide.
The oldest documented information on wine in this region was from about 2000 years ago. It received its DO status in 1982. Today, there are more than 200 wineries.
In the 13th century, underground cellars were first introduced in this region. Wine was always a big part of this Spanish wine regions history and output increased during this time.
The Ordinances of Castile & Leon, established in the 15th century, were the first official wine laws in this region. The new laws regulated production and distribution of their wines.
The region has a Continental climate of hot, dry summer days with cool nights. This creates Spanish red wines that are full bodied and flavorful with high acidity.
Ribera del Duero has four aging categories that are similar to Rioja.
Top vintages for Ribera del Duero red wines are:
Another one of the very important Spanish wine regions is Priorat. This is the only other wine region besides Rioja with the highest quality DOC status. They received their status in April of 2006.
The region is located on the eastern side of Spain just southwest of Barcelona. It is located in the Tarragona region.
This is one of the Spanish wine regions that is very hilly and growing wine here is tough. Producers cannot get equipment on the hills, so they have to maintain the vines and pick the grapes by hand. The soil in this region is very rich with minerals. These are the main reasons why the wines are so high quality here.
The challenge though is that these wines are typically pricier than other wine regions. This is why the Ribera del Duero wine region is considered the second most important region behind Rioja instead of Priorat. The great news is that more reasonably priced wines from this region are hitting the market.
More than 94% of the wine in this Spanish region is red. It also has over 600 growers throughout the region.
Garnacha wine accounts for more than 41% of the red wine. Twenty-two percent is Carinena (Carignan). Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are all around 15% each.
The vintages to seek out when buying red Priorat wine are:
This is another one of the important Spanish wine regions. Only 20% of the wines here are red, but there are some great ones coming out of this region.
Penedes is located on the eastern side of Spain. It is less than an hour from Barcelona and is famous for its Cava or Spanish sparkling wines.
This is one of the Spanish wine regions with one of the most famous and expensive wineries in Spain, Vega Sicilia. Eloy Lecanda founded it in 1864 and although it changed hands a few times, it still produces very high, internationally recognized wines.
More international varieties grow in this region than any other Spanish wine region. Merlot is the most grown red and accounts for 36% of the reds from this region. About 24% of the reds are Cabernet Sauvignon and only around 23% are from the native Spanish Tempranillo.
The reds from Penedes are soft, smooth and have a lot of character. They must also age at least 15 months. The Gran Reserva wines are much high quality wines. They must age twice as long as the other red wines in the region.
The red vintages to look for from this region are:
This is a small region with some great red wines. The majority of the wines from this region sell as Reservas, high quality wines with a long aging cycle.
Most of the wine is a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo. They call their Tempranillo, Tinto de Toro.
Vineyards in this Spanish wine region are at high altitudes of around 2000 to 2800 feet. They benefit from hot, dry days and cool nights. This creates very balanced wines.
Near Rioja is another one of the Spanish wine regions that specializes in red, Navarra. It is near the famous town of Pamplona. Bordeaux producers used wines from this region in the 19th century to fill the hole left in their blends during the phylloxera outbreak.
More than 70% is red. Another 25% is rose.
Native reds make up the majority, or 70%, of the plantings. Tempranillo is the most planted red, followed by Garnacha. Cabernet Sauvignon is third and Merlot rounds out the number four spot.
Syrah and Pinot Noir are two other international varieties grown in this region. Winemakers brought both into the region in 2008 as an experiment. They are still in the early stages of their work. They will only expand if they are a good fit for the region.
Since there is a lot of history in this region, they have a number of old vines that still produce great grapes. I recently tried an old vine Garnacha from this region. It was smooth and balanced with red fruits and hints of spice. The great thing is that I found it for less than $20!
While wines from this region are not easy to come by today outside of Spain, I think that will change shortly. Keep your eye out for one from this region. It is another one of the Spanish wine regions where value wines are still available.
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