Spanish Wine Regions

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007 at 12:00 am

spanish vineyardWith over 5500 wineries, Spain is the second largest producer of grape wines after France. In fact, it has about 50 different wine regions, each with its own unique landscape, climate, and wine list. We are focusing on the major wine regions that shape the Spanish wine industry.

Rioja – One of two Spanish wine regions branded as DOCa (or Denominación de Origen Calificada) for its track record of consistent quality, Rioja is divided into three zones: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Alavesa. This region takes its name from the Rio Oja, one of the tributaries of the river Ebro.

Reaching over 50,000 hectares, it produces only red, white, and rosé wines. Its soil is rich in limestone, clay, and sand, while being rich in iron and limestone by the Rioja Baja. This region has a Mediterranean climate tempered by the Atlantic Ocean and influenced by the Cantabrian Mountains. In the Rioja Baja, the climate is warmer than the two zones. Winters are mild, as well as its springs Summers are warm and extends into long, sunny autumns.

Priorato – The other wine region awarded with a DOCa label, Priorato is located in the center of Priorat county of Catalonia. It is known for producing unique and truly Spanish red wines. These wines are robust, full of ripe fruit with great body and structure. Its soil is rich in slate, schists, and sand. Its climate is generally described as having dry, warm summers and low rainfall.

Ribero del Duero – Located in the Castilla y Leon region and vastly over 14,000 hectares, Ribero del Duero now rivals Rioja as the most exciting wine region of Spain. Its wines are big and bold with lots of chunky fruits. Aside from only producing red and rosé wines, it is the home of the Vega Sicilia, the country’s most famous wine. It fertile soil is rich in iron and limestones, and it bears more clay as it nears the Duoro river. The climate is continental with dry and warm summers, as well as very cold winters.

Jerez – This wine region is found in Andalusia, a hot and dry section of Spain’s southwest. Measured over 10,500 hectares, the wineries of Jerez only produces fortified white wine. The wine region is the home of the Sherry, a very underrated quality wine that comes in a variety of styles from very dry (Fino and Manzanilla) through the medium styles (Amontillado and Oloroso) to the ultra rich sweet cream Sherries.

Its soil is a combination of limestone and white clay (locally called albariza). A mild Mediterranean climate prevails in this wine region, with mild winters and springs, hot summers and sunny autumns, all while being cooled by the whiff of sea air.

Valdepeñas – Literally meaning "The Valley of Stones," this region is has very hot humid summers and cold winters. It is located in the central part of Spain, with over 29,100 hectares of vineyards and wineries producing only white, red, and rosé wines. Its soil is a combination of limestone, iron, and clay. Some excellent Reserva and Gran Reserva wines using 100% Tempranillo are being produced in this region.

Navarra – Situated next door to Rioja, Navarra is divided into five zones: Baja Montana, Tierra Estella, Valdizarbe, Ribera Alta, and Ribera Baja. Measuring over 14,500 hectares, Navarra produces two different styles of wine: the traditional style using indigenous grapes; and modern styles like Palacio de la Vega and Ochoa using French grapes along with the Spanish varieties.

The quality of wine produced in this region has increased immensely, with wines possessing lots of ripe approachable fruit with intense flavors and firm structure. Its soil is calcareous (rich in limestones) with active lime and gravels in the north, more clayey and sandy in the south. Silty-alluvial soils flourish near the Ebro.

Navarra is blessed with Mediterranean/ Atlantic climate, and gradually becoming more continental in the south. Local conditions are influenced by the Cantabrian mountains. Winters are cold with fogs, while summers are warm, and autumns are long.

Penedès – Situated south of Barcelona and measuring 27,500 hectares, this region is divided into three zones: Bajo, where the vineyards are planted to an altitude of 250 meters; Medio (the vastest of the three), where vineyards are planted to an altitude of 500 meters; and Superior, with vineyards planted to an altitude of 800 meters.

The wineries of Penedès produce elegant light wines, mainly white but the reds are fast gaining popularity. Its soil is calcareous with sand and clay, while the climate is generally mild Mediterranean, becoming more continental as it moves inland.

Jumilla – Jumilla is a fast-rising wine region. Replanted vineyards, careful harvesting, and new equipment has improved the wines’ quality. The result is a new generation of elegant wines, mostly young. Wines from Monastrell grapes show remarkable results.

Vino de Madrid – The vineyards of Madrid, that extends from the southeast to the southwest of the city, were elevated to DO status in the early 1990s. The wineries here create high-quality wines, all catering to the booming market in Spain’s capital city. The region is divided into three areas: Arganda, Navalcarnero, and San Martin, each producing wines with unique characteristics and qualities.

Rueda – Located in Castillas y Leon region, Rueda is mainly a white wine-producing area, some wines utilizing 100% Verdejo grapes. Good Sauvignon Blanc are made in this region. It has iron-rich calcareous soil with some gravels. The climate is continental with warm, dry summers, and long, very dry winters. Rainfall is very limited.

Costers del Segres – A newly-created wine area situated around the province of Lerida in Catalonia, Costers del Segres is divided into five zones: Raimat, Vall de Riu Corb, Pallars Jussá, Segriá, Les Garrigues de Artesa. The 4,200-hectare region focuses only in reds, whites, and rosés. Alongside the Spanish grapes, you will find Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay growing.

These foreign grapes have adapted well to the area and are producing some extraordinary good wines like Raimat Estate. The soil is calcareous sandy, while the climate is continental with warm, dry summers and very cold winters.

La Mancha – Located almost in the center of Spain spanning 193,000 hectares, it possesses extremes of temperatures-hot summers and very cold winters. Formerly known as an area where large quantities of cheap table wine can be found, there is recent increase in quality among its products. It has calcareous clayey hard soil.

Somontano – An up and coming wine region situated at the foothills of the Pyrenees supporting lots of young dedicated winemakers. The area spans 2,900 hectares in the Aragon region. Its rich soil consists of limestone, rock, and terra rosa. Somontano’s viticultural areas are hot and dry with plentiful sunshine and crisp, cool nights during the ripening period. This area is protected from northerly winds by the Pyrenees.

Rias Baixas – It is situated in the province of Pontevedra and covers and area of 2,800 hectares. This wine region consists of 190 wineries and is becoming known for its young fruity white wines.

Ribeiro – Located in Orense province along the northwest corner of Spain on the Portuguese border, it covers around 3,000 hectares. This region produces fine quality white wines and some very pleasant light reds.

Valencia – This wine region, located in the province of Valencia and covers an area of 19,500 hectares, produces large scale production of table reds, whites, and rosés plus Moscatel dessert white wines. Its soil consists of limestone, loam, and pebble. The climate is generally Mediterranean with dry summers.