Wine has a storied role in Spanish family and social life. And we would just love to give you a taste.
Perhaps in a chat with a winemaker in a private tasting room, or on a day of curated estate visits based on your preferences in wine.
Perhaps you want to roll up your sleeves and get more hands-on in a private sangria-crafting workshop, joining a local festival, or participating in a village harvest.
Whatever you choose, wine in Spain (and we endeavor to introduce you to the finest) is serious stuff.
Tempranillo, known in Spain as the “noblest grape,” has been at home on the Iberian Peninsula since the time the Phoenicians decided they needed to take the “edge off.” The Romans enjoyed the noble grape as well. Unearthed only in the 20th century, a large mosaic of Bacchus depicts the Roman god of wine with a broad smile on his face.
Freshly-made sangria in Andalucia is ubiquitous as a pre-siesta thirst-quencher on a hot summer’s day.
All of this might help explain why there are 79 demarcated wine regions in a country that is three-quarters the size of Texas.
Of all these wine regions, where does the serious oenophile start? And what about those who aren’t quite that serious?
Some regions are worth a visit for specialty wines, such as the sherry triangle of Jerez (which gives a corrupted version of its name to the fortified wine), El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda; or the cavas (sparkling wines) of the Penedes region, near Barcelona.
If you are a fan of the crisp and refreshing wines of Vinho Verdes, the albarinos of Galicia are not to be missed.
But really, perhaps you are asking, of these 79 regions, which are truly the choicest grapes on the vine?
Of course, it depends on whom you talk to. But we would suggest three.
The best known is certainly Rioja, which has become synonymous with Spanish wine.
That noble grape of Spain, tempranillo, is always the foundation of the blend. Hints of blackberries, sundried plums, tobacco, and vanilla create this mouthwatering medium bodied red wine that has put Spain on the map.
If the nearby gastronomy capitals of San Sebastian and Bilbao are all about food, Rioja is all about the grape. It is a region completely devoted to the production of wine. Its production has been largely uninterrupted since the days of the Romans. Extraordinarily beautiful, especially in the fall, this region is one of sleepy country roads and medieval castles. Towns such as Laguardia sit perched atop hills and outcrops.
Its rolling hills are traversed by the ever-so-important Camino of Santiago. In fact, two of the most significant places along the pilgrimage route are in La Rioja: Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the monasteries of Yuso and Suso, which are considered the birthplace of the Spanish language. Who said pilgrims couldn’t drink?
Besides wine and cuisine (check out Logrono’s pintxos bars), and landscape, La Rioja has transformed itself in the last 20 years into a living museum of contemporary architecture, with works by superstars Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava, and Rafael Moneo. You can sleep in a hotel designed by Frank Gehry.
Ribera del Duero
The full-bodied, complex reds of Ribera del Duero were always Spain’s best-kept secret. This region in central Spain has been producing quality wines for thousands of years. Archaeologists recently discovered a 66-meter mosaic of Bacchus, god of wine, dated almost two thousand years ago.
The grapes of Ribera del Duero are grown on an elevated plain and are exposed to extreme climate conditions, which create complex and long lived wines.
A traditional way of life is maintained in the small towns and villages, each surrounding a central square, which anchor Ribera del Duero.
Underground limestone cellars, many still in use, date to the 12th century. All created by hand, these cellars protected the wines from the extreme climate changes in order to allow proper aging. The largest is over 1200 feet long.
Their unusual stone chimneys, called zarceras, dot the landscape. These ventilation systems extend deep into these underground caves to allow air to enter and carbon dioxide to leave, allowing wine to properly ferment.
Many consider the finest wines coming out of Spain to be from one of its newest regions.
In the 1990’s a group of ambitious winemakers were attracted by the sun-drenched rocky hills of Priorat, a short distance southwest of Barcelona. Priorat is of volcanic origin and is covered with black and red slate called (llicorella), which retains heat that helps grapes ripen and also imparts a rich minerality to the low yielding Garnacha and Carinena grapes they planted here.
These young winemakers gave birth to the intense reds that are considered to be among Europe’s most elite wines. Harvested by hand (the steep, rocky terraces are too difficult for machines), the wines of Priorat have become Spain’s most expensive wines and have developed a strong global following.