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Learn Your Spanish Wine by Grape type

Learn Your Spanish Wine by Grape type

The country’s most exciting wine grapes. Explained.

Spain is a wonderful wine-producing country. It has more hectares of vines than any other country and is ranked number two on wine volume after Italy. Spain’s varied geography creates diverse microclimates suitable for growing unique wine grapes, each with a distinct, noteworthy personality.

The Iberian country has a complex wine classification system with many quality tiers and strict rules. There are 138 wine regions with their own appellation or Denominación de Origen, making studying Spanish wine a daring proposition.

Of course, it all starts with the grapes, the stars of the show, and knowing them is the best way to approach Spain’s fruit-forward red wine and refreshing whites. Pour yourself a glass of Spanish wine, read on and learn your Spanish wine by grape.

Tempranillo

The king of Spanish red grapes, it’s easy to see why this rustic and characterful grape tops the list. This is the fifth most cultivated grape globally, and most of it is planted in Spain.

Known by different names throughout Spain, Tempranillo is also called Cencibel, Tinto Fino, Tinto del País, Tinto de Toro, and Ull de Llebre, depending on who you ask.

tempranillo grapes

Tempranillo grapes on a trailer in the town of Penafiel, in Ribera del Duero

What all Tempranillo has in common is that it yields concentrated juice that becomes robust, structural and age-worthy wine. In some regions, like Rioja, wineries blend Tempranillo with its stablemates Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo, and in Ribera del Duero, it can have a splash of Cabernet or Merlot. In the rest of the country, producers bottle Tempranillo on its own.

Blackberries, red berries, undergrowth, leather, cedar and vanilla are distinctive aromas found in a glass of Tempranillo.

Garnacha

Garnacha, known in France as Grenache, is a warm climate specialist and thrives where most grapevines wither. Grown worldwide, it is Spain’s own and is often seen as part of sophisticated blends with Tempranillo in Rioja or Cariñena in Priorat.

The Ancient grape is one of the oldest documented, and its resilience has made it popular with winemakers. With thin skin, Garnacha often displays mellow palates and bouquets of cherries, spices, and dried herbs. Acidity is often refreshingly high, and alcohol levels can be elevated, too.

Mazuelo

Known in Spain as Mazuelo and elsewhere as Carignan, this resilient grape grows on the arid Spanish landscape. Widely found in Southern France and Italy, it is originally from Spain and plays a unique role in the country’s playbook. Winemakers often blend Mazuelo with other grapes, including Tempranillo and Garnacha, for its high levels of tannins, black pigments and acid.

Although rarely found bottled on its own, Mazuelo’s role in some of the most acclaimed wines in Spain is consequential. Expect tart cherry aromas, a rugged palate and a lip-smacking acidity.

Verdejo

Verdejo might not be the most planted white grape in Spain, but it is highly prized, especially in Rueda, Castilla y León. The ancestral grape variety was lost in time but regained significance in the 1980s thanks to dedicated producers, including Marqués de Riscal, who brought it back to glory.

verdejo grapes

Verdejo grapes being harvested at Belondrade y Lurton's vineyards

The white grape can produce medium- to full-bodied white wine with a unique character of hay, roasted nuts and herbs over a palate infused with apples and pears. Producers sometimes blend Verdejo with the international superstar Sauvignon Blanc, but it stands tall on its own.

Albariño

Galicia is known as the ‘green corner of Spain.’ Here, there’s more rain and humidity than any other region in Spain. It is here, close to the Atlantic coast, where Albariño thrives.

albarino vineyard

Typical layout of an Albarino Vineyard in Rias Baixas

The white grape has adapted to Galicia’s humid conditions, and it is often grown high in pergolas. The resulting wine is fresh and lively with subtle marine salinity. Citrus aromas and herbal hints make this noble grape ideal to pair with the region’s fantastic seafood.

Mencía

Not dissimilar to Albariño, Mencía also grows in Galicia and thrives in the wet climate. This thin-skinned red grape is often compared with the prestigious Pinot Noir for its silken-smooth palate, piercing acidity and fruit-forward bouquet.

mencia grapes

Mencia grapes from the 2019 harvest at Finca Cuarta's vineyards

Mencía can age well, too, and the best examples come from old vines grown on extraordinarily steep slopes.

Where is it grown? Bierzo, Valdeorras, Monterrei and Ribeira Sacra.

Wine to try: Finca Cuarta Mencia 2017.

Food pairing: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, octopus, eel, white meat, goat cheese.

Palomino

Palomino comes straight from Spain’s sun-drenched south. From Andalucía, land of flamenco dancers and rattling guitars. The white grape is better known for being the star of the wines of Jerez or Sherry.

The vines are incredibly adapted to the arid south and produce grapes of great intensity and concentration. Wine makers vinify, fortify and age Palomino in sophisticated solera systems to create some of the world’s most age-worthy and memorable wines.

  • Where is it grown? Sherry, Manzanilla.
  • Wine to try:
    • Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
    • Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla.
  • Food pairing: Olives, sardines, baby eels, fried fish, dry-cured ham.

This is Just a Drop in the (Wine) Bucket

There are dozens of unique grapes in Spain, each reflecting its terroir, from the Mediterranean Coast to the country’s central arid flatlands. Spanish wine is a joy to explore, and every bottle, every glass and every drop is a new experience.

Enjoy Spanish wine and join us on a quest to discover the most devoted winemakers from all corners of Spain.

Wine is noble like that; you never stop learning.

Cheers!

Daniel, from Del Duero Wines.