"DENOMINACION DE ORIGEN"
Appellation is a french term used globally to geographically categorize wine the regions in a country. All major wine producing countries have these, although they're named differently. In the case of Spain, we're talking about "Denominacion de Origen". In Spain, there's different categories for protected winemaking areas. Here's a breakout:
A "Denominacion de Origen" (From now on, simply "DO") is an association or grouping of producers (growers) and makers (wineries) who decide, together, which are the best ways to grow grapes, harvest them and elaborate the wines according to the region's tradition and characteristics. Each winemaking region is different, representing different grapes, wines, agings..
You will be able to identify which D.O. a wine belongs to generally looking at the label or at a sticker that is normally placed on below the back label of a Spanish wine bottle. Here are some examples:
Vinos de Pago (VP)
Denominación de Origen (DO)
Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa)
Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica (IGP)
SPANISH WINE LABELS, WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
Nowadays, Wine labels have become super creative and varied. We're introducing you to a more classic example that producers often use. However, most of the creativity lies on the front label, while the back label is used to deliver important information about the wine, producer, region, and other wine facts. In the case of Spanish wines, the back of a wine bottle often contains a D.O. sticker, that identifies the region where the wine was produced (Following the D.O. standards), and, in some cases, the aging classification of that particular wine. We'll look into this later. Let's dive in to this Pago de Carraovejas set of labels:
There's key pieces of information on this front label such as the name of the wine (Which coincides with the name of this famous Spanish Winery), the D.O. (Ribera del Duero), and the vintage (2018, great vintage for Ribera del Duero and other Spanish winemaking regions).
WHAT TYPES OF WINE DOES SPAIN PRODUCE?
Did you know that Spain is one of the largest producers of wine in the world? According to Statista, In 2022, Spain was the third largest producer of wine in the world with over 35 Million Hectoliters (Over 924 Million Gallons) while remaining as the country with the largest vineyard acreage. This is because, although there's more vines planted in Spain than anywhere in the world, yields are strictly controlled in Spain, which means less grapes per vine. Having said that, Spain boasts a well rounded variety of grapes that allows them to produce great wines in all categories, including unique wine types like Cava, or Sherry.
This is Spain's largest category, produced in almost all regions and DOs. Tempranillo is king here, being the most utilized grape for winemaking in Spain, both as single-varietal, or blended with others. Some of the best-known regions producing red wine in Spain are D.O.Ca. Rioja, D.O. Ribera del Duero, D.O. Priorat,..etc. Other big varietals are Grenache ("Garnacha", in Spanish), Bobal (Less popular, but starting to trend), Carignan ("Carinena", in Spanish), Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah (Yes! Syrah is actually widely planted in Spain).
Although Spanish red wine became famous through the country's mastery in oak utilization and aging, there's plenty of examples for amazing unoaked, concrete oaked, and other types of red wine aging. Some of the most famous red wine producers in Spain are Vega Sicilia, Lopez de Heredia, Rioja Alta S.A., Clos Mogador...etc.
Spanish White Wine, however, doesn't have such a dominating grape. Although Airen, a grape less known when talking about Spanish Wine, is the largest white wine grape planted in Spain (21% of total planted acreage, and 48% of the white grape Spanish acreage, found mostly in D.O. Castilla La Mancha or D.O. Madrid); Verdejo, Albarino, Godello, or Macabeo are what comes to mind when thinking about Spanish White Wine.
Spain produces young white wines, and aged (Oaked, or not) superb whites. There's no shortage of techniques and aging periods in Spanish White Wine, either.
Most of you will immediately think about Cava here, but this is really only produced in the actual D.O. Cava. Just like champagne, Cava is protected by an appellation, and can only be produced in this particular area of Catalonia ("Cataluña", in Spanish, or "Catalunya", in Catalan). A large part of the vineyards in this D.O. are owned by few producers, who exercise great pride in their product and therefore protect all available vineyards.
There's more to Sparkling Wine in Spain than just Cava. Many regions have authorized the production of "Espumoso", which would literally translate to "Foamy", in English, but it's just the word used to define Sparkling Wine in Spain. Production methods can be very similar to those of Champagne, or Cava, with the difference being the type of grapes used and, of course, the regions where its produced.
Commonly known as Rosé here, in the US, Spain has some iconic Rosés such as those super-valued wines produced by famous Lopez de Heredia (Their Vina Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva is a hard-to-find, super cherished Rosé that we get very little of here in the US). Many major regions like Ribera del Duero, or Rioja, produce Rosado, but this wine type is widely available across most Spanish winemaking regions.
"Jerez", as we call it in Spain, is a wine made of white grapes (Mostly "Palomino"), but it differentiates itself in being a fortified wine, which is unique to this type of wine. Fortified means that the wine has been gets some wine-based spirit added until it reaches 15.5% ABV. Sherry, which is an anglicisation of "Jerez", is protected in the same fashion as Cava, in the sense that it can only be produced in a very particular area, limited by a triangle formed by "Jerez de La Frontera", "Sanlucar de Barrameda", and "El Puerto de Santamaria", three popular towns in the province of "Cadiz". Sherry has multiple subcategories, each with it's own production, and aging characteristics, which are "Manzanilla", "Fino", "Amontillado", "Oloroso", and "Palo Cortado".
SPANISH WINEMAKING REGIONS
We're going to borrow the knowledge and expertise of Mr. Rick Fisher (Director of the Spanish Wine Program at Wine Scholar Guild) to present Spanish Winemaking regions. He cleverly divides Spain into 9 major winemaking areas, each with multiple sub-regions or DOs:
This is the wet Spain, where the country hosts it's most humid areas sitting right next to the Atlantic Ocean. This region produces fresh and fruity wines, both white, and red, as well as other types like Rosés. What Rick defines as "Green Spain" encompases the regions of Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias, and Pais Vasco, all in northern Spain.
Some of the most exciting wines produced in "Green Spain" are Albariño, Txakoli, and Mencía. These regions are home to numerous varieties, some of them native to Spain, that have expanded across other regions of the world.
The Duero River Valley
As the name indicates, the subregions here are all around, or influenced by the Duero River, one of the longest, and largest rivers in Spain, that flows into the Atlantic Ocean through Portugal, influencing Portugese winemaking as well ("Douro", in Portuguese) .
The Duero River valley is home to the famouse D.O. Ribera del Duero, as well as others such as D.O. Rueda (Where Verdejo thrives), D.O. Bierzo, and others. The dominating red grape is Tempranillo although, again, theres an ample set of grape varietals that are grown in the area.
Separated as a unique region is D.O.Ca. La Rioja, likely the most prominent and acclaimed of all Spanish wine regions. And differentiated from most of the others from being a "Denominacion de Origen Calificada", which is expected to deliver an higher set of quality standard control and restrictions. La Rioja is also the name of a Spanish "Comunidad Autonoma", somewhat similar to what we define as a State in the US, and produces mostly Tempranillo reds. Varietals such as Grenache, or Graciano, often make up for other single-varietals or blending key components.
There's also White Wines, and Rosés in La Rioja with "Viura" being the most comonly found as part of the region's whites.
The Ebro River Valley
Following the case made for The Duero River Valley, this area encompases those regions that benefit from the influence of the Ebro rivers. Spain's largest river that flows into the Mediterranean Sea through Catalonia.
Regions in this area include Navarra and Aragon, where multiple D.O.s reside and masterfully produce Grenache red wines, among others.
"Cataluña" in Spanish, is responsible for the quality wines made from the famous D.O.Q. Priorat, D.O. Montsant, D.O. Penedes, and D.O. Cava, and others. Wines in Catalonia are of many types, with Carignan and Grenache dominating the Reds scene, while Macabeo, Perellada, and Xarel-lo are in control of the whites. Actually Cava is mostly made of these grapes.
Catalonia is situated in a prime location near the Mediterranean coast, and hosts some of the Oldest winemaking regions in the country.
Central Mediterranean Coast
Also influenced by the Mediterranean Sea, this region is responsible for much more than famous "Paella". Vineyards in this region enjoy a mild climate year-round while growing in a diverse environment (There's a large coastline in the region, but it also gets mountainous pretty quickly, allowing for decent altitude vineyards in some cases).
The region mostly produces reds, with the prominent blending Bobal grape dominating, together with Monastrell (Known as "Mourvedre" in France).
Main D.O.s here are D.O. Jumilla and D.O. Yecla, both producing mostly Reds made of Monastrell grapes.
Meseta is what we would call a Plauteau, a large flat area in central Spain that was made famous by Miguel de Cervantes' epic novel masterpiece: Don Quijote.
But there's much more than Knights, farmers, and windmills here. Castilla La Mancha is desnely populated by vineyards that rest in a Continental climate. Here is where the white grape Airen becomes abundant, leveraging this extense region to become the preponderant white grape in Spain.
The main D.O. here is D.O. Castilla La Mancha, although other important D.O.s like D.O. Almansa, or D.O. Valdepenas are also present.
Capital of Spain and rising region in the Spanish Wine scene. Winemakers are recovering many abandoned vineyards in this region which are already delivering world-class wines. Located in the center of the Spanish Peninsula, Madrid shows-off when talking about Tempranillo and Grenache red wines, and Albillo whites.
The main D.O. here is D.O. Madrid, which makes mostly Red wines, but proportionally in less proportion against whites or other types than the other Spanish Winemaking regions.
Southernmost part of the Spanish peninsula and where flamenco originated. Andalucia is a land of arts and artists, and that includes those that dedicate their life to wine.
Most notable for Sherry, Andalucia is also getting significant press for their red wines. There's also diveristy in the scenario where vineyards are planted, some of them planted in the highest elevations in Spain's peninsula.
Spain includes two major island archipelagos: Baleares and Canarias. Situated in the Mediterranean Sea (Baleares), and in the Atlantic Ocean (Canarias), these two have a significantly different orography, soil composition, and climate, which is obviously noticeable in their winemaking.
Baleares, in a mediterranean climate, grows multiple indigenous grapes, being Callet, Premsal, and Manto Negro the most known varieties. The volcanic archipelago of Canarias, on the other side, is under a subtropical climate, and has a very interesting winemaking scene. With vineyards unaffected by the Phylloxera epidemic, Canarias has some of the oldest vineyards in Spain, Malvasia Volcanica is the most widely planted varietal in the region, a well suited grape for the volcanic soil it grows in.