Spain has more acres under vine than any other country and ranks third in production behind Italy and France. Much of this output continues to be hot-country jug wine made to satisfy the everyday thirsts of the domestic and greater European markets. But many inexpensive Spanish wines that once were rustic, tired, or dried out have been replaced by bottlings that are lush, round, ripe, and cleanly made. Regions that previously made blended Spanish wines that were virtually too strong to be bottled on their own, such as Tarragona, Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, and Toro are now firmly in the table wine business, even if these wines of Spain can be alarmingly high in alcohol.
At the high end are exciting new bottlings from the historically important Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in north-central Spain and from the wild, hilly Priorat in Cataluña, in the northeast corner of the country. A new generation of Spanish wine makers has begun crafting wines in a distinctly modern international style: deeply colored, very ripe, and high in alcohol, generally aged in a high percentage of new French oak, and often quite pricey. The majority of these wines are based on Tempranillo, Spain's most distinguished red variety. While the ultimate quality and longevity of these Spanish wines are yet to be proven, these new bottlings have unquestionably captured the attention of wine drinkers both inside and outside Spain.
Although much of Spain bakes in the sun for at least half the year, the country actually covers a vast range of climates-from the cooler and much wetter Atlantic-influenced northwest, to the arid, blazing Mediterranean south and southeast-so vintage generalizations are tricky with Spanish wines. Moreover, the majority of Spain's better vineyards lie at relatively high altitude, where summer nights are cool even when afternoons are stifling.
Among the various Spanish wines, Rioja wine is the most famous. It's said that if you're a wine enthusiast that loves Cabernet Sauvignon, you'll also love Rioja. Rioja is a Denomination of Origin (DOCa) of Spain (similar to the French appellations). There are four wines or "variations" associated with Rioja. There is, of course, Rioja, considered to be the most basic form of the wine. The next wine is Crianza which must spend a minimum of one year in oak. The next wine is Rioja Reserva which utilizes only the best grapes of the harvest and is only produced if there is a good growing season. The last wine is Gran Reserva, a wine that is only produced during the best growing seasons and from the best grapes harvested from Spanish vineyards.
Though Rioja is largely popular, Spain's most important red variety is Tinto Fino. Other synonyms for this wine include Ull de Llebre, Tinta del Pais, Tinta de Toro, Cencibel and, in Portugal, Aragonês and Tinta Rori.
While visiting Spain, there are several locations that are rich in Spanish wine history. Haro, La Rioja is a special Spanish wine region that houses over 500 wineries. Visit this location for an amazing wine tasting experience. Haro is certainly worth a visit if you wish to view beautiful Spanish vineyards. There is also Ribeira Sacra, located in Galcia, where you can also sample wines. Another historic region worth visiting is La Mancha, located in Central Spain, just south of Madrid.
If you're looking to visit a winery, the Rioja Alta Rioja is certainly an excellent choice. La Rioja Alta's ability to supply massive amounts of wine has differentiated it from every other winery in Spain, being able to store up to 50,000 casks and 6.4 million bottles at a time.
Make sure that you snag a bottle of Pedro Ximenez, a Spanish wine grape variety that's grown in multiple Spanish wine regions. However, it's primarily grown in the Denominacion de Origen (DO) of Montilla-Moriles. Also try the Viñas Viejas de Paniza, a wine produced from older Garnacha vineyards at high altitudes. Viñas Viejas de Paniza has delicious aromas and holds a dark and brooding appeal.