Spanish Wine and Grapes Explained!
The Grape Varieties You Should Know About!
(And be drinking!…)
Spain is overflowing with an abundance of grape varieties, over 400 to be exact, with many more being recognised each year. When you first hear that, it can be a little over-whelming to imagine getting to know them all! But, we have good news!
80 percent of Spain’s wine production is from only 20 popular Spanish grape varieties. In Spain, wines are categorised into different wine regions, each with their own set of wine laws and quality standards. Currently, Spain has over 70 of these wine regions. These are referred to as a D.O or a Designation of Origin. We also have 2 D.O.Q areas, these are Priorat and Rioja. These two regions are famed for their high quality and ‘noble’ wines.
When talking about Spanish wines, you will realise something. We rarely refer to grape varieties that are grown in Spain without mentioning their geographic distribution. Even more so, in the case of red wine. Sometimes, the same red grape planted in two different D.Os can even have a different name! Take Tempranillo, for example, Spain’s most famous variety has many different names, depending on where it is grown.
Confused? Don’t be. We have put together a list of the most popular Spanish red grape varieties to help you get to know the main players and to discover some new ones that you may not have heard of yet. Next week, we will talk about the whites, so for all of you white wine lovers, check back in again soon!
TOP TIP: If you are ordering a glass of wine in a restaurant, try using the D.O rather than the grape name. This is a much better way to make sure you get the wine style that you like.
Tempranillo / Tinto Fino / Ull de Llebre:
The Tempranillo grape is the main-player in some of Spain’s most world-renowned red wines from Rioja and Ribero del Duero. The name comes from the word ‘Temprano’, which means early in Spanish. This early ripening grape is an extremely versatile grape, that can make young and juicy reds with strawberry and cherry notes, or bigger, bolder, more structured oak-aged wines with savory character, ideal for aging!
Tempranillo is also known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Cencibel in La Mancha and Ull de Llebre in Catalonia. But this grape’s growing capabilities don’t stop there, after all, it is the fourth most planted grape in the world! You can also find Tempranillo in many other areas around Spain, blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano.
Perfect food pairing for Tempranillo wines: Red meat and of course the world famous Jamon Iberico is the perfect pairing here. However, due to its versatility, it can pair well with roasted vegetables, hearty pastas, and Mexican food.
This lesser known, humble grape is grown primarily in the wine regions of Rioja and Navarra. It was historically considered a perfect Spanish red grape variety for rounding out blends with Tempranillo, however, it has finally received the recognition it deserves as a single variety in wines. These rarer varieties of native and minority grapes have a voice of their own, and finally, the revolution is here! The typical wines produced tend to have vibrant aromas, producing aromatic, spicy red wines with a rich color high acidity and warm tannins.
Perfect food pairing for Graciano wines: Enjoy this grape with a range of dishes, but especially with hearty stews and chorizo dishes. As well as lamb dishes, which compliment wines with Graciano perfectly!
Garnacha / Garnaxta
A grape of Spanish origin despite the common misconception that it in a French grape. In Spain, it is found in the Northeast area, La Rioja, Navarra, Aragón and one of the most important varietals in Cataluña.
Garnacha is a late ripening and thin-skinned grape, which loves hot and long summers, hence why Catalonia sees it at its best. As a single-varietal, such as those made from the old vines of Priorat it often makes medium bodied wines with medium acidity and tannins, fairly high in alcohol and intense red fruit flavors. However, you’ll mostly hear of this grape blended with Cariñena, especially for wines in the Montsant and Priorat. The wines of Montsant are spicy and soft on the palate. They typically contain hints of berry-flavors like strawberry and raspberry, with great warmth and earthy notes. However, in wines from the Priorat, you can expect much bigger, bolder and drier reds. In Navarra and Penédes, Garnacha is used to make rosé wines.
TOP TIP: If you love Cabernet Sauvignon try a Priorat wine. It’s big, bold, dry and full of intense dark fruit, chocolate and tobacco notes.
Perfect food pairing for Garnaxta wines: Being so versatile, Garnaxta can be paired with almost anything! Try it with bean or lentil-based cooked dishes, roasted pork or red cheddar cheeses. Yum!
Carignan – Cariñena
Known as Carignan in the rest of the world, but its rightful name is Cariñena, just like the eastern Spanish town from which it originates. This area now has its own D.O, aptly named after the grape. It’s called Mazuelo in Rioja, and there (as well as in Priorat and Montsant), old vines can produce tangy, high alcohol, high acidity, and tannic bold and intense reds. This popular Spanish red grape variety produces wines which are perfect for aging due to its high levels of acidity. In Catalonia, this grape is also called Samsó.
Perfect food pairing for Cariñena wines: Peppery meats, spicy meatballs, manchego cheese, and lasagne dishes!
Monastrell – Mouvedre – Mataró
This popular Spanish red grape variety is the typical grape of Murcia and the south of Valencia. It produces powerful wines with great structure and body somewhat higher than normal. Monastrell is a thick-skinned, black grape high in tannins and late to ripen. It’s also a very difficult grape to grow with a tendency to produce good yields one year and small yields the next.
Perfect food pairing for Monastrell wines: A perfect wine with smoked meats and barbecue veggies. Deep, bold, smoky reds and delicious steak is always a match made in heaven!
One of our favorite grapes here in Bodega Maestrazgo. The grape carries the red-cherry intensity and herbal notes often found in Cabernet Franc. Wines produced from this grape, when done well are deliciously complex, peppery, intense bright red fruits, with hints of flowery and earthy notes. It is found mostly in areas of Bierzo, where it accounts for 75% of the vine acreage. More delicate Mencia wines can be found from grapes grown in the Ribeira Sacra region. Young wines have a nice cherry-red color, good acidity, and moderate tannins as well as aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate with some floral and mineral notes. However, some of the best of our Mencias can be deep red/violet in color, rich in meaty tannins, and as age-worthy as the finest Pinot Noir.
TOP TIP: We love Raul Perez’s wines. He is known as the master of Mencia and we have a large selection of many of his single vineyard offerings, all Mencia based and delicious! Contact us for more information on purchasing these small and limited productions.
Perfect food pairing for Mencia wines: Due to its peppery nature, it pairs perfectly with meats. Peppered steak, pastrami, corned beef or sausages. It can also be a great fit with game-based dishes, like veal or rabbit.
Alicante Bouschet – Garnacha Tintorea
This is one of the few grapes to have not only color in the skins but also colored juice. It’s one of the few varieties with red pulp. Although fewer vines are being planted than before, it has a long and impressive history, found mainly in the Almansa region. It is mainly used to complement other varieties, but you can find some wonderful single varietal wines around. The wines it produces are very dense, with medium acidity, rough and with high alcohol content, although it is less than the Garnacha. With an intense aroma of red fruits and a very accentuated color.
Perfect food pairing for Garnacha Tintorea wines: Wines from this grape can be paired with almost any meats; fried, grilled or roasted! Sausages and semi-hard cheeses work well too.
Ironically, better known for its blending attributes, because it is big, rich, and fairly cheap. It was also thought to be extinct for some time, but it’s making a comeback. And we love it! On its own as a single varietal wine, there are delicious Bobals being made in the Valencia region. Named after the Latin word for the shape of a bullhead given the shape of the bunches. Found mainly in Valencia, Murcia, Castilla La Mancha, Campo de Borja, and Catalonia.
Bobal wines are full-bodied and colorful. At its best, this popular Spanish red grape variety makes wines known for their dark color, chewy tannins and spicy dark fruit notes with lovely balanced acidity. It is also widely used for juicy rosés. Quite the versatile grape! Their quality has witnessed a very important increase in the last years and is now the third most planted grape in Spain.
Perfect food pairing for Bobal wines: Boabl pairs well with rich stews, oily fish, and especially, and not surprisingly paella. (The original version from Valencia of course!)
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc have seen a big rise in production in recent years in Spain. Syrah has become particularly popular, mainly in La Mancha and in the Mediterranean areas. But it’s good to remember that the Syrah here is very different from the Rhone or Australian Syrah. Spanish Syrah wines are normally full bodied, high in alcohol, intense and boldly lush!
As Cabernet grows well almost everywhere, Spain is of course no different. It is often used to blend with other grapes to produce more complex wines, especially in the Priorat. You will find Cabernet wines in many regions including La Mancha, Catalonia, Navarra and many more.
Rare & Lesser-Known Grapes
There are many more incredible red wine grape varieties. You are in Spain after all! We could go on forever, but don’t worry, we won’t! But just a few more to remember the names of, especially if you are looking to try something a little different. Manto Negro from the Mallorca produces medium to full-bodied tannic wines. Prieto Picudo from Bierzo, however ironically enough, it is not accepted in the D.O Bierzo, makes interesting fresher style, interesting reds. Soussan from Galicia, for fresh, high acidity, juicy, low color reds. Petit Verdot, for a sweet, smooth and mellow wine, and last but not least, Barcelona’s very own, Sumoll, a grape producing bright, fresh, light and fruity reds, similar to Pinot Noir.
If you’d like to taste some of our favorite grapes or learn a little more about them, why not visit us for a tasting? We offer a range of wine tasting experiences giving you a chance to enjoy the best of Spanish wines in a relaxed and enjoyable environment.
Love & Wine,