Spain is a land of tapas and flamenco, sunny shores and architectural wonders—and some of the best wine in the world. Wine has been part of the Spanish identity since around 3,000 B.C., when the Phoenicians first cultivated grapes on the Iberian Peninsula. In Roman times, Spanish wine was widely exported around the empire, most of it from the area that is modern day Andalucía.
Today, Spain’s wine regions are as varied as the food and culture around this Iberian nation. Whether you’ve been dreaming of taking a Food & Wine tour or embarking on one of our Spain tours, knowing a little bit about Spanish wine will kick your adventure up a notch. Read on for a look into some of the top wine regions of Spain and prepare to sip your favorites on your next trip.
How many Spanish wine regions are there?
Spain is the world’s third-largest wine producer and has the largest area of land dedicated to vineyards of any nation in the world. There are officially 70 different wine regions in Spain, which is a lot compared to some of the other major wine countries in Europe—France recognizes 17 regions and Italy clocks in with 20. So when we tell you that every city you visit on tour overlaps with a wine region on our map above, we mean it. You are never far from a hyper-local glass of vino in this country.
Situated along the Mediterranean coast in eastern Spain, Catalonia is one of the most popular Spanish wine regions. You’ll find a wide variety of red and white wines throughout the area. Its warm weather and proximity to the sea makes Catalonian wines full-bodied with higher alcohol content than wines from other regions of Spain. These wines are grown on chalky soil, so they often have more minerality in their flavor profile as well.
Wines to try in Catalonia:
This wine comes from a small area about 90 miles southwest of Barcelona that’s known for its terraced hills. Due to the region’s unique geography, the garnacha and carignan grapes used for priorat wines receive 360-degree exposure to weather and elements, resulting in big, full-bodied wines. The warm, dry climate of the region produces wines with notes of herbs, spices, and dark fruits like cherries. Despite being one of the younger wine-growing areas in Spain, priorat wines have become some of the most expensive, sought after Spanish wines.
Pairs well with: Rustic vegetable dishes, sausages, and hearty bean and lentil dishes, which are popular in the Catalonia region.
Cava is a type of sparkling white wine, similar to France’s Champagne. However, unlike Champagne, cava can be produced in multiple wine regions around Spain. If you want to taste what many people consider the iconic wine of the country as you travel on our Spain tours, Catalonia is the perfect region to dive into a glass of cava. After all, 95% of the cava made in Spain today comes from the Catalonia region. Typically composed of a blend of macabeo and xarel-lo grapes, cava ranges from a dry brut-style to a very sweet dulce-style. Cava wine is light- to medium-bodied and often has citrusy notes.
Pairs well with: Anything fried. Rice dishes like paella and seafood also pair well with a crisp glass of bubbly cava.
The best place to visit to try this wine on tour: Barcelona
Barcelona is the perfect gateway to Catalonia, and you can find a great glass of priorat or cava in any tapas bar you step into. Set off on our Barcelona tours to enjoy this thriving international culinary scene nestled into one of the most beautiful cities you’ll ever see. With options like these, it’s easy to see why Catalonia is often the answer to the question: What is the best wine region in Spain?
The southernmost of wine regions in Spain, Andalucía is among the oldest and most diverse wine areas in the country. It’s home to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and multiple rivers that converge in Granada, which is a combination that produces lush, fruity wines. Even with rich terrain like that, it’s one of the hottest, driest portions of this Spanish wine region that produces its signature sip: a fortified wine known as sherry.
The wine to try in Andalucía:
Sherry is considered one of the world’s oldest wines. It ranges from crisp and dry with notes of apple to dark and rich with a creamy texture, with a multitude of variations in between. Sherry is usually made from pedro ximenez and moscatel grapes, although other grape varietals are allowed.
There are two unique parts of the sherry winemaking process. The first is a blending process known as solera, which began in the 17th century, where winemakers fill a bottle with a bit of older wine and then complete the bottling process with new wine. This creates a consistent sip from year to year. The second important part of the winemaking process is fortification, which is a process where brandy is added to the wines, creating a stronger, more concentrated flavor.
Pairs well with: Small bites and salty snacks like chips, nuts, dates, and olives. Cold soups and cheeses also make great pairing partners with sherry.
The best place to visit to try this wine on tour: Granada or Seville
This fortified wine can be found around the world, but we recommend drinking sherry as close to the source as possible. Start dinner on our Granada tours or Seville tours with this aperitif to experience the authenticity of the growing region.
3. La Rioja
La Rioja is perhaps the most globally famous of the wine regions of Spain. Located in the north, near Bilbao, the La Rioja wine region is contained mostly within the La Rioja administrative area of Spain, and the two are used nearly interchangeably. The mountain ranges to the east and north protect the vineyards from the wet and cold of the Atlantic Ocean, making La Rioja warmer and drier than surrounding areas. The wine region of La Rioja is divided into three areas, and grapes from all three are traditionally blended to create the distinctive flavor.
The wine to try in La Rioja:
Seven different types of grapes are permitted in the making of rioja wines, including graciano and mazuelo, but our favorite is tempranillo. While most rioja wines are blends, we love those that are mostly tempranillo because this grape is like a chameleon—always changing. When it’s newly harvested it’s fresh and fruity, but it takes on bold flavors like leather and tobacco easily when barrel-aged, changing its tasting-profile entirely. It’s no wonder that tempranillo accounts for about 75% of the grapes grown in the La Rioja region and is the fourth most popular grape in the world.
Pairs well with: While aged riojas are a great pairing for big, hearty meals, younger riojas pair well with lighter dishes, like pastas, vegetables, and rice. The moral of the story: You can’t go wrong with a glass of rioja at dinner on our Spain tours.
The best place to visit to try this wine on tour: Bilbao
You’ll arrive in Bilbao on our Northern Spain: Basque Country to Madrid tour, which is just a stone’s throw from La Rioja. Your proximity to one of the most popular wine regions of Spain is immediately apparent in the city’s thriving dining scene. If simply being La Rioja-adjacent doesn’t scratch your wine itch, consider our Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain tour. This trip includes two nights in the heart of the region and a tour of a winery where you’ll taste rioja wines.
You can also dive into La Rioja on our Food & Wine: Barcelona & Northern Spain with America’s Test Kitchen tour, where you will spend a day in Logroño, the capital of La Rioja administrative district.
Tucked into the far northwest corner of the country is one of Spain’s best wine regions: Galicia. (Think Cliffs of Moher meets Tuscany and you have an idea of what this region is like.) Several deep inlets along the coast give way to rolling hills throughout this lush, green winemaking region. High humidity and ample rainfall fueled by the ocean breezes make this one of the most reliably fertile wine regions in Spain, which is why it’s often referred to as the “green corner” of the country. Galicia offers light, fresh wines known for their fruity tones.
The wine to try in Galicia:
This light-bodied white wine is known as the seafood lovers’ wine, and has high acidity and refreshing notes of peach and apple with citrus tones of lemon. The albariño grape accounts for about 90% of the harvest in the most popular Galician wine regions of Spain. Albariños are easy to drink, refreshing, and have medium alcohol content. They are mostly aged in steel tanks to help preserve those signature citrus and fruit flavors and are ready to drink as soon as they are bottled. We recommend having a seat on a patio and enjoying a refreshing glass of albariño on any of our Spain tours.
Pairs well with: Seafood pastas, ceviche, and shrimp. Grab a tray of oysters or a paella with lobster and dive into a bottle of this lovely white wine.
The best place to visit to try this wine on tour: Santiago de Compostela
You’ll visit Santiago de Compostela, which sits squarely in the Galicia wine region, on our Northern Spain: Basque Country to Madrid tour. The city enjoys a thriving nightlife and is the perfect place to grab a glass of Galician wine while enjoying some tapas before a night on the town.
5. Ribera del Duero
Ribera del Duero is a major wine region in the Castilla y León administrative area of northern Spain. The name of this popular Spanish wine region means “bank of the Duero,” and it’s divided by the Duero River. The region is known for a variety of both red and white wines, and has layers of limestone, chalk, and clay soils that provide plenty of depth to the grapes that grow here. Mountains protect the high plateau and create extreme weather shifts, from hot and very dry summers to below freezing and harsh winters. The big shifts in temperatures between day and night help create grapes with complex flavors for the local wines.
The wine to try in Ribera del Duero:
Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais.
This hyper-local tempranillo grape produces rich, deep-colored wines with complex aromas. Regulations for the region mandate that wines must have at least 75% tempranillo grapes, and in this region, the remaining balance is usually made up of cabernet, merlot, and malbec grapes. Tinto wines are aged in barrels for between one and three years before they are bottled. These are big wines that can age for years in the bottle and grow more and more tasty with time. They are known for their flavors of plum, blackberry, and cassis, with notes of spice, leather, and tobacco from their time in barrels.
Pairs well with: Aged cheeses and hearty dishes like stews, beef goulash, sausage, steak, venison, and lamb chops. Yum!
The best place to visit to try this wine on tour: Madrid or Salamanca
You’ll find Ribera del Duero wines all over Spain, but the region is fairly close to the capital, so enjoy a local label on any of our Madrid tours. If you’re looking for a more in-depth stay in the region, our Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain tour stops overnight in the Ribera del Duero countryside, and you’ll be treated to a dinner complete with a wine tasting. Other cities close to the region, like Salamanca and Segovia, are favorite stops on our Northern Spain: Basque Country to Madrid tour. On this trip, enjoy our Salamanca Food & Wine Tasting Tour, which features local wines from the Ribera del Duero Spanish wine region.
How to guarantee a great time visiting wine regions in Spain
Whether you’re traveling on one of our Food & Wine Tours or exploring a broader itinerary like our Grand Tour of Spain, most of our trips to Spain will place you in close proximity to one of these incredible wine regions in Spain. Wine is, after all, part of the culture of the nation. So, while you’re out there enjoying your adventure and considering a glass of wine with dinner, here are a few tips:
- Don’t worry about the perfect “pairing.” Wine should be enjoyed. If you feel like having a red wine with seafood, go for it. Want an albariño with a steak? Do it.
- Ask questions. You’ll have expert guides with you every step of the way, so if you are curious about where a wine comes from, why it tastes the way it does, or what to look for in a great glass, just ask.
- Don’t assume you need to go for the priciest bottles. Wine in Spain is local, and even the more inexpensive stuff is top notch. Small wineries don’t advertise, promote, or publicize their new releases, they just make great wine. You can often find a fantastic bottle of wine at dinner for under €20 (that’s about $22).