40% off courses & subscriptions

Sale ends soon! Start today
Skip to main content

Wine regions of Spain

By BBC Maestro

Food and Drink
Last updated: 17 August 2023

If you’re a wine lover, you’ll know all about Rioja. But although it’s the most famous wine region of Spain, it’s certainly not the only one you should know about.

From well-known regions to up-and-coming ones, across the country, here’s everything you need to know about the best Spanish wine regions.

Winemaking in Spain

It might surprise you to learn that Spain is one of the biggest wine-producing countries in the world. In fact, it’s the third top producer of wine, behind Italy and France. 

And yet, it’s often overlooked in favour of its close neighbours.

It’s also one of the oldest wine-producing countries, with winemaking in Spain dating back over 3000 years to Phoenician and Greek settlements in the country – but it really took off when the Romans arrived in Spain.

Wine production fell again when the Moors came to Spain in the 8th century CE and wasn’t rejuvenated again until the Reconquista in the 12th century. 

Later, in the 19th century, the Spanish wine industry had a big boom when France’s vineyards were devasted by the phylloxera pest – but it wasn’t long until Spain’s crops, too, were hit by the disease. In the early 20th century, political and economic instability hindered Spain’s ability to become a big winemaking power.

It wasn’t until the later part of the 20th century that Spain’s reputation as a wine producer grew, thanks to winemakers embracing modern techniques, investments in vineyards, and a focus on quality over quality.

Now, it’s an international powerhouse of winemaking, even if it still manages to fly slightly under the radar – but that just means there are some real gems to be found. 

Two bottles of wine sit on top of a barrel

Top wine regions in Spain

Spain is a huge country with a diverse landscape, stretching from sandy white coastlines to rugged mountains, and the wine it produces is just as diverse.

So, what wine regions should you look for on the label when you’re choosing a bottle? With so much wine coming out of Spain, the possibilities are endless – there really is something for everyone.

Rioja

The most famous wine region in Spain is Rioja, in the north of the country. The region’s high-quality red wines are mostly made from Tempranillo and Grenache grapes, and they share a lot in common with Bordeaux’s big red wines. As Jancis Robinson explains in her BBC Maestro course, An Understanding of Wine:

“The wines have long been aged in barrel, like red Bordeaux, but the big difference is that historically they’ve been aged in American oak barrels, rather than French oak barrels which gives them a certain sort of sweetness. Often, Rioja has a certain sort of vanilla character to it, and it’s much easier to drink without food – softer, rounder.”

One of the great things about Rioja wine is that it can last for decades – and will still be delicious after all those years, as confirmed by Jancis:

“I’ve had Riojas from the 40s that have been absolutely sumptuous. So, no hurry to drink Rioja, and some of it legally has to be aged quite a long time. Definitely a wine worth aging and taking seriously.”

 

Barrels of wine

Priorat

Spain uses the term ‘Denominación de Origen’ (DO) to signify the top level of quality in wines, with the usual rules and regulations around grape varieties and yield. Two regions have been given super status and carry the designation ‘Denominación de Origen Calificada’ (DOCa), which is even stricter.

One of these regions is Rioja. The other is Priorat.

This region, located in Catalonia, is famous for its quality red wines, made from Grenache and Cariñena (Carignan) grapes. The secret behind this wine region’s quality is its slate-rich soil, which is known locally as ‘licorella’. This gives Priorat wines an earthy flavour that’s truly unique.

Ribera del Duero

This region, around two hours north of Madrid, is another that’s famous for its red wine made mainly from Tempranillo grapes – although Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec grapes are also grown here.

The vineyards in this region line the Duero River, reaching altitudes of 700 to 1000 metres above sea level. It’s this altitude, along with continental weather, that make the region’s wines so intense and complexly flavoured.

Penedès

Penedès in Catalonia is best-known for its superior Cava, Spain’s famous sparkling wine. Some people even call it the capital of Cava, in particular the town of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia. 

The grapes grown in this region were traditionally local varieties including Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, which give Cava its uniquely sweet taste. Today though, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (for pink Cava) are also being used in Cava production, making the fizz taste more like Champagne.

And it’s not just Cava that’s produced in this region. The region can be divided into three sub-regions, each of which has its own microclimate and produces a different type of wine. 

Baix Penedès (the low-lying, coastal areas), specialises in full-bodied red wines, while Alt Penedès is a mountainous area situated between 500 and 800 metres above sea level. It produces high-quality white wines, although in lower quantities. 

The main region is Medio Penedès (also known as Penedès Central), which is the biggest of the sub-regions and responsible for the Cava that’s so popular across Spain – and beyond.

Sparkling wine is poured into glasses

Galicia

Galicia is a region in northwest Spain in which you can easily feel like it's not really Spain at all. It has a cool, wet climate and lush green scenery – and this unique climate has produced some distinctive wines.

There are several sub-regions within Galicia, most notably Rías Baixas. The key grape variety grown here is Albariño, perfect for making dry white wines and lightly sparkling options like Vinho Verde.

The region is also noted for its commitment to sustainable and organic practices, producing some of the country’s best biodynamic wines.

 

As you can see, Spain has a lot to offer. Whether you’re looking for a dry white or rich red, there’s something for everyone in this diverse country. And if you want to find out more about different wine regions – along with other key lessons about wine – take a look at Jancis Robinson’s course, An Understanding of Wine.

A collection of BBC Maestri including Julia Donaldson, Alan Moore and Edgar Wright displayed alongside some gift boxes with orange bows

Give the gift of knowledge

Surprise a special someone with a year's access to BBC Maestro or gift them a single course.

Thanks for signing up to receive your free lessons

Check your inbox - they’re on the way!

Oops! Something went wrong

Please try again later

Get started with free lessons

Unlock your passion, sign up today