The Basics

Spain is the...

#1 country in area of vine cultivation in the EU and the world (accounting for 30% of all EU area)

#2 exporter world-wide (17% of total market) – 60% white varietals (primarily for Sherry, Cava, and Brandy production) & 40% red varietals

#3 largest wine producer in the world (behind France and Italy)

#5 largest exporter of wine to the United States (behind Italy, Australia, France, and Chile)

most common Varietals

White

Airén (used as a base for Brandy)

Macabeo (used in Cava production)

Palomino (used in Sherry production)

Pedro Ximénez (used in Sherry production)

Red

Tempranillo (aka Tinto Fino, Tinta de Toro, Tinto del Pais, Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, Tinto de Madrid)

Bobal

Garnacha Tinta (aka Grenache)

Monastrell (aka Mourvédre)

wine quality designations

Vino de Mesa ("Table Wine") - This represents the lowest quality designation.

Vino de la Tierra ("Country Wine") - This represents wines of a particular "place" with few requirements for grape varieties, yields, or aging.

Denominación de Origen (DO) - This was the top designation until, in 1988, the DOC designation was created. Each DO has a regulatory body (Consejos Reguladores) which are responsible for creating the rules for each DO (authorized varietals, aging, etc.). There are currently 69 DOs.

Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC/DOCa/DOQ) - This designation was created in 1988 when Spain entered the European Union. The regulating council also dictates the rules; but in order for a DO to be considered for DOC status, its wines must cost at least double that of the national average for DO wines. There are currently only 2 DOCs (Rioja and Priorat).

Vino de Pago (VP) - Created in 2003, this designation is an entirely different type of category. Pago means "vineyard," and these are all single estate wineries. They are ones which can exist outside the established DO category. The wines from each Pago must be created and bottled within the estate. Each VP is allowed to set its own rules, including authorized varietals, vinification, and aging. There are currently 14 Vino de Pagos.

Age Designations

DesignationTime in Cask - RedTime in Cask - WhiteTime Before Release - RedTime Before Release - White
JovenNoneN/A1st yr FollowingN/A
Crianza6 months6 months24 months12 months
Reserva12 months6 months36 months24 months
Gran Reserva18 months6 months60 months48 months

Spanish Wine Terminology

AñejoWine that has been aged a minimum of 24 months in oak barrels (can only be applied to VdlT wine or better).
BlancoWhite wine.
BodegaSpanish winery; sometimes applies to wine shops or cellars.
CavaSparkling wine made in the traditional method.
CosechaHarvest or vintage.
JovenTypically, the wine sees little or no time in oak (only used for DO/DOC wines)
NobleMinimum 12 months in oak barrels (can only be applied to VdlT wine or better).
OrujoDistillate made from grape pomace (similar to Grappa).
Roble"Oak." Designates that a wine has spent at least a little time in oak.
RosadoRosé wine.
TintoRed wine.
VendimiaHarvest or vintage.