Vines grow throughout Spain, but the country’s prime sector for wine lies in the autonomous regions of Castilla y León and La Rioja.
Spain’s most renowned wine region, Rioja follows the flow of the Ebro River. Like in most parts of the country, wine has been made here for centuries. However, Rioja’s fortunes dramatically changed in the 19th century when French winemakers, eager to escape their country’s phylloxera plague, crossed the Pyrenees and introduced the concept of barrel-aged wines to the region.
Nowadays, Rioja boasts nearly 600 wineries; its production ranks second in Spain, behind only La Mancha. Its Tempranillo-based reds frequently include some Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan). Rioja also bottles white wine made from Viura.
To the immediate north of Rioja lies the Basque Country, which produces mostly Txakoli, a still or sometimes spritzy high-acid wine made from white Hondarribi Zuri and/or red Hondarribi Beltza.
Heading southwest into Castilla y León, one comes to the Duero River Valley and its wine regions: Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Cigales and the catch-all category called Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León.
With more than 200 wineries, Ribera del Duero leads the way with muscular, full-flavored wines made from a clone of Tempranillo known locally as Tinto Fino. These potentially fantastic wines can challenge the best of Rioja and the world.
Southwest of Ribera del Duero, Rueda specializes in Verdejo, a white grape with Sauvignon Blanc-like characteristics. Toro is a small red-wine-only region that’s been on the rise of late, while Cigales is an even smaller region known mostly for rosé production.