If you stand atop a plateau in the eastern reaches of the Ribera del Duero wine region, you might not realize that the Tempranillo vines you\u2019re admiring are doing their thing at upwards of 3,000 feet elevation above sea level. Same goes for the old-vine Moscatel that grows in the mountains north of M\u00e1laga, or the Menc\u00eda in parts of Bierzo.\r\n\r\nAs winemakers throughout Spain strive to produce wines of greater elegance and freshness, elevation is proving to be the most important ingredient of regional terroir. From established regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero to lesser-known places that include Somontano and the Canary Islands, high-elevation vineyards are where Spain\u2019s leading winemakers seek the grapes they\u2019ll choose to convert into liquid gold.\r\n\r\nHere\u2019s an in-depth look at the Spanish wine regions where elevation matters most, along with top-rated recommendations from some of the highest points in their respective regions.\r\n\r\n\r\nPriorat\r\nLooks Can Be Deceiving\r\nBased on appearance, one might assume that the Priorat region in Catalonia, one of the hilliest and most hardscrabble wine regions in Spain, is also one of the country\u2019s highest. Just look at the stunning Montsant bluff that sits sentinel over the region. And how about those steep hillsides in villages like Torroja del Priorat and Porrera, the ones with 100-year-old bush vines of Garnacha and Carignan that go all the way to the top? Those peaks must be 5,000, maybe 6,000 feet high, right?\r\n\r\nWell, not exactly. In Priorat, about 80 miles southwest of Barcelona and only about 25 miles inland from the Mediterranean, the optics can be misleading. While not as elevated as, say, the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina, or those in the shadows of the Dolomites in northeast Italy, Priorat looks and feels like a serious mountain region. Yet, its vineyards span from as low as 325 feet up to about 2,400 feet, where Celler Pasanau\u2019s highest plantings peter out at the base of the Serra de Montsant.\r\n\r\nAccording to Dominik Huber, the German-born winemaker and founder of Terroir Al L\u00edmit, there are two ways to produce wines with freshness in a hot region like the Priorat.\r\n\r\nOne strategy is to harvest fruit from the highest-elevation spots, where nighttime and morning temperatures are coolest, while the other is to rely on vineyards with north-facing exposures that shield grapes from the burning afternoon sun.\r\n\r\nWhile Huber\u2019s Les Tosses (2,100 feet) qualifies as a legitimate mountain wine, his Dits del Terra, which is made from grapes grown at about 1,300 feet and retails for about a third the price of the Les Tosses, is agile and shows remarkable finesse.\r\n\r\nTerroir Al L\u00edmit 2014 Dits del Terra (Priorat); $90, 95 points.\u00a0This Carignan welcomes you with fresh berry aromas that are like jam, accented by spice notes. Secondary aromas of coffee and toast lead to a full, saturated palate with a vise grip. Deep, savory flavors of roasted plum are spicy on a complex finish that blends power and elegance to the end. Drink from 2018\u20132030. Varietal Carignan; highest vineyards 1,300 feet. European Cellars.\u00a0Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nTosalet 2013 Vinyes Velles Carignan (Priorat); $90, 92 points.\u00a0Flush aromas of raisin, blackberry and cassis are ripe through and through. This wine feels tight, with tannic scrape. Spicy, reedy flavors of red plum and berry fruits are textbook for Carignan, while mixed black fruits and fig show on a chocolaty finish. Best from 2020\u20132025.\u00a0Varietal Carignan; highest vineyards 2,300 feet. Hammeken Cellars USA.\r\n\r\nCeller Pasanau 2012 Finca La Planeta (Priorat); $43, 94 points. Crisp, focused aromas of ripe berry fruits, hot asphalt and spice are potent and excellent. From one of the Priorat's highest locales (2,400 feet), this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha tastes of spicy plum, crushed peppercorn and schist. Warm finishing notes of minerality combined with strong fruit flavors are thorough and complex; drink through 2028. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha; highest vineyards 2,450 feet. Classical Wines.\r\n\r\n\r\nRioja\r\nWhere Elevation Equals Elegance\r\nThe Ebro River, the lifeblood of this renowned wine region, cuts a path through the heart of Rioja Alta and forms the southern boundary of Rioja Alavesa, working its way through Rioja Baja en route to the Mediterranean Sea. But the topographical landmark that most defines Rioja is the Sierra de Cantabria, whose bluffs and peaks are a sight to see from medieval winemaking towns like San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Elciego and Laguardia.\r\n\r\nFew vineyards extend into the foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria on the north side of Ebro. For the most part, it\u2019s too cool and untenable for grapes. In the case of Remelluri, located in Rioja Alavesa, however, the highest Tempranillo vineyards that Owner/Winemaker Telmo Rodr\u00edguez uses for his Granja Gran Reserva sit at about 2,450 feet. Think of these vineyards as the back door to the Cantabria mountains\u2014any grapes farther up will not ripen.\r\n\r\nOn the south side of the Ebro is the Sierra de la Demanda, where skiers frolic at resorts like Valdezcaray during the winter, and where Mount San Lorenzo measures more than 7,400 feet.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is the highest part of Rioja, but because it\u2019s north-facing, you can only plant up to about 550 meters [1,800 feet],\u201d says Patrick Mata, co-owner of Ol\u00e9 Imports. His partner in the business, Alberto Orte, makes wines under the La Antigua Cl\u00e1sico label.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Sierra de la Demanda is the tallest mountain chain in Spain,\u201d says Mata. \u201cVineyards are at least 100 meters [300 feet] higher than in Rioja Alta. The harvest in the Sierra de la Demanda is always three to four weeks after the harvest north of the Ebro.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe result is wines with racy acidity and core energy.\r\n\r\n Olivier Rivi\u00e8re 2015 Ganko (Rioja); $40, 93 points.\u00a0Here's another raring red from Bordeaux-born Rivi\u00e8re that needs time to settle. Ripe aromas are all about fruit, while this wine is clamping on the palate, with a sense of skins one hopes will resolve with time. Peppery plum and wild berry flavors finish with cheek-grabbing tannins and lasting toastiness. Drink 2019\u20132035. Blend of Garnacha and Mazuelo (Carignan); highest vineyards 1,970 feet. European Cellars.\r\n\r\nRemelluri 2011 Granja Gran Reserva (Rioja); $95, 94 points.\u00a0Alluring aromas of tree bark, licorice root, rose petal and ripe black fruit show elegance. This is a touch grippy and young in feel, but overall it's showing balance. Deep flavors of plum, cherry, wild berry and vanilla finish finessed by a balance of weight and acidity. Drink from 2019\u20132032. Cellar Selection. Blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and other grapes; highest vineyards 2,450 feet. De Maison Selections, Inc.\r\n\r\nAlberto Orte 2008 La Antigua Cl\u00e1sico Reserva (Rioja); $24, 90 points. Rooty aromas of sarsparilla mix with red-fruit tones on the subtle nose. This aged Rioja is showing hard tannins and choppy acidity in support of herbal, leafy plum and red currant flavors. Tomato, herb and plum flavors stick out on a traditional, high-acid finish.\u00a0Blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Graciano; highest vineyards 1,800 feet. Ol\u00e9 Imports.\r\n\r\n\r\nRibera del Duero\r\nThe Highest of \u2019Em All\r\nIt\u2019s ironic that Ribera del Duero, one of the highest wine regions in Europe, looks mostly flat to the naked eye. The northern Castilian plateau is frequently described as barren, bleak and brutal, due to freezing winters and broiling summers. Elevations here run from about 3,500 feet, along Ribera\u2019s eastern flanks, down to about 2,300 feet near Valladolid, which forms the region\u2019s western border.\r\n\r\nHailing from near Aranda del Duero, the wines of Dominio de Atauta are the products of vineyards planted at nearly 3,300 feet. Atauta\u2019s wines are typically dark and full bodied, but primed by the fresh acidity that\u2019s a hallmark of high-elevation Tempranillo.\r\n\r\nJust outside the city of Burgos, at the northern limits of the Ribera del Duero Denominaci\u00f3n de Origen (DO), is where Dominio Basconcillos farms grapes at about 3,300 feet. Any impact from the namesake Duero River is negligible because of the northerly location. Instead, the key element of the terroir at Basconcillos is altitude, along with mixed soils that include clay, sand and chalk, which also impact the grapes and resulting wines.\r\n\r\n\u201cBasconcillos is a single, 50-hectare [roughly 125-acre] parcel with an average elevation of 1,000 meters [nearly 3,300 feet],\u201d says Stephen Metzler, president of Classical Wines, which imports Dominio Basconcillos into the U.S. \u201cWhen you step beyond the last row, you are outside the Ribera del Duero DO at its northern extreme.\u201d\r\n\r\nMost interesting about producers like Basconcillos and Atauta is that while their wines are powerful and concentrated, they aren\u2019t overweight or out of balance. The altitude of the vineyards safeguards freshness.\r\n\r\nValderiz 2014 Juegabolos (Ribera del Duero); $50, 96 points.\u00a0Toasty aromas suggest maple, along with a note of sawdust to accompany earthy berry scents. A rich, pure palate is intense but shows balance and comportment. Blackberry, cassis, peppery spice and integrated oak flavors are detailed, with a smooth finish. Drink this full-bodied wonder through 2028.\u00a0Varietal Tempranillo; highest vineyards 2,625 feet. Regal Wine Imports Inc.\u00a0Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nDominio Basconcillos 2014 Vi\u00f1a Magna (Ribera del Duero); $31, 93 points.\u00a0Toasty oak and graphite aromas fortify a nose that's lemony on the surface and ripe and fruity at the base. A creamy, resiny mouthfeel is toughened by hard tannins, while this wine tastes of toasty oak and black fruits. A dark, woody finish is chocolaty and rich. Drink through 2027.\u00a0Varietal Tempranillo; highest vineyards 3,300 feet. Classical Wines.\r\n\r\nDominio de Atauta 2014 Ribera del Duero; $40, 94 points. A pretty nose shows violet notes alongside leather, blackberry and cassis aromas. The palate is full and edgy, with rubbery tannins that could use some years to resolve. A roasted, beefy flavor profile includes nuances of smoked meat that make this about more than just black fruit. Drink through 2028.Varietal Tempranillo; highest vineyards 3,450 feet. Aviva Vino. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\n\r\nM\u00e1laga\r\nMore Than Sun and Beaches\r\nMention M\u00e1laga, the Costa del Sol\u2019s largest city, and thoughts will likely drift to sand, sun and surf. But head north and inland from the warm waters of the Mediterranean, and you\u2019ll soon ascend the Sierras de M\u00e1laga. Before long, you\u2019ll stand nearly 2,500 feet above sea level, and there will be grapes at your ankles.\r\n\r\nThese sunbaked mountains offer Malvasia, Syrah and several obscure regional grapes. The leading variety is Moscatel de Alejandria, the best of which grows on twisted vines planted 50\u2013100 years ago, maybe longer.\r\n\r\nAlthough much of the Moscatel production in M\u00e1laga is geared toward sweet and fortified wines, Jorge Ord\u00f3\u00f1ez, a renowned M\u00e1laga-born and Boston-based importer, and his family bottle Botani, a pleasant dry Moscatel made from grapes grown on rugged 70-degree slopes.\r\n\r\nThe secret to Botani\u2019s freshness on the nose and palate, according to Victor Ord\u00f3\u00f1ez, Jorge\u2019s son, is that the grapes are harvested by hand from low-yielding, high-elevation bush vines planted as far back as the 1920s.\r\n\r\nWith respect to sweet Moscatel from M\u00e1laga, the Ord\u00f3\u00f1ez clan bottles several wines of differing levels of richness and quality, while the renowned Riojano winemaker Telmo Rodr\u00edguez (see Remelluri) is responsible for the delicious Molino Real Mountain Wine.\r\n\r\nNot everything that hails from the mountains of M\u00e1laga is white and/or sweet, however. Near the postcard-pretty city of Ronda, Finca La Melonera pulls grapes like Syrah, Garnacha and the little-known varieties of Tintilla de Rota and Rom\u00e9 from vines planted up to nearly 3,000 feet. Named after a native breed of Andalusian goat, the 2014 Payoya Negra is dark, chewy and ripe. It\u2019s also focused and refined, evidence that fine red wines exist in Spain\u2019s deep south.\r\n\r\nJorge Ord\u00f3\u00f1ez & Co. 2016 Botani Old Vines Moscatel (Sierras de M\u00e1laga); $19, 89 points.\u00a0A light color and classic aromas of white flowers, citrus blossom and wet stones open this dry Moscatel from M\u00e1laga. A lean, crisp palate with lime-like acidity deals flavors of lime, lychee and white pineapple. A low-volume but racy finish is fresh and tangy.\u00a0Varietal Moscatel; highest vineyards 2,500 feet. Jorge Ord\u00f3\u00f1ez Selections.\r\n\r\nTelmo Rodr\u00edguez 2010 Molino Real Mountain Wine (M\u00e1laga); $60/500ml, 91 points.\u00a0On the nose, this wine is both woody and a touch oxidized, with clove and ginger notes. In the mouth, you can feel the resiny weight of French oak. Forceful spice, clove and woody flavors are dominant, but with such a long finish and good structure this old-vines Moscatel is singing. Drink through 2023.\u00a0Varietal Moscatel; highest vineyards 1,800 feet. De Maison Selections, Inc.\r\n\r\nFinca La Melonera 2014 Payoya Negra Ronda (Sierras de M\u00e1laga); $33, 90 points.\u00a0Jammy black-fruit aromas push up against raisiny but stay composed. This blend of Syrah, Garnacha, Tintilla and a grape called Rome feels rubbery and pulling, but solid. Blackberry, cassis and chocolate flavors are chewy but focused. Drink through 2019. Blend of Syrah, Garnacha, Tintilla de Rota and Rom\u00e9; highest vineyards 2,952 feet. Domaine Select Wine & Spirits.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSomontano\r\nFreshness Amid Forests\r\nAs Spanish wine regions go, lush Somontano is a youngster. Most of its vineyards were planted with so-called \u201cinternational varieties\u201d like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay during the 1990s.\r\n\r\nSomontano is a small region of about 30 wineries located at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains that separate Spain from France. On average, vineyards rise to between 1,150 and 2,450 feet. But scattered throughout Somontano are a few select, high-elevation plantings where the breezes are strong and the nights become quite cool. It\u2019s wines from these properties, which offer bold acidity and a sense of freshness and place, that raise Somontano\u2019s profile.\r\n\r\nA prime example of a high-energy, high-quality Somontano wine is the reserve-level varietal Garnacha made by Vi\u00f1as del Vero, part of the Gonz\u00e1lez Byass group. The wine hails from the Secastilla property first planted on a hilltop in the 1940s at about 2,000 feet, which makes it a Somontano original.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is the top of Somontano,\u201d says Jos\u00e9 Ferrer, Vi\u00f1as del Vero\u2019s technical director and head winemaker. \u201cWe bought this property in 2005, but I used to come here as a boy with my father to buy Garnacha to drink at home. When Vi\u00f1as del Vero wanted to try something more extreme, Secastilla was the place.\u201d\r\n\r\nVisiting with Ferrer on a beautiful day this past May, the 48 acres of vineyards at Secastilla were bathed in bright sunshine, buffeted by strong winds. The property, flanked on all sides by conifers that create a sea of green, exudes a mountain-like sense of toughness. \u201cThe only place higher [in Somontano] is farther north, in the actual Pyrenees,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nFerrer and I also tasted several vintages of Vi\u00f1as del Vero\u2019s prestige red blend called Blecua. In the past, top vintages of Blecua (2001, 2004 and 2005), made from four red varieties that include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, ranked among Spain\u2019s top red wines. While the wine has not been sold in the U.S. for some time, Ferrer is hopeful that the 2010 Blecua will be available in limited U.S. markets by early next year.\r\n\r\nEnate 2012 Merlot (Somontano); $40, 90 points. Ripe, stout and smoky dark-berry aromas are spicy and a bit hot. This lush Merlot from a warm year is voluminous and chubby, with heft and full extraction. Spicy, toasty blackberry and cassis flavors come with chocolaty oak, while this is dense, chewy and mouth coating on the finish. Drink through 2019.\u00a0Varietal Merlot; highest vineyards 1,900 feet. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd.\r\n\r\nVi\u00f1as del Vero 2011 Secastilla Garnacha (Somontano); $37, 90 points.\u00a0Ripe, slightly sunbaked aromas of berry fruits, plum and raisin include notes of vanilla and oak grain. A medium-bodied palate is agile, fresh and juicy. Oak-aided flavors of coffee, mocha and chocolate accent plum and berry fruit. Despite a drawing, dense finish, this high-elevation Garnacha remains upright in stature. Drink through 2023.\u00a0Varietal Garnacha; highest vineyards 2,300 feet. Gonzalez Byass USA.\r\n\r\nVi\u00f1as del Vero 2005 Blecua (Somontano); $100, 91 points. Somontano is not exactly prime real estate among Spanish wine regions, but Blecua, a four-grape blend led by Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of the best wines the region has to offer. Smoke, licorice, rooty cola and lemony oak aromas mix with flavors of blackberry, coffee, cola and roasted meats. It's a bit choppy and hard now, but time will help it along. A classy wine to drink from 2011 through 2016. Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha and Tempranillo; highest vineyards 1,800 feet. Gonzalez Byass USA.\r\n\r\n\r\nBierzo, Tenerife and Valdeorras \r\nOff the Beaten Path\r\nExcept for the wine regions that hug the country\u2019s more than 3,000 miles of coastline\u2014places like R\u00edas Baixas in Galicia, the Sherry Triangle in the south and the northerly Basque Country\u2014elevation is a factor throughout Spain.\r\n\r\nFor example, in the Levante region that includes the Alicante and Jumilla DOs, the Montg\u00f3 Massif reaches about 2,500 feet. But given the heat and desert-like topography that dominate this part of southeast Spain, the Levante doesn\u2019t feel particularly mountainous.\r\n\r\nElevation is also a deceptively important factor in the interior Galician wine regions of Valdeorras and neighboring Ribeira Sacra, where vineyards cling to the steep banks of the Sil River. Just to the east of Valdeorras is Bierzo, which is technically part of Castilla y Le\u00f3n, with hillside vineyards that are home to the region\u2019s signature Menc\u00eda.\r\n\r\nBeautiful freshness and elegance is expressed in Suertes del Marqu\u00e9s\u2019s 2015 Los Pasitos, which comes from the lava-crusted slopes of Pico de Teide at about 1,300 feet on the island of Tenerife in the Canaries.\r\n\r\n\u201cSuertes del Marqu\u00e9s is a tiny spot on the side of a volcano in the vast Atlantic Ocean, situated at just the right elevation and planted with ungrafted heirloom varieties,\u201d says Eric Solomon, founder of European Cellars, which imports the wines of Suertes del Marqu\u00e9s.\r\n\r\nIn addition to Los Pasitos, which is made from the local Baboso Negro grape, Suertes del Marqu\u00e9s Owner Jonatan Garc\u00eda Lima also works with more familiar Canary Island varieties like List\u00e1n Negro and Blanco, Malvasia and Tintilla. Across the board, the wines are fresh, lively and the clear beneficiaries of grapes grown in precisely the right spot.\r\n\r\nEscalada do Sil 2014 Red (Valdeorras); $40, 90 points.\u00a0For a different breed of cat, take a look at this blend of Merenzao (Trousseau), Menc\u00eda and Garnacha from Valdeorras in Galicia. An elegant, schisty nose displays gamy, savory plum and currant aromas similar to Pinot Noir. A choppy, astringent palate makes this wine less than smooth. Herbal plum and spicy oak flavors are bolstered by racy acidity and finish long and almost citrusy in flavor. Drink through 2022.\u00a0Blend of Merenzao, Menc\u00eda and Garnacha; highest vineyards 2,460 feet. Ol\u00e9 Imports.\r\n\r\nLuna Beberide 2015 Art (Bierzo); $55, 92 points. Foxy blackberry and cassis aromas are young and untamed, with a note of wet animal fur. This Menc\u00eda is grapy and rich, with a dense, saturated palate. Chocolaty black-fruit flavors finish with hard tannins, lots of residual fruit and a structure that suggests that this wine is here to stay for a while. Drink 2019\u20132025.\u00a0Varietal Menc\u00eda; highest vineyards 2,950 feet. Grapes of Spain.\r\n\r\nSuertes del Marqu\u00e9s 2015 Los Pasitos Vino de Parcela Baboso Negro (Valle de la Orotava); $45, 92 points. Have you ever tried varietal Baboso Negro from the island of Tenerife? Give it a shot and you'll likely be impressed, as I was. Cherry and plum aromas are in the red zone, while this wine feels crisp and fresh, with edge. Salty raspberry and plum flavors end with racy snap. This is a versatile and elegant food wine; drink through 2020. Varietal Baboso Negro; highest vineyards 1,475 feet. European Cellars.