5 Fun Facts I’ve Learned About Spanish Wines

Elba Golf bodega
Learning about Spanish wines.

When I first traveled to Spain as a 20-year-old, I knew very little about Spanish wine. Rioja rang a bell, but other than that I was completely in the dark. And to be perfectly honest, it didn’t really matter. I spent my four month study abroad program in Granada drinking Alhambra beers and eating the free tapas that came with them. Granada is a great place for students, and I took advantage of what it had to offer.

Fast forward to the present day and here I am not only loving Spanish wines, but also working with them. I recently became certified through the WSET program and have been offering wine tastings in Madrid through Devour Madrid Food Tours for over a year now. Additionally, I helped design a wonderful Tapas and Wine Tasting Tour in Barcelona— so much fun!

But the more I learn about Spanish wines, the more I feel I need to learn! Living in the country with more vineyards than anywhere else in the world, it’s easy to understand how it becomes an obsession. It also doesn’t help that the Spanish themselves know very little (on average) about one of their most important exports.

Here are some fun facts about I’ve learned about Spanish wines over the past few years. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment!

1. Spaniards don’t drink them!

Okay, so this is not completely true. But Spaniards aren’t drinking nearly as much wine as their neighbors. In 2011 they were the world’s 16th biggest wine consumers per capita– a number that has dropped 20.8% since 2007 according to studies by wineinstitute.org. In comparison France, Italy, and Portugal rank 4, 5, and 6, respectively. And let’s not forget that Spain is home to more vineyards than anywhere else in the world and is also the world’s third biggest producer of wines (after France and Italy).

The downward trend is seen all over Spain in local bars, where the wine selection is, more often than not, simply horrendous. It’s such a shame when, for the same price, you can have a terrible glass of wine or an excellent one.

2. Value for price is nearly unbeatable

The most expensive bottle of Spanish wine may raise alarm ($911 for a bottle of Dominio de Pingus, Ribera del Duero), and you’d likely have to transfer money online (this particular service is for Brit wine-lovers) to afford a case of it! But don’t despair, most Spanish wines are an extremely good value. Every year Spanish wine writer Alicia Estrada publishes the 100 best Spanish wines for under 10€. Her number one this year? At 5.15 euros it is a lovely red, Luzón 2012 D.O. Jumilla.

Murcian wine
Pouring wine from the barrel at a little wine shop in Murcia.

3. You order by the region, not the grape

This may be Spanish wines 101 but I’m always surprised by how many people have been living here awhile and still don’t quite understand the system. In Spain, wines are classified by their region, and not by their grape. So if you go into a bar asking for a syrah, they’ll probably look at you like you’re crazy– even if they have one. Luckily when armed with just a little bit of knowledge about Spanish wines you can easily make informed decisions, as many regions are known for using certain grapes with defined characteristics.

4. Sherries are wines and should not be ignored!

Okay, this might be half fact and half opinion. But anyone living in Spain who hasn’t fallen in love with sherry yet needs to try harder. I accept that they are wines with a bit of a funny reputation, and some are a hard sell at first, completely different from anything you’ve likely tried before– but I promise that if you keep tasting you will end up obsessed. As some of the world’s oldest and most complex wines, sherries are truly a world of their own that any wine lover should discover.

5. Rosé can be (very) dry

Before moving to Spain I had the idea that rosé wines were all sweet and syrupy, a dentist’s worst nightmare. And that’s because in the US many of them are (white zinfandel anyone?). But in most of Spain a rosé wine is actually a very dry wine, made of red grapes that have been crushed and allowed brief contact with the skins before being pressed. The results can be fantastic, and I drink rosé wines like a madwoman during the hot Spanish summers. My favorites smell like strawberries and lollipops, but have a touch of minerality when you take a sip. Anyway, I’ll stop with the wine talk and just advise you to try one next time you barbecue!

Rose wine Navarra
Ale’s own personalized bottle of Navarran rosé!

These are just a few fun facts I thought I’d share about Spanish wines. I’m finding the world of wines big and exciting, so if you’d like to see more wine posts as I keep learning, let me know in the comments!

For wine experiences in Madrid and Barcelona, check out Spain Uncorked!

Comments

  1. Great post about Spanish wine, Lauren—I too was surprised when I learned Spaniards drank more beer than wine per capita.

    And you’re totally correct that wine in Spain are ordered by region and not grape…but also by how long they’ve been aged, too! (tempranillo, crianza, reserva, gran reserva…) Do you think you could write a post about the major wine regions of Spain outside Rioja & Ribera del Duero, and what distinguishes them, how they taste, etc.

  2. I would love to hear about this wine program – sounds awesome! I’m still faithful to my table wine from study abroad – Ribera del Duero – but love a crisp Rueda, verdejo or Albariño, too! Jumilla wines were also better than I thought, and I’ve recently taken a liking to sherry! You know me – you put it in front of me, I consume it!

  3. Ordering by region—very important! I had a hard time explaining how we classify wines to my in-laws when they visited the US.

    I’ve not had a lot of sherry, but I’d love to try!

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