Ultimate Spanish Red Wine Guide: Discoveries & Tips

By: James lawrence / Last updated: February 15, 2024

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes


Spain’s viticultural landscape is anchored in both tradition and modernity. Vines have been cultivated since Roman times, and the nation has more vineyards than any global wine producer. As a result, cold winters and hot summers can easily ripen a broad palate of red varieties, often cultivated according to the local appellation or DO (Denominacion de Origen) rules. These DOs strictly regulate the grape varieties and production methods; Spanish wineries or bodegas were traditionally places where wine was aged in old American barrels, often for several years. Many winemakers still follow this time-honored practice today, releasing wines when they are ready to drink instead of when they’re ready to sell.


Yet the Spanish red wine picture is changing fast. No longer are the most famous regions necessarily commanding the most significant interest or investment; in Castilla La Mancha, known as the sarten (frying pan) of Spain, winemakers like Elías López Montero are crafting Garnacha wines of incredible finesse, elegance, and poise. Formerly derided zones such as Valdepeñas and Malaga are transcending their reputations for producing coarse, alcoholic dross. Telmo Rodriguez, Alvaro Palacios, and other pioneers continually search for the next undiscovered terroir or region, spreading their tentacles in all four corners of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s a brilliant time to become acquainted with Spain’s diverse red wine portfolio.

Of course, Tempranillo (the key red grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero) remains very popular, and winemakers are relishing the depth and minuscule yields of old (often centenarian) plantings of bush vines. Nevertheless, Spain’s red wine landscape is unrecognizable when compared to the 20th century. In the 1980s, Spain had, effectively, just Sherry and Rioja to shout about, while few collectors outside of Spain had ever tasted Vega Sicilia. But that was before a rash of investment flowed into Spain at the turn of the Millennium, transforming hitherto unremarkable regions into hotbeds of experimentation and excitement. Fifteen years ago, few oenophiles had heard of Mencia, Bobal, or Monastrell. Now wine merchants, restaurant owners, and buyers are queuing up to promote the awesome diversity of Spanish red wine.

Today, Spain’s greatest reds arguably come from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Penedes, Priorat, Jumilla, and Bierzo. Balance unites these eclectic regions: acidity and freshness are increasingly prioritized over brute strength and high alcohol. At the same time, the paradigm of lavishly aging wines in new French barrique is being toned down. Instead, modern Spanish winegrowers want to have their cake and eat it – the best red wines are both gloriously concentrated and yet refined, imbued with bags of fresh acidity and poise. This is the face of contemporary Spanish red wine.




Tempranillo is a celebrity in Spanish viticulture, known as Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero and Ull de Llebre in Catalunya. This early ripening red grape variety (Tempranillo is derived from the word Temprano, which means early in Spanish) is much-loved for producing soft and aromatically expressive red wines. The signature aromas of strawberry, red cherry, and plum fade into smoky complexity, with age-old Rioja, typically reeking of tobacco leaf, spice, and shoe leather. Tempranillo is no picnic to cultivate (early budding makes it vulnerable to spring frosts), but the wine it produces is magnificent.

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The deeply colored and pungently aromatic Mencia has no equal in the world of Spanish red wine. Only planted in Spain and Portugal, the grape is much appreciated for its robust structure, lively acidity, and ability to age for many years after release. In its youth, you’ll encounter notes of blackberry, pomegranate, and black cherry. With age, tertiary flavors of wood smoke, coffee, and truffle should emerge.

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Garnacha Tinta (Grenache Noir to the French) was once derided as coarse, alcoholic, and as subtle as a fluorescent airstrip. But champions of the grape, like Alvaro Palacios, have definitively proven that the Southern Rhone grape can produce superlative and long-lived red wine in the Iberian Peninsula. Currently thriving in Rioja Oriental, Jumilla, Sierra de Gredos, and south of Madrid, Garnacha ripens to high alcohol levels and pungent aromas. The powerful scent of red fruit and spice always clues in critics during a blind tasting. Old bush vines in the Campo de Borja and the Gredos mountains are now highly prized commodities.

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Monastrell lacks the fame of Tempranillo and the glamour of Mencia, and yet it is now responsible for some of Spain’s most exciting reds. Known as Mourvedre in the South of France, the grape blends well with Garnacha and Syrah, adding flesh, body, and spice. However, single-varietal Monastrell wines made in east-central Spain are increasingly prized for their concentration, weight, and longevity. Young examples are bursting with raspberry, plum, and black cherry flavors. It is usually full of alcohol, tannin, and extract. Older bottles are a delight; aromas of forest floor, truffle, and game leap from the glass.

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It goes by several synonyms: Carignan in France, Mazuelo in Rioja, and Cariñena in Aragon. It has historically been maligned for its tendency towards high yields and alcohol; however, the grape can produce structured and concentrated wine in the right hands. It is widely planted in France’s Languedoc region and is still an essential ingredient in Priorat. Overcropped vines continue to produce dross, but the top examples are a million miles away from this caricature. Indeed, old bush vines in Aragon and Rioja are making pungent and intense wine with pronounced aromas of black fruits, licorice, white pepper, and garrigue.


Bobal undoubtedly remains a relatively obscure red grape variety in the great pantheon of Spanish viticultural treasures. It is native to the Utiel-Requena region of southeastern Spain and can be found in several up-and-coming DOs, including Valencia, Alicante, and Murcia. In the past, Bobal was regarded with little interest; however, a younger generation of winemakers finally gave the grape the respect it deserves. Ripening to naturally high levels of tannin and acidity, the grape’s thick skins are full of intense flavoring compounds. Chocolate and sour cherry aromas instantly leap from the glass, making Bobal an ideal partner for grilled chuletas (lamb chops) and warm summer evenings.


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James lawrence

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2 thoughts on “Ultimate Spanish Red Wine Guide: Discoveries & Tips

Sula Vineyardssays:

September 24, 2021 at 11:26 am

Spot on! It's quite obvious that people are more attuned to red wines. Getting to know about the red wines in Spain is truly delightful!

Patrick Tuckersays:

August 24, 2021 at 8:33 am

Very informative to the many who equate Spanish wine only to Rioja.

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