The Spanish Wine Revoltion

Mar 15, 2024by Andrew Lowry

Spain has long been known for its rich history of winemaking, but in recent years, a new wave of younger and more rebellious winemakers are shaking up the industry. These innovative individuals are moving away from traditional methods of aging in long American and French oak barrels, and instead opting for neutral barrels, stainless steel, and/or concrete aging.

Why the shift?

These new-age winemakers are focused on maintaining the purity of fruit and expressing a true sense of place in their wines. By using neutral barrels or alternative aging methods, they are able to showcase the unique characteristics of the grapes and the terroir in which they are grown.

Embracing change

This shift towards a more minimalist approach to winemaking is not only producing wines of exceptional quality, but it is also challenging the traditional norms of the industry. The Spanish wine revolution is all about breaking free from the constraints of the past and embracing a new era of creativity and innovation.

With a focus on sustainability and authenticity, these anarchist winemakers are paving the way for a brighter future for Spanish wine. By putting emphasis around expressing the unique qualities of the grapes and the expression of terroir, they are creating wines that are not only delicious but also truly reflective of the land from which they come.

So, the next time you reach for a bottle of Spanish wine, if it looks to be classicly labeled, it's probably a big, mouth-filling, tannic wine, but if the label looks more modern/new age, the wine may be anything but. Here's a quick outline of Spanish wine classifications/regions. We don't go into detail about Crianza, Reserva, and Grand Reserves terminologies, just know that those are all about the time the wine spends in oak and the age of the vineyards and they matter quite a lot! These terms are also used for Cava and Corpinnat, and they matter a lot here too because they denote how much time the wine aged on its lees (dead yeast cells) before they were removed (this adds creaminess, nuttiness, and breadiness to the wine and can be quite amazing).

Why Spanish wine is such a good value

Spanish wine offers exceptional value due to various factors that contribute to its quality and affordability. Despite Spain having the largest land area dedicated to vineyards globally, its wine production isn't the highest. This intriguing aspect stems from the old age of the vines and the wide spacings between them. These factors result in lower yields per acre, but the grapes produced are of concentrated flavor and high quality, translating into premium wines.

One of the distinguishing features of Spanish vineyards is the prevalence of ancient vines. Many of these vines are decades or even centuries old, deeply rooted in Spain's rich viticultural history. These old vines often produce grapes with more complex flavors and character, contributing to the overall quality of Spanish wines.

Furthermore, the traditional vineyard practices in Spain, such as low-intervention farming methods and minimal irrigation, help to preserve the natural balance of the vineyards and enhance the expression of terroir in the wines. This emphasis on tradition and terroir creates a unique sense of place in Spanish wines, appealing to enthusiasts seeking authenticity and distinctive flavors.

Despite the undeniable quality of Spanish wines, they have often been overlooked in favor of more renowned wine regions like France and Italy. This oversight is partly due to misconceptions about Spanish wine's quality and diversity. Some consumers may perceive Spanish wine as inferior or less prestigious compared to its European counterparts, largely due to historical biases or lack of exposure.

However, the reality is far from this misconception. Spain boasts a remarkable diversity of wine styles, from the bold and robust reds of Rioja and Ribera del Duero to the crisp and aromatic whites of Rías Baixas and Verdejo. Moreover, Spanish winemakers have been increasingly experimenting with innovative techniques and grape varieties, further enriching the country's wine landscape.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of Spanish wine's value and quality on the international stage. Wine critics and enthusiasts alike are beginning to appreciate the exceptional craftsmanship and distinctiveness of Spanish wines, leading to increased demand and recognition worldwide.

Ultimately, Spanish wine offers an unbeatable combination of quality, diversity, and affordability, making it a compelling choice for both everyday enjoyment and special occasions. As more wine lovers discover the treasures that Spain has to offer, its wines are poised to gain even greater acclaim and appreciation in the global market.

What you need to know about Spain (as a wine-producing country)

12 Overarching Regions:

  1. Galicia (North West)
  2. Extremadura (West)
  3. Castilla y Leon (North Central)
  4. Castilla - La Mancha (Central)
  5. Andalucía (South)
  6. Catalunya (North East)
  7. Valencia (East)
  8. Murcia (South East)
  9. Aragon (North East
  10. La Rioja (North)
  11. Pais Vasco (North)
  12. The Canary Islands

The Denominación de Origen Protegida or DOP System:

In ascending levels of quality, a wine can be classified as Vino de Mesa (VdM), Vinos de la Tierra (VT), Vinos de Calidad (VC), Denominación de Origen (DO), Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa/DOQ), and Vinos de Pago (VP).

Each successive designation carries with it more rigorous standards for the winemaker to follow, theoretically maintaining quality control. For example, before a wine can claim DO status, the winemaker must be making wine in the area for at least 5 years. 

The Indicación Geografica Protegida or IGP System:

This is locally called Vinos de la Tierra (VT) and will be used interchangeably with IGP. There are around 40 of these IGPs/VTs, and some of them are worth it to look out for. These are large geographical designations with lax rules, which provide creative space for new-age winemakers to do as they please. Many of the new age (revolutionary) wines will fall under this category, as the DO/DOP system places too many constraints on how to make wine.

Spanish IGPs to look for: 

  1. Aragón
  2. Castilla y León
  3. Castilla
  4. Cádiz
  5. Canary Islands
  6. Extremadura
  7. Mallorca
  8. Valdejalón

The DOPs and DOs and DOCa's to know (these names will be found on the wine label):

  1. Rioja (DOCa)
  2. Getariako Txakolina (pronounced: chak-oh-lee-na)
  3. Ribeira Sacra
  4. Valdeorras
  5. Rías Baixas
  6. Priorat (DOCa)
  7. Penedès
  8. Cava 
  9. Jumilla
  10. Toro
  11. Ribera del Duero
  12. Bierzo
  13. Rueda
  14. Campo de Borja
  15. Jerez-Xeres-Sherry & Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barrameda