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Spanish wine is all the rage around the world, and even if you are lucky enough to live in Spain, there is plenty to learn and discover.  When choosing Spanish wines it’s important to know something about the predominant grape varieties, the leading regions, and the classifications.

Tempranillo, the red grape most commonly associated with Spain, is only the second most widely grown grape after Airen, a white grape whose production is largely for brandy. Other major red grape varieties are Garnacha (known as Grenache in most of the rest of the world, but originally from Spain), Cariñena (known as Carignan elsewhere), Monastrell (known as Mourvèdre elsewhere) and Graciano. The primary white grapes that produce the dry, flavorful white wines are Albariño, Verdejo and Macabeo. (also known as Viura)

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Heading the list of wine regions in Spain, and where many of the largest and most important producers are still to be found, is La Rioja, about 370 kilometres north of Madrid. Tempranillo blends, long aged in American oak barrels and featuring earthy minerality, continue to dominate production there and have helped make this region’s wines firm favourites with locals and travellers alike.

Ribera del Duero, just south of La Rioja, is another major region known primarily for its Tempranillo grapes. Great sources of white wines are Rías Baixas situated in the cooler, northwest region of Galicia, and Penedès region in Catalonia on the northeastern coast.

When choosing a wine, two indications of quality to watch out for are the classifications DO, Denominación de Origen, and DOCa, Denominación de Origen Calificada. There are now 66 regions in Spain with DO status, but only two DOCa’s  – the newer category for DOs that have a consistent track record for quality. The two DOCa’s are La Rioja in northern Spain and Priorat which surrounds Tarragona in eastern Cataluña.

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Primary categories established by law indicating the amount of barrel aging are Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.

Joven – These young wines are normally marketed on the same year of their vintage. If they do spend time in a wood barrel, it’s never more than a couple of months.

Crianza – Red wines should be at least two years old, and spend at least six months in barrel. White wines and rosé wines should be a year old with at least six months in barrel.

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Reserva – Red wines should be at least three years old and spend at least one year in barrel. White wines and rosé wines should be two years old with at least six months in barrel.

Gran Reserva – Red wines should be at least five years old and spend at least 18 months in barrel. White wines and rosé wines should be four years old with at least six months in barrel.

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For those looking for an all-round wine holiday, the Marques de Riscal Hotel (www.hotel-marquesderiscal.com) found on the Marques de Riscal wine estate in the south of the Basque Country is the perfect location to find out more about fine Spanish wines while staying in modern luxurious comfort.