The green, verdant valleys of Rías Baixas, Spain, produce the Albariño grape, a variety used to make elegant and aromatic white wines. Landlocked Castile and León in Northern Spain produces deep red, highly acidic wines with fruit and floral notes, often combined with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make smooth blended red wines. Although 20 grape varieties account for nearly 90% of wine production in Spain, there are more than 400 kinds of grapes. Most of the Spanish countryside is devoted to the country's 138 grape-growing regions.
Although Spain is famous for producing excellent red wines, there are also noteworthy white varieties, including Cava, a sparkling white wine that rivals Champagne. Wine production in Spain came into its own in the 18th century when France experienced a wine shortage because of an aphid-like pest that destroyed many French grapevines. Some of the wine-growing techniques used in France were imported to Spain, along with experts who helped refine Spanish wine production and raise output.
Northern Spain borders on the North Atlantic, and the weather there can be cool and wet. Southwest Spain has a warm, dry Mediterranean climate, and the central plateaus have hot summers and cold winters. This diverse landscape and climate make it possible to grow an abundant selection of wine grapes in Spain. Priorat produces the Grenache grape, a versatile and often planted variety that is used to make a range of wines, from rosés to intense reds.
Spain is an ideal place to tour wineries and experience wines that range from light to full-bodied, all designed to please discerning palates. Notable wineries include Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Caceres, Torres and Cune. Selected as the best vineyard in Europe and the second in the world, Marqués de Riscal offers winery visitors a taste of fine wines such as Finca Montico and Marqués de Riscal Reserva, along with samples of the region's signature cheese and sausage.
One of the best features of these Spanish wines is their affordability, with many bottles available for under $20. The on-site fine dining offered at Spanish wineries gives you a chance to experience delightful wine and food pairings such as Chambolle-Musigny Burgundy with duck or goose. In Barcelona, Familia Torres offers delectable tapas and wine pairings. A tour of Spanish wineries is an opportunity to sample budget-friendly wines while enjoying the beauty of the versatile and ever-changing landscapes of Spain.