Have you ever wondered what distinguishes Spanish wines from the rest of the world?  Well apart from the country’s unique soil type, special microclimates and famed winemakers, we think that the native grape varieties have something to do with why Spanish wines taste so delicious and unique.

As we hope to educate and entice our future wine tour customers, we have included a short description on some of Spain’s most popular varieites below. Please don’t hestitate to contact us should you like more information and remember, ‘Con uvas, sol y aire y seras rico como nadie!’ (With grapes, sun and air you will be rich like no one else!)
Nicole and Sophie


This drought resistant white variety is planted throughout central Spain and occupies about twice as much land as any other variety. Traditionally used as a base for Spain’s Brandy industry, the wines produced from this variety can be oxidized and alcoholic and were typically used for local consumption.  Recently, however, with careful handling and improved vinification this varietal has been used to create simple, refreshing, dry wines that are frequently used in many tapas bars.


Also known as Morrastel (Courouillade in France; Xres in California), this variety is said to make a soft, subtle, aromatic wines that are fairly long-lived. Unfortunatly as this varietal is very low yielding and prone to disease, it is mostly used for blending as it brings unique life and flavor to traditional Spanish reds.


Also known as Garnacha Tinto or Tina (Grenache in France and America), this variety is the second most widely planted in all of Spain, where is it found principally in the north of the country.  Spanish in origin, it grows well in arid conditions and is therefore very successful throughout many areas of Spain influenced by the Mediterranean Sea.  In particular, it flourishes in windy, arid areas such as Navarra, Rioja Baja, Aragon and Catalonia, but perhaps the most distinctive and certainly the highest-scoring Garnacha based wines are those that come from the DOQ Priorat. It is also grown in the Penedés region, where surrounding mountains keep the humid climate locked in and where it is most commonly used for blending.  Because it has a relatively long-growing season, the wines made from Garnacha grapes tend to have a more fruity, sweet flavor, which makes them perfect for Rosés as well.  Red wines produced solely from this grape are lucious and fruit-forward and we again suggest looking to Priorat for some of the best 100% Garnacha wines made on the planet.


Monastrell (Mourvedre or Mataro in France) performs Garnacha’s role in the Levante region of Spain where it covers around 100,000 ha. The variety is high-yielding and makes dark, alcoholic reds and occasionally dry rosés.


Spain’s star variety, Tempranillo, is associated with high-quality wine and is also known as Cencible, Ull de Llebre, Tinto Pais and Tinto Fino in different parts of the country. Its grapes are thick skinned and perfect for making deep colored, long-lasting wines that are not, as is typical for Spain, high in alcohol.  The Tempranillo varietal is believed to have been brought to Spain by pilgrims during the Crusades and to be a variant of Pinot Noir (although genetically it has been determined that there is no relationship between the two varieties).  The name “Tempranillo” derives from the Spanish word temprana, meaning early because the grape usually is harvested during late September.


Palomino is a white grape variety that is most closely associated with the making of sherry around Jerez. It is almost certainly of Andalucian origin and is planted now in Jerez, Rueda and parts of Galicia. In France the variety may also be known as Listan or Listan de Jerez.

Pedro Jimenez

Also known as Pedro Jimenez or just Pedro, this white varietal is traditionally associated with Andalucia, Valencia and Extremadura. Because it can produce very ripe grapes, it is particularly popular with Malaga producers, who make delicious sweet wines from the variety. In addition to its use in sherry production, it is also used to produce neutral-flavored dry table wines and a rich, raisiny, sweet fortified wine called “PX.”


Macabeo, also known as Viura, Macabeo Alcanol (and Maccabeu in France) is northern Spain’s most planted white grape variety and “Maccabeu” has also become very popular in France’s Roussillon region as well.  Two theories exist as to the origin of this varietal: one is that it is from the Middle East, the other is that it is from Aragon in Spain.  Whatever the origin, the wines made from this variety are lighter in style, with a good acid balance, are not easily oxidized and are very aromatic.  Many beautiful still white wines are made with this variety in Rioja, and in the Penedés region of Spain this variety is also used in the production of cava.  Over all, there are over 125,000 acres planted in Northern Spain, with only a very small amount of acreage under vine in Southern France and in Algeria and Morocco, where it does very well in arid climates.


Also known as Blanca-Roja (Malvasia Fina in Italy and Portugal), takes a back seat to Viura/Macabeo in Spain and Trebbiano in Italy.  It is believed to have originated in Asia Minor because the name has Greek origins.  The true Malavasia is found mostly in Mediterranean countries.  Although it is a grape prone to oxidation and rot, it produces full-bodied, highly extracted, perfumed wines that are worth aging.


This variety is also known as Mazuelo Tinto and/or Cariñena (and as Carignan in France and California).  Originally from Aragon in Spain, this varietal is one of the most widely planted varietals in the world.  While it originated in Spain, it is oddly not extensively planted because of its easy tendency to a powdery-mildew (a fungus which spreads rapidly) known in Spain as “Podrido.”  It is most likely known to most of the world as “Carignan,” and not by its original Spanish name.  Cariñena has thick skins that are rich in color, high in tannins and acidity and is the other star variety of Priorat, where the majority of wines made from old-vine Cariñena have received over 90+ points from Robert Parker, The Wine Spectator and others.


Also known as Montonec, this variety is native to Catalunya and it grows best in the cooler areas of Penedés.  It has a fruity quality and high acidity, which makes is pleasant and therefore an integral part of Cava production.


Also known as Pansa Blanca or Pençal, it is only grown in Catalunya, where it originated in the production of Cava.  It is planted in the lower levels of soils and produces an acidic wine perfect for sparkling wines.

2 thoughts on “Spain’s Star Grape Varieties

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