Ribera del Duero
Halfway between Madrid and Santander, this region near Burgos is the beneficiary of massive investments in recent years. Cold nights, sunny days, high altitudes, and fertile alkaline soil produce flavorful, award-winning wines. Among noteworthy vineyards:
Bodegas Señorío de Nava, Nava de Roa: This is one of the region's best examples of a once-sleepy, now-booming vintner. Merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes are cultivated, as are local varieties such as Tinta del País (also known as Tempranillo) and Garnacha (or Grenache, as it's called across the border in France).
Jerez de la Frontera
This town is surrounded by a sea of vineyards, which thrive in the hot, chalky soil. Much of the region is planted with the hardy and flavorful Palomino Fino to produce sherry, one of the most beloved products of Spain. Few other regions contain so many bodegas, any of which can be visited.
- Bodegas Lustau: This bodega was established in 1896 by a local lawyer, and ever since it has produced exotic forms of sherry snapped up as collectors' items by aficionados everywhere.
- González Byass: Flourishing since 1835, this bodega has gained enormous recognition from one of the most famous brand names and the world's best-selling sherry, Tío Pepe.
In ancient times, thousands of vessels of wine were shipped from this region of Catalonia to fuel the orgies of the Roman Empire. Much of the inspiration for the present industry was developed in the 19th century by French vintners, who found the climate and soil similar to those of Bordeaux. The region produces still wines, as well as many of Spain's sparkling wines (cava).
- Codorníu, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia: With a history dating from the mid-1500s, this vineyard became famous after its owner, Josep Raventós, produced Spain's first version of sparkling wine. During the harvest, more than 2.2 million pounds of grapes, collected from about 1,000 growers, are pressed daily. The company's headquarters, designed around the turn of the 20th century by Puig i Cadafalch, a contemporary of Gaudí, sits above the 31km (19 miles) of underground tunnels where the product is aged.
- Freixenet, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia (tel. 93-891-70-00; ): Codorníu's largest and most innovative competitor began in 1861 as a family-run wine business that quickly changed its production process to incorporate the radical developments in sparkling cava. Today, although still family owned, it's an awesomely efficient factory pressing vast numbers of grapes, with at least a million cases sold to the United States every year. Award-winning brand names include Cordon Negro Brut and Carta Nevada Brut.
- Familia Torres, Vilafranca del Penedés: This winery was established in 1870 by a local son (Jaime Torres), who returned to his native town after making a fortune trading petroleum and oil in Cuba. Today, you can see what was once the world's largest wine vat (132,000 gal.); its interior was used as the site of a banquet held in honor of the Spanish king. Thanks to generations of management by French-trained specialists, the vineyards are among the region's most sophisticated. Like the other bodegas, its location permits side trips to Barcelona, the beach resort of Sitges, and the ancient monastery of Montserrat.
Set in the foothills of the Pyrenees close to the French border, La Rioja turns out what most people have in mind when they think of Spanish wines. The region produced millions of gallons during the regime of the ancient Romans, and it boasts quality-control laws promulgated by a local bishop in the 9th century. Here are some of the best vineyards for a visit:
- Marqués de Riscal, Elciego: This vineyard was founded around 1850 by a local entrepreneur who learned winegrowing techniques in France. The modern-day enterprise still bases much of its income on the 199 hectares (492 acres) acquired by the organization's founding father.
- Bodegas Riojanas, Cenicero: Set on the main street of the winegrowing hamlet of Cenicero, this bodega expanded massively in the 1980s and upgraded its visitor information program. You'll be received in a mock-feudal tower where you can learn the nuances of the wine industry.
- Bodegas Muga, Haro: This bodega adheres to 19th-century old-world craftsmanship. The business was founded in 1932 by Isaac Muga and his wife, Aurora Cao, who both came from a long line of families in the winemaking industry. The winery contains an assortment of old-fashioned casks made from American or French oak. Production is small, eclectic, and choice.
- La Rioja Alta, Haro: Another bodega in the winegrowing community of Haro, La Rioja Alta is set near the railway station. Founded in 1890, it has the dank and atmospheric cellars you'd expect.
This Celtic outpost in the northwestern corner of Spain produces white wines praised by connoisseurs as the perfect accompaniment to local seafood. The marketing name for the product, appropriately, is El Vino del Mar (Sea Wine), although the Denominación de Origen includes the appellations Rias Baixas and Ribeiro. Per-capita wine consumption in Galicia is the highest in Spain; a majority of the wine produced here was formerly consumed locally. Massive investments during the 1980s changed all that.
Morgadío, Albeos-Crecente: This vineyard, near Pontevedra, launched the Denominación de Origen Rias Baixas in 1984. Four friends whom locals referred as "madmen" bought 28 hectares (69 acres) of land that, with the Albariño grape, they transformed into one of the most respected and award-winning vineyards in the district. Fertilizer for each year's crop comes from the bodega's own flock of sheep.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.