SPAIN is the Wine Region of the Month

by A.J. McClellan, Certified Sommelier
and Founder of Roots and Water

The Phoenicians, one of the first great maritime trading cultures, founded the city of Gadir (modern Cádiz) on the coast of southern Spain around 1100 BC and established the value of viticulture and wine as a commodity in Andalucía.  During the Roman control of Hispania (the Spanish mainland), wine was widely exported and traded throughout the Roman empire with Andalusia in the south and Terragona in the north as its two major wine producing areas.  After the decline of the Roman Empire, Spain was invaded by barbaric tribes and eventually conquered by the Moors and wine production declined significantly due to the fact that consumption of alcohol was forbidden by Islamic dietary law.

After over 700 years of Reconquista, the Moors were defeated by King Ferdinand in 1492.  The exporting of Spanish wine was revived with Bilbao emerging as a large trading port, but the Spanish wine industry lagged other European countries over the next few centuries.  Only when the phylloxera epidemic ravaged European vineyards in France causing wine producers to turn to Spain, was wine-growing further expanded.  Spanish viticulture saw an improvement during this time and got a boost at the end of the 19th century when Spain’s sparkling wine industry emerged.   The production of Cava would rival Champagne over the course of the 20th century.  The Spanish Civil War followed by World War II damaged both the Spanish economy and its wine industry before it was revived in the 1950s with the wines from Rioja and Sherry once again in demand by the international wine market.

Spain’s 1975 transition to democracy and acceptance into the European Union in 1986 helped modernize and expand the industry.  Spain’s Denominación de Origen (DO) for wine soon followed and later the superior Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), representing the two highest tiers of quality wine, equivalent to the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) status. Spain entered the 21st century as a serious wine producing country with more land devoted to wines than any other country and a diverse climate across its regions allowing production of many varietals.

After its 2000 year history as a viable wine-producing area, Rioja in North-Central Spain was the first region in Spain to be christened as Denominación de Origen Calificada—in 1991.  Tempranillo is the main grape of Rioja making up over 87% of red wine in the region. Other varietals of the region include Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha.  Viura is the dominant white grape, followed by Tempranillo Blanco, Verdejo, and Garnacha Blanca.  Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Verdejo may be used but cannot account for a more than a combined 49% of the blend. Navarra and Aragón are other significant wine-producing areas in this region.

The region known as Green Spain includes the autonomía of Galicia, which borders Portugal in the northwestern corner of the country. Galicia is a verdant region of lush vegetation and dense forests, riddled with rías (estuaries) and small rivers cutting through low mountain ranges. The cooler maritime climate of the region is ideal to produce crisp, refreshing white wines, and is emerging as one of Spain’s best areas for such wines. The Rías Baixas DO is the most important here and borders Portugal on the coast with nearly 90% of the vineyard acreage devoted to Albariño. Many of the best producers make Albariño, subjecting the wine to malolactic fermentation and barrica aging, which is indicated on the bottle. Whether oaked or not, classic Albariño wines tend to show stone fruit and citrus flowers, with the suggestion of bubble gum and an undercurrent of minerality.

Spain’s largest autonomia is Castilla y León. The region is generally characterized by a continental climate, slightly moderated by its proximity to the Atlantic and Mediterranean but still subject to extreme highs and lows. The most important DO here is Ribera del Duero which is considered one of Spain’s top red wine-producing regions. No white grapes are allowed to be grown here. The region’s flagship estate has long been Vega Sicilia, founded in by Don Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who in 1864 planted a number of Bordeaux varietals, a little Pinot Noir, and Tempranillo.


A.J. McClellan founded Roots and Water to give his clients a place to come and find the most extraordinary fine and rare wines in the world and to have a place that fellow oenophiles can gather to share their passion for wine.  The private, members-only, speak-easy, wine club is down the street from you in the Design District and offers a quiet, safe, and fun place to learn and experience wine like never before.


Savvy Wine Cellar Tasting Club–Roots and Water Wine Club, in partnership with Estate Life, offers you the opportunity to join the Savvy Wine Cellar Tasting Club. By joining you get access to wine tastings, free wine delivery, and private special events at the Wine Club. Every month we will present information on a new wine region and then hold tastings of benchmark wines from the region. Whether you’re learning wine or an existing oenophile you’ll to want to take advantage of this exclusive environment and ultra-luxury experience.  For just $50, you’ll get all 12 months of access for the tastings and your first bottle of wine hand selected to your taste by our one of R&W’s expert sommeliers.

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RSVP for the Spanish Wine Tasting Event on November 30

6-8 pm at the Roots and Water Tasting Room

(location details on the RSVP form)

Join The Savvy Cellar Wine Club Now

Your annual membership fee of $50 per person gets you:

  • your first bottle of wine at Roots and Cellar free (sommeliers choice of the month)

  • free pop-up tastings for the member plus one (additional guests at $20 each)

  • VIP private event invitations