The world’s greatest wine regions share one aspect in common: they are married to grapes that ripen slowly and exhibit fascinating flavors within differing microclimates.

Spain’s reputation as a warm and easy ripener of all manner of fruit might seem to disqualify it for vinous greatness, but altitude changes everything.

Green Spain

The northern and northwestern portion of Spain, exposed to the northern Atlantic, can be cool to cold, wet, and green—thus its name, España Verde.

The sheltering fortification of the Cordillera Cantábrica, looming above Rioja, is unavailable to much of Green Spain as it stretches from Galicia to the Pyrenees.

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Duero River Valley

The seat of power for much of Spain’s history, this area hosts extremely elevated but easily workable vineyards along and beyond the banks of the Duero River.

Some of the famed wine names in Spain reside in Ribera del Duero, such as Vega Sicilia and Pesquera, and regions such as Toro and Rueda are on the shortlists of anyone pursuing emerging Spanish brands.

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Ebro River Valley

The Sierra de Cantabria mountains shelter some of Spain’s most important vineyards, including those in Rioja and Navarra. Farther south, Calatayud, Campo de Borja, and Cariñena offer great value. To the east, vineyards nestled along the base of the foothills of the Pyrenees hold vineyards as well, where tributaries of the River Ebro nurture the vineyards of DO Somontano and the rare Moristel grape that charms many tasters with its tangy fruit and easy ways, along with more muscular Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other red varieties.

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The Meseta

The “tabletop” that represents the center of the elevated plateau that is Spain is not a uniformly flat, hot, and arid place.

Instead, there are significant mountainous spots that offer the possibility of making high–quality wines, based upon strong differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures (grapes seem to like diurnal temperature swings).

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The Mediterranean Coast

The warmth of the coast from the French border to Almería can be mitigated by high altitudes, whether in Cataluña or in Valencia.

Throughout most of this area, world–class wines are appearing in places such as Priorat and Montsant, as well as established areas such as Penedés. Cava, the most famous sparkling wine in the world after Champagne.

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With temperatures easily surpassing 100°F in the summer, this is an area ideal for fortified and dessert wines. Everything conspires to make a singularly successful fortified wine that comes in a plurality of styles.

Although we call all of them Sherry, each of these styles—Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximénez—expresses a unique set of aromas and flavors.

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The Islands

With the Canaries off in the Atlantic and the Balearics lying in the middle of the Mediterranean, both groups of islands enjoy temperatures that are relatively moderate.

Make no mistake, these divisions defined above must make the Spanish crazy: a country barely held together for much of its existence doesn’t take kindly to this American gerrymandering.

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