Spanish Grapes

White Spanish Grapes

Albariño Native

Depending upon the vintage and the sub-region of Rías Baixas, this indigenous variety of Galicia in northwest Spain can be rich and expressive, with peach and apricot notes, or tart and bracing, like green apples and lemon peels.

Verdejo Native

A delightful and textured grape, with citrus elements covering notes of melon, apple, and stone fruits. Often it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc and/or Viura in Rueda.

Godello Native

Expresses depth and character in Valdeorras, Ribeiro and Bierzo. Think green apples and texture, and in ripe vintages, add some peaches.

Palomino Native

The grape of Sherry, it provides the lightest and freshest Manzanilla as well as the richest and most exotic amontillado or oloroso. Also known as Listán.

Viura Native

In Penedés where it is called Macabeo, it’s the fat and friendly part of a Cava blend. In Rioja or Navarra, many believe it simply requires careful vinification to unlock its character and even longevity.

Xarel-lo Native

One of the principal constituents of Cava, this very interesting variety goes into the production of some lovely wines from Alella. It can be the layered and age-worthy part of Cava.

Airén Native

The most widely planted white grape in the world, though planted only in the center part of Spain. 750,000 acres of Airén situated in Spain’s Meseta amount to far more than all the acres of Chardonnay in the world or any other white grape you can name. It is generally used for brandy and for light, simple white wines.

Chardonnay Foreign

Grown in many regions, but especially Penedés, Navarra, and Somontano.

Hondarribi Zuri Native

A cause célèbre in some markets, this produces the bracingly tart txakoli (chacolí)-style white wine of Basque Country.

Loureira Foreign

A secondary grape in Galicia that can produce rich peach to apricot aromas in Rías Baixas and Ribeiro blends

Macabeo Native

Synonym for Viura used in southern Spain, especially Cava

Malvasía Foreign

A Greek variety with vibrant aromatic qualities, whether vinified as a dry wine or as a sweet and exotic wine. It used to be more widely planted and used in Rioja but has been long eclipsed by Viura.

Moscatel de Alejandría Foreign

Good for sweet wines and for table grapes and raisins, this grape can offer utterly charming dessert wines; there are fascinating dry versions too.

Muscat a Petits Grains Foreign

High-quality and wildly aromatic dry and sweet wines are made from this grape in southern Spain and throughout the Mediterranean basin.

Pansa Blanca Native

See Xarel-lo.

Pardina Native

A variety planted in south-central and southern Spain.

Parellada Native

The bulk ingredient of most Cava and a few pleasant table wines.

Pedro Ximénez Native

Generally speaking, a variety used in the production of sweet Sherry. In Montilla-Moriles, this grape can produce great dessert wines, but also a few dry-styled wines.

Picapoll Native

A variety grown in small quantities in Cataluña.

Sauvignon Blanc Foreign

Blended in many Rueda wines, sometimes to the detriment of Verdejo. But it also shows promise in Penedés.

Treixadura Foreign

A tertiary grape used in Rías Baixas; usually crisp and lemony.

Red Spanish Grapes

Tempranillo Native

The reigning indigenous red variety of Spain. Its various clones grown in different parts of Spain have very different characteristics: in warm regions, including southern Spain, it ripens early; in Penedés, growers say that it’s low in acidity and doesn’t age well; in Ribera del Duero, it’s an ideal ager with moderate tannins and alcohol; and even in Rioja, growers accuse it of low acidity, yet it ages far better than its structure would suggest. The variety has performed exceedingly well in the traditional style of Rioja; the soft, modern style of red wine; and also in powerful, rich, International school–style wines. If Tempranillo still lacks a global profile, it is because it has failed at becoming an internationally successful grape—examples from anywhere outside of Spain tend to underwhelm. It seems to prefer high altitude vineyards and to respond well to strong shifts in nighttime and daytime temperatures. And while the grape has prospered only in Spain until now, few grapes in the world can offer such a wide range of brilliant styles.

Garnacha Native

Known as Grenache in the rest of the world, it ought to be called Garnacha, as it originated in Spain and traveled to southern France in the eighth and ninth centuries. The rap on the grape is that it is only great when it’s powerful and alcoholic. That’s not necessarily true, but Garnacha does need to grow in a warm spot to display its best character. It’s one of two critical grapes in Priorat (dominating its helpmate Carinñena), and can be bottled as a rosado elsewhere in Spain. It’s the third most planted grape in Spain and the second most planted variety in the world.

Cariñena Native

Known as Carignan in the rest of the world, but its rightful name is Cariñena, just like the eastern Spanish town from which it probably originates. It’s called Mazuelo in Rioja, and there (as well as in Priorat and Montsant), old vines can produce tangy, even noble wines.

Mencía Native

The grape carries the red-cherry intensity and herbal notes often found in Cabernet Franc, and like Cabernet Franc, Mencía can often be underwhelming, tasting more structured than lush. At its best, it can be profound.

Bobal Native

Ironically, better known for its blending attributes (big, rich, and cheap) than for its stand-alone abilities, but there are delicious Bobals being made in the Valencia region.

Alicante Native

Sometimes called Garnacha Tintorera, it’s one of the few grapes to have not only color in the skins but also colored juice.

Aragón Native

Synonym for Garnacha

Cabernet Sauvignon Foreign

Planted in Spain after the scourge of phylloxera brought French winemakers to Spain in the nineteenth century. It is generally tolerated by the DO rules, including Rioja where it is now permitted and where you can find small authorized plots.

Cencibel Native

Synonym for Tempranillo used in La Mancha.

Graciano Native

A minor player in Rioja but increasingly has fans and even devotees. It can have beautiful aromatics, color, and tannin.

Juan García Native

Grown in Zamora in the Northwest; a grape with more potential than realized performance.

Listán Negro Native

A grape that offers excellence on the Canary Islands.

Manto Negro Native

Grown on Minorca and Mallorca, it offers occasional excellence.

Mazuelo Native

Synonym for Cariñena used in Rioja.

Merlot Foreign

There are now many enthusiasts for the vine and many new plantings from Navarra to Utiel Requena. The dominant grape of the ascendant properties of Pomerol and Saint Emilion, Merlot can do good work in Spain as well.

Monastrell Native

Known in the rest of the world as Mourvèdre, it’s a grape of Spanish origin. As in France, it is capable of producing truly great wines, but so few people are focused upon that goal. The grape shows the most promise in Jumilla and Yecla.

Moristel Native

A light and fruity grape in Somontano that almost never makes serious or powerful wine but is charming nonetheless.

Pinot Noir Foreign

Only a few successful examples of this grape are found in Spain. While fashion may initiate new plantings of the grape outside Penedés, there are many more reliable grapes for Spain to focus upon.

Prieto Picudo Native

A black-skinned variety of León, occasionally blended with Mencía.

Syrah Foreign

Just as in the rest of the wine world, this grape is much sought after and happily settles into virtually every region in Spain in which it’s planted. Syrah may become a more common player in Spanish red wine

Perhaps more than anything, realness is what strikes me about Spain

James Suckling

More About Spanish Wine