In partnership with Castilla y LéonKnow your grapes? See if you can name the top varieties in Spain's largest wine-producing area...
In partnership with Castilla y Léon
Although it has a winemaking tradition dating back to the Roman Empire, the majority of its Castilla y Léon’s Denominación de Origens (DOs) were formed during the 1980s. Its newest appellations, Arribes and Arlanza, only received DO status circa 2007. As a result, its official regional grape varieties have only been established in the past few decades, despite the fact that some of these vine types have been growing here for centuries.
This guide will focus on the certified grape varieties found in the region’s top DOs. However, it’s worth noting that outside of the DO system Castilla y Léon is known for its Vino de la Tierra wines. This classification permits winemakers to experiment with international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir or Syrah.
Mencía is the king of Bierzo DO, where it makes up around 75% of vine plantings. The best Bierzo wines are often dry and aromatic with red fruit and floral tasting notes. Their strong acidic structure and minerally character is often attributed to Bierzo Alto’s slate and granite soils.
Most Mencía spends some time in oak, where it gains toasty aromas, but you can also find unaoked examples that focus on fresh fruit flavours.
Arguably Spain’s leading red wine grape, Tempranillo grows in the Toro and Ribera del Duero DOs of Castilla y Léon, not far its other famous production area, Rioja.
It’s a thick-skinned, early ripening variety that marries well with oak influences like toast and vanilla. Toro’s Tempranillo wine is made from a slightly different strain, known as Tinta de Toro.
As in Rioja, both Toro and Ribera del Duero produce a spectrum of styles to reflect different degrees of oak ageing, ranging from early drinking jovén wines to complex and mature gran reservas.
The short, hot summers in Ribera del Duero and Toro can be countered by higher-altitude sites and cool nights, preserving Tempranillo’s natural acidity to strike a balance between power and elegance.
The straw-coloured star of northwestern Spain, Godello wine is produced predominantly in Galicia – but it’s also found a home over the border in Bierzo DO.
Godello benefits from this region’s wet and cool Atlantic influences, as well as its slate and granite soils on mountain slopes.
The best examples have a strong acidic structure with minerality and salinity. Styles made with some oak contact can gain a subtle nutty or toasty flavour.
Small amounts of Godello are sometimes blended with Mencía to make Bierzo’s rosé wines.
This is the prized grape of Rueda DO, where it makes some of Spain’s finest white wines. Verdejo wines are characterised by their greenish hues, as well as grassy and citrus tasting notes with hints of stone fruit.
Historically, the Palomino variety dominated Rueda, where it was made into fortified wines. But the dry and unoaked style of Verdejo wine saw a surge in popularity during the 1970s and it has become Rueda’s most planted variety.
Rueda wines labelled Verdejo must contain at least 85% of this grape and it must make up 50% of blended whites, which typically include some Viura or Sauvignon Blanc.
Reds: Garnacha (Grenache) is an important variety in Toro, where it is often blended with young Tempranillo wines to create early-drinking styles and it’s also used to make rosé in Ribera del Duero. Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot are all permitted under Ribera del Duero’s DO regulations – although Tempranillo is still by far its most planted variety. Some Garnacha Tintorera, aka Alicante Bouschet, is permitted in Bierzo DO although very little is produced. Other permitted grapes in Castilla y Léon are Graciano, Juan García, Malbec, Negra, Petit Verdot, Prieto Picudo and Rufete.
Whites: Sauvignon Blanc is grown and produced as a single-varietal alongside Verdejo in Rueda. Palomino platings are found here too, as well as in Bierzo. Small amounts of Doña Blanca and Malvasía wine are also made in Bierzo. Other white grapes permitted are Albarín Blanco, Albillo, Chelva and Moscatel de Grano Menudo.