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Spanish Wines: Designations of Origin

Spain is the second biggest wine producer and has the largest vineyard surface area in the world. Spanish wines range from delicate white wines to decadent reds. Read on to learn more about Spanish designations of origin.

The world of wine is a vast, diverse landscape that’s rich in nuances. Because of this, we use characteristics to classify and define them as a whole. These include the production country and the geographical area within that country; the vintage; the grape variety, winemaking process and the type of ageing. 

One of the best qualities of Spanish wine is the wealth of varieties produced thanks to our numerous wine regions, climates and types of Spanish grapes.

Vinos de España: denominaciones de origen

What is a wine with a designation of origin

European law recognises two levels of quality for all member countries: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and wines with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

Wine with Protected Designation of Origin has a seal that guarantees that it is entirely produced in a specific wine region. It also gives consumers the assurance that the wine was made following specific officially regulated quality criteria.

The Regulatory Council is the body that oversees Designations of Origin. This council is in charge of regulating, controlling and guaranteeing the quality of wine, as well as promoting and defending it. 

Vinos de España: denominaciones de origen

Spanish Designations of Origin

There are currently more than 90 different Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) in Spain, which include Cariñena, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry y Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, La Mancha, Penedès, Ribeiro, Rueda, Toro and Valdepeñas. These are just some of the best-known and oldest.

Within the PDO, there is another classification that splits wines into:

Qualified Designation of Origin (DOCa)

This is the highest category in Spanish wine and is reserved for regions with above-average prices and the most exacting quality controls. For a long time, there was only the Rioja DOCa, until the Priorat DOCa was added in 2003. 

In addition to the requirements for DO, there are other criteria wines must meet to achieve this top-shelf seal:

  • It must have been recognised for at least ten years as a DO. 
  • All bottled wine must be sold in registered warehouses and located in the defined geographical area. 
  • It must have a quality and quantity control system in place from production to selling. 
  • It cannot be housed in wineries with wines that don’t have the DOCa, except VP—single-estate—wines from the same region. 
  • The area suitable for producing wines eligible for the DOCa must be mapped out. 

Designation of Origin (DO)

Rules for DO include the permitted grape varieties, ageing and types of wine. DO wines must meet the following conditions:

  • Made with grapes from the region. 
  • High prestige in trade due to its origin. 
  • Its quality and characteristics are due solely to the geographical environment and its natural and human factors.  
  • It must have been recognised for at least five years as a Quality Wine with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
Vinos de España: denominaciones de origen

Single-Estate Wine (VP)

This category was introduced in 2003 along with the VC. VP is only for wines from a single estate, in a very specific area and with specific climate and soil characteristics. These wines are unique and very distinguishable, and the VP Designation serves to protect the name and the winemaking method. It is also used to maintain and improve the qualities of these wines over time.

Quality Wine with Geographical Indication (VC) 

This is a wine produced and manufactured in a specific geographical area with its own grapes. Its quality, reputation and characteristics are due to the geographical environment and human factors.

This category is used for wines that do not fully meet the strict standards of the DO category but are above the standards of the Vino de Tierra—Local Wine (VT) category.

Vinos de España: denominaciones de origen

Rioja Qualified Designation of Origin

This is one of the most important designations of origin in Spain, both for its international prestige and for its highly influential winemaking tradition and the fame of its wines in the Spanish market. In addition, it is the oldest DO in the country and one of only two DOCas.

El Coto de Rioja carried out its first Rioja DOCa harvest in 1970, and only 20 years later, established itself as a leader in Rioja wines. Thanks to its prestige, it is growing in export markets and quickly gaining worldwide renown.

With more than 800 hectares of vineyards, El Coto de Rioja is the largest winegrower of the Rioja DOCa. The Finca de los Almendros, one of El Coto de Rioja’s estates, became the largest vineyard in the entire Rioja Designation of Origin in 2004. Its Finca Carbonera is the highest-altitude vineyard in Rioja and grows the newest white varieties authorised by the Regulatory Council.

Discover El Coto de Rioja, Rioja’s leading winery for white wine, rosé wine, crianzas and reservas: 

El Coto de Rioja online store
Vinos de España: denominaciones de origen

Other prominent Designations of Origin

In addition to the Rioja DOCa, Spain has other distinguished DOs. These include: 

  • Priorat Qualified Designation of Origin. Along with the Rioja DOCa, these are the only Spanish Qualified Designations of Origin. These wines are made in the north-eastern province of Tarragona. The Priorat DOCa is grown in the great mountainous expanse located at the foot of the Sierra de Montsant. The hardness of the soil, the adaptation of the different varieties and the winemaking and production system are the characteristics that have led Priorat to achieve its exclusive quality seal.  
  • Ribera del Duero Designation of Origin. This is another of the most important DOs in the country, especially when it comes to young red wines. It includes quality wines made in Burgos, Valladolid, Segovia and Soria. The Ribera del Duero DO’s main varietal is the Tempranillo, but there are five other grape varieties accepted by the Regulatory Council: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Grenache Noir and Albillo Mayor.  
  • Rueda Designation of Origin. These are wines made in the Community of Castilla y León, between Valladolid, Segovia and Ávila. The Rueda DO is defined by three main characteristics: its Verdejo grape—a native variety—, continental climate and gravelly soils with small stones. Sauvignon Blanc, Viura and Palomino are its other white wine varieties.  
  • Rías Baixas Designation of Origin. One of the most important designations of origin in Galicia, where one of the most prestigious wines in Spain is produced: Albariño wine. Its key elements are the Atlantic climate and the rarely changing rainfall and temperatures throughout the year. The Rías Baixas DO has five wine-growing sub-zones that share the specific conditions that characterise these wines, albeit with differences. The white grape varieties accepted in the Rías Baixas DO are: albariño, loureira, godello, treixadura, torrontés and caíño blanco. Red grapes include red caíño, red loureiro, espadeiro, pedral and castañal, etc. 

The winemaking process is key when it comes to qualifying a wine as a Designation of Origin. If you want to know more about winemaking, from harvesting to bottling, don’t miss this article:

How wine is made