5 great Spanish wine grapes to try

For many Spanish wine drinkers, Spanish grape varieties begin and end with Tempranillo – the bedrock of Rioja wines. Others will know Verdejo, probably the most common Spanish white grape overseas. And for those who have ventured as far as Priorat in southern Catalunya, Garnacha will be as familiar as its French cousin Grenache. These grapes are certainly excellent. But Spain has far more to offer.
The wine sector is experiencing a resurgence in the use of native grape varieties. Local winemakers are rediscovering historic, often isolated, plots planted with old vines. And modern techniques are helping to take grapes that were traditional used in blended wines and use them to make excellent single varietals.  

So here are 5 less well-known grapes that should be on your radar. 

Albariño (white) 

Albariño has long been a favourite of Spanish seafood lovers. It’s a great entry point for consumers looking to explore Spanish whites and offers a welcome change to heavier Spanish reds. 

Albariño is the main white grape of the denominación de origen (DO) Rías Baixas in Galicia, and especially the town of Cambados which celebrates its “Fiesta de Albariño” in early August. Here the colder climate and ocean air produce light white wines with bracing acidity, clean citrus flavours, and a slight hint of saltiness.

Look out for wines from Xurxo Alba, owner/winemaker at Albamar who produces some lovely examples made right next to the sea. 

Godello (white) 

The Godello grape is native to North-West Spain and northern Portugal. Although it can trace its ancestry back to the 16th century, by the 1970s, Godello was almost at risk of becoming extinct. But thanks to a concerted local effort there are now about 1,200 Ha planted and the Godello grape is enjoying a comeback.

An early-ripening grape Godello tends to produce well-structured, intense white wines with floral and mature fruit aromas. But at the same time, a combination of varying terroirs and differing techniques means Godello can often often produce quite a broad spectrum of styles. Our favourites right now come from Isidro Fernández at Casar de Burbia in DO Bierzo. 

White Garnacha (white) 

Like its red counterpart, White Garnacha originated in northern Spain. Its heartland is the DO Terra Alta in southern Catalunya where it occupies some 1,400 Ha – one-third of the global total. Here the hot days are balanced by cooler nights. That injects freshness into the growing process and produces wines with high alcohol content balanced with green fruits and citrus notes.

White Garnacha is a go-to grape if you’re after slightly fuller-bodied, ‘gastro’ whites and a perfect place to find them is the iTant vineyard in Terra Alta.  

Mencía (red) 

Up in the north west of Spain, Mencía is king of the reds and is already finding its way abroad with wines from Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra. This grape profile is on the up thanks to winemakers like Raúl Pérez or Isidro Fernández who are working old vines on small, hillside plots, and to uncle and nephew combo Ricardo Pérez and Álvaro Palacios who did so much to put Priorat on the international wine map. 

Mencía often works best without any barrel aging, leaving the wines fragrant with delicate fruit that are ideal for drinking young. Try Lagariza from Finca Millara or Xurxo Alma’s Fusco (both DO Ribeira Sacra) or Casar de Burbia Mencía (DO Bierzo). 

Monastrell (red) 

Known as Mourvèdre in France, but generally recognized as a Spanish grape, Monastrell is popular on Spain’s south coast in DOs like Jumilla, Yecla or Bullas. Its late ripening makes it easier to grow further south and, being a vigorous grape, it adapts well to different soil types. It also tends to recover well from spring frost which are not uncommon in the region. 

Monastrell’s small, sweet, thick-skinned berries can give quite heady wines so look out for producers who’ve tamed that. Our favourite is Julia Casado at La del Terreno – a sustainable winery using minimal intervention and traditional methods like foot pressing to get maximum expression.

Conclusion 

The Spanish wine sector is brimming with producers using indigenous grapes and giving new life to old varieties. So next time you're hunting for a bottle of wine, why not try something new - starting with one of the above.