An Introduction to Spanish Wine Classifications

Spain is organized into wine districts which are recognized on wine bottles by a label indicating the Denominación de Origen, or Designation of Origin. The DO system guarantees the wine’s precise origin, the grape variety or varieties used, and production methods employed. It is a quality control system put in place by law by the Spanish government in 1932 and revised in 1970. It is very similar to systems adopted by countries within the European Union, such as France’s AOC system. In Spain, 55 DOs of typical, high-quality wines and one special category wine, the effervescent Cava, are recognized by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, an entity that also regulates olive oil, cured ham, honey, cheese and other premium regional foodstuffs.

For wine, there are five tiers of quality. From the most basic to the best, these include:
1. Vino de Mesa – plain table wine, of ordinary quality

2. Vinos de la Tierra – of higher quality than the table wine, and more region-specific

3. Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada (VCPRD), a nod to quality, with identification of the region of origin; this classification is a stepping stone towards DO status for good or up-and-coming wine.

4. Denominación de Origen (DO) – wine of consistent quality from a very specific region

5. Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC) – of higher quality than any of the other DOs, wine with the DOC designation is of the highest quality. So far, only 3 regions have attained DOC status. They are Rioja, earned in 1991, Priorat in 2003, and Ribera del Duero in 2008

In addition to DO classifications, high quality Spanish wines carry a label that indicates the degree of aging each vintage has undergone. Generally, wineries hold bottles of wine and do not release them until they are ideally aged for their type, ready to drink. Many wines are meant to be drunk “young,” within a year after bottling. These wines will be labeled joven (“young”) or sin crianza (“without aging”.) Crianza wines are aged between 1 and 2 years, with at least 6 months in oak. Reservas are aged 2 to 3 years, at least 6 months to 1 year in oak barrels. Gran Reserva wines must be aged 4 to 5 years, 6 to 36 months in oak. As a rule, red wines require more oak aging than whites or rosés.