Classification of Spanish wines  
 

 

 

Regulations governing wine

The wide diversity of soils and climates in Spain has long produced an extensive range of wines, each showing pronounced characteristics.  The careful cultivation of vineyards, united with the painstaking and increasingly sophisticated techniques used by Spanish vintners in making their wines, has won international recognition and prestige.

Since Spain joined the European Union, Spanish wines have been adapted to European standards.  This means that they have been classified into two major groups:  Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions (QWPSR) and Table Wine (TW).

More recently, Spain passed law 24/2003 of July 10—the Vineyard and Wine Act.  This legislation, together with the subsequent regulations governing Wines of the Country completed in September of the same year, describes the different classes of wines according to the degree of monitoring and exigency applied to the production process.   These documents, in turn, have allowed clearer definition of origin and quality protection system to be defined.

The Vineyard and Wine Act also establishes minimum standards for crianza—the process of aging wine in wood and in the bottle—which unify the requirements to be met according to the indications relative to aging categories.

A) Classification of wines according to quality regulations applied during the production process  

Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions - QWPSR (VCPRD)

Governing Bodies (Consejos Reguladores)

In Spain, the European law on Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions is administered by the Office of the Deputy Director-General of Quality Wines, an agency of the Ministry of Agriculture.  In practice, however, the relevant monitoring functions are carried out by the Governing Bodies.  These organizations are made up primarily of wine growers, wine producers and oenologists who establish all the rules and regulations related to the wine-making process in each geographical area:  varieties of vines that can be grown in each region, the most suitable ways of pruning the vines, the production ceilings per hectare and the direction new research and future technologies may take, among other matters.  In short, they regulate the cultivation, production and ageing of Spanish wines so that, when these products reach the consumer, they will offer the guarantees that the consumer demands.

The QWPSR represent the top level of quality and monitoring of wine production and are broken down into several groups:

Estate Wines (Vinos de Pago)

This is one of the innovations found in the Vineyard and Wine Act.  It is the highest established category for a wine, and comprehends wines of recognized prestige made from grapes grown under climatic and soil conditions distinctive to a certain 'place' or 'rural site'.  The production and marketing of these wines must comply with a comprehensive quality control system that must, as a minimum, fulfil the requirements applied to a Qualified Denomination of Origin. Further, these wines must be made and bottled in the winery of the specific vineyard or within the municipal area where that vineyard is located.  

In cases where the entire vineyard is located within the boundaries of a Qualified Denomination of Origin, and is registered under that designation, it will be allowed to receive the name of “qualified vineyard,” and the wines produced there shall be labelled as 'qualified vineyard wines'.

Qualified Denomination of Origin Wines - QDO (Vinos de Denominación de Origen Calificada - DOCa)

This category is reserved for wine that has achieved high levels of quality over a long period of time. The first designated wine to enter this class was Rioja, in April 1991.

The requirements that must be fulfilled to attain this status include the following: Denomination of Origin (DO) status for at least the previous 10 years; all products must come to market bottled in wineries located in the region where they are produced or which follow a suitable quality control system imposed by their monitoring and regulating body. 

Denomination of Origin Wines - DO (Vinos de Denominación de Origen - DO)

Wines bearing the DO distinction are prestigious Spanish wines produced in a demarcated production area and are made according to parameters governing quality and type.  Each DO must be regulated by a Governing Body (Consejo Regulador) that is responsible for ensuring the use of grapes of the authorized varieties, and compliance with parameters governing production per hectare, approved methods of wine making and ageing times. In order for wines to be given Denomination of Origin status, the production area is required to have been recognized over at least the previous five years as a region producing quality wines with a geographical indication.

Quality Wines with a Geographical Indication (Vinos de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica)

This is another category established for the first time in the Vineyard and Wine Act.  It designates wines made in a certain region using grapes grown in that same region whose quality, reputation or characteristics are due to the 'geographic environment', the human factor or both, as regards the production of the fruit and the making or ageing of the wine.  They are identified on their labels by the phrase Vino de calidad de... [Quality wine from...]  followed by the name of the region where they are produced. 

Table Wines - TW (VDM)

This is the lower echelon of the wine classification system.  In recent years it has given refuge to adventurous vintners who have created wines in regions outside the QWPSR rules, but whose quality has reached levels similar to, or occasionally even superior to, the wines produced in the QWPSR regions.

Table wines are divided into two subcategories:

Country Wines - CW (Vinos de la Tierra - VT)

These products come from certain areas of Spain where a perfectly identifiable wine is made with definite local characteristics, in compliance with vinicultural and oenological standards that are not as demanding as those governing QWPSR production.  This classification includes, as an added requirement to having a geographical indication, a minimum alcohol content and an indication of the organoleptic, or sensory, characteristics of the product.

Table Wines

All other wines are included in this subcategory.

B) Classification of wines by ageing characteristics

Country Wines and QWPSR can use the following common indications regarding ageing categories:

Vino noble (quality wine)

This expression can be used to describe wines subjected to a minimum ageing period totalling 18 months, either in oak containers having a maximum capacity of 600 litres, or in the bottle.

Vino añejo (aged wine)

Aged wines are those subjected to a minimum ageing period totalling 24 months in oak containers with minimum capacity of 600 litres, or in the bottle.

Vino viejo (old wine)

Old wines are those that are subjected to a minimum ageing period of 36 months when the ageing process is of a strong oxidative nature due to the action of light, oxygen, hot or a conjunction of all.

In addition to the indications detailed above, still QWPSR may use the following:

Vino de crianza (crianza wine)

This indication applies to red wines aged for a minimum of 24 months, of which 6 months are spent in oak containers with a capacity of 330 litres maximum; and to white and rosé wines aged for at least 18 months.

Reserva

Reserva is applied to red wines that are aged for a minimum of 36 months, to include at least 12 months in oak and the rest in the bottle; and to white and rosé wines aged for 18 months, to include 6 months on wood.

Gran reserva

This distinction is given to red wines aged for a minimum of 60 months, to include at least 18 months in oak, and to white and rosé wines aged for 48 months, to include 6 months on wood.

Quality sparkling wines may use the “Premium” and “Reserva” indications; the “Gran Reserva” indication may be used by those sparkling wines that have been given the Cava designation and which have undergone ageing for at least 30 months from tirage to disgorging.