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Spain is one of the world's most renowned wine producing nations, especially for its reds. Yet in this day and age, it remains a bit of a mystery, as it is seemingly better known as a country that releases value wines on a regular basis than one that is the home of some of the world's greatest wines.

Thanks to its location along the Mediterranean, much of Spain has an enviable climate that is ideal for growing numerous white and red varieties that have very good natural acidity and retain a great deal of freshness. Yet there are also some inland zones that are quite hot, yet are the source of impressive red wines. Then of course, there are the famous sparkling wines of Cava, many of which are quite simple, with the finest being excellent examples of classically made sparklers.

Today, Spain is the third largest wine producing country in the world, trailing only Italy and France. Certainly over the last few decades, as Cava has become a popular wine at markets in several countries, and with a dramatic increase in planting vineyards in the La Mancha region, the number for Spanish wine have risen. But Spain has been an important wine nation for thousands of years.

There are six important wine regions in mainland Spain, along with some important wines from the islands. Beginning in the far northwest, the Rias Baixas region is home to one of the country's greatest and most beloved white wines, Albariño. Produced from several local varieties and grown in a zone blessed with local breezes from the Mediterranean, Albariño is one of the world's finest aromatic whites, one with very good natural acidity as well as a distinct minerality.

The signature red variety of Spain is Tempranillo, and it is the basis of numerous reds, the most famous being Rioja. This wine zone is located in the country's northeast reaches, in the Ebro River valley. There are several style of Rioja, based on location of the vineyards as well as vine age and aging period in the cellars, so while a simple Rioja crianza is a medium-bodied, approachable red, while a Gran Riserva, aged for at least two years in oak casks and three years in the bottle before release, is a magnificent wine with graceful tannins, excellent complexity and the potential to drink well for two decades or more.

Further west, the region of Ribera del Duero has become a recent phenomenon, thanks to several influential wine critics, who have praised the intensity and fruit-driven style of these wines. Tempranillo, again, is the major player here, but many versions are beefed up with the addition of such varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, which deepen the color and add spice. Whatever the cepage for Ribera del Duero, these are also long-lived wines of marvelous complexity.

A recent development in Spain has been the planting of thousands of acres in the La Mancha region in the country's center. A hot climate and seemingly endless vineyards add up to a great deal of simple whites and (especially) reds; quality however is good and pricing is quite reasonable. In southwest Spain in the Andalucia territory, the sherries of Jerez (or Xerez) are one of the two most famous fortified wines on the planet. These remarkable wines range from very dry (fino) to lush and very sweet (Pedro Ximénez) and can age for many years. Finally, Cava, the famous sparkling wine from Penedes along the eastern coast, is world famous, with versions ranging from simple, value-priced to full-bodied wines that improve with a few years in the bottle. Spain clearly has something for everyone who loves wine! (Wine/Appellations)