Vinos de Pago: Spain's Highest Wine Classification and Why it is so Unique

Spain's Highest Wine Classification: Drinking from the top of the pyramid

Spain has a long and storied history in winemaking, exploring every style of wine across the country.For centuries, Spanish missionaries and explorers exported their knowledge and experience in winemaking to nearly every corner of the planet. Spain’s winemaking, much like the rest of the country, went through a dark period under the Fascist government that was in power until 1975. Many important wine regions were stunted, and didn’t even achieve an official appellation until near the end of the Franco regime. Since the fall of the Francoist State, needing to make up for lost time, Spanish winemakers have been trying to find a way to define themselves in the global market. One of the answers to the problem is the Denominación de Origen Pago (DO Pago) classification. 

Francisco-gamaThe DO Pago classification exists within the existing appellation parameters that have been laid out in the Denominación de Origen (DO) system that Spain has been working with since the 1930s. Unlike the original DO system, the Pago classification is only awarded to a single estate instead of an entire winemaking region. This classification is more similar to that of the Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe, than it is to Burgundy’s Cru classifications which apply to specific vineyards often owned by many producers.

An estate that is pursuing the Pago classification must apply for and meet stringent criteria to be awarded the title. Estates being considered need to show critical acclaim and they also need to have 10 years of quality winemaking history. All the fruit that is made into wine must be grown on estate vineyards, the wine must also be vinified and bottled at the estate. In theory, this classification system exists above the DO as far as quality is concerned.

Pago Guijoso VineyardThe DO Pago system was first implemented in 2003 with only two estates being awarded the designation, Dominio de Valdepusa and Finca Elez. Currently, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture has awarded 21 estates their own DO Pagos classification. Estates in Castilla-La Mancha were quick to embrace this new appellation system, as is apparent from the representation of wineries with Pago status. The two most recent additions to the Pago Classification are El Vicario and Chozas Carrascal, both of which received the designation in 2019. 

The DO Pago has allowed estates that are producing high quality wines to bring attention to themselves in regions that haven’t had the exposure that major producing regions like Rioja or Priorat have. Ultimately, the designation has helped bring exposure not only to the estates to receive the status, but also to their often overlooked regions as well. 

The Vinos de Pagos

Listed in chronological order of Pago designation

Dominio de Valdepusa (Marques de Griñón), Castilla-La Mancha

Finca Élez (Manuel Manzaneque), Castilla-La Mancha

Guijoso, Castilla-La Mancha

Dehesa del Carrizal, Castilia-La Mancha

Arínzano, Navarra

Prado de Irache, Navarra

Otazu, Navarra

Campo de la Guardia, Castilla-La Mancha

Pago Florentino, Castilla-La Mancha

Casa del Blanco, Castilla-La Mancha

El Terrerazo, Valencia

Pago Calzadilla, Castilla-La Mancha

Pago Aylés, Aragon

Pago de Los Balagueses, Valencia

Vera de Estenas, Valencia

El Pago de Vallegarcía, Castilla-La Mancha

Pago de La Jaraba, La Mancha

Pago Los Cerrillos, Castilla-La Mancha

El Vicario, Castilla-La Mancha

Chozas Carrascal, Valencia

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Comments (1 Response)

07 September, 2021

Edward Nattenberg

Really great primer on Spanish wine classification, Greg. I’m looking forward to hearing from Big Hammer about what Spanish wines will be in the offering!

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