Why Red Wine Is Called Vino Tinto In Spain

If you've ever felt intimidated by a restaurant's wine list that looks more like a novel than a menu, you're not alone. "People are embarrassed to ask questions about wine because they feel like they should know more about it than they do," certified sommelier Bianca Bosker told the Sydney Morning Herald. But, look at it this way. A sommelier most likely loves sharing their knowledge after all of the time they've spent acquiring their credentials.

Maybe you find yourself stumped by some of the names of wines. How many wine varietals could there possibly be beyond the usual suspects? As a matter of fact, more than 1,300 are used in commercial production. But let's say you just crave a juicy red wine. How hard could it be? When trying to narrow down from Schiava to Tannat, Wine Follynotes 32 varietals make up the majority of red wine available to consumers. Yet, if every single one was listed, there would be hundreds more. 

So, you're sitting at your new favorite tapas joint. You already know that red wine is the perfect pairing for the smattering of small plates you just ordered. You peruse the wine list but struggle to locate the word "rojo." What gives?

The meaning of vino tinto

Rojo does, in fact, mean red. But, where red wine is concerned, the proper Spanish (and Portuguese) reference is "tinto." And that goes for any kind of red wine.

Coming from the Latin word "tinctus," tinto is a description of how wine is made, as opposed to its color. While green grapes produce white wine, the red ones produce red wine because of the grape skin's contact with the juice — making it a tinted wine. 

Spain boasts nearly 1 million hectares of vineyards spanning 138 wine regions. And, while Rioja and Ribera del Duero are the most popular, lesser-known regions such as Jumilla and Toro are tinto troves to look for when selecting a Spanish pairing. 

If you happen to be at a bar or restaurant while in Spain and want to order like a local, simply ask for "un tinto" or perhaps a Crianza, which is the entry point for reserve wines. Come summertime, sip as the Spaniards sip by ordering a tinto de verano. This "red wine of summer" is a cocktail made with vino tinto and limón (lemon soda).  

But, whenever or wherever you raise a glass of tinto with friends, a hearty ¡Salud! is always a good idea!