What makes a vineyard and winery worth visiting? What does "the best" mean? Well, for the purposes of this list, "best" means just that. Most of the wineries on this list are world-class operations, well-respected members of the wine community. They are quality operations. Touring a vineyard that produces inexpensive, mass-produced wine is just not as interesting as rolling up to an innovative and respected winery.

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This list will for the most part focus on the quality wines of Northern Spain, namely Rioja, Castille & Leon, Catalonia, and Navarra. Here are 10 Spanish vineyards that are worth visiting. And some even have hotels. Always remember to check their web sites for current visiting times, whether an appointment is necessary and what the charges are. Also, remember to check if they are English-language friendly.

10 Marques de Riscal - Rioja

This respected brand started was one of the first to build a hotel and restaurant alongside its winery in Rioja. It makes sense. Wine hotels have taken off in a big way, particularly in Northeast Spain. Laidback service steps away from the vineyard is the order of the day.

Their modern (very) building isn't to everyone's taste, but their wine is. Their Rioja is made from the classic red Tempranillo grape and spends two years in American oak barrels before being bottled. Always call ahead to check visiting times and to ask that all-important English question.

9 Abadia Reteurta - Castille & Leon

Another winery/hotel. Abadia Retuerta won a "Best Red Wine in the World" at an international wine competition. Unlike many of the wineries on this list, Abadia does not have the coveted top-drawer DOC classification attached to its wine. But it doesn't seem to need it. It makes a variety of wines that have been described as modern classics.

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Plus, the hotel is in a former 12th-century monastery, lending an extra level of interest. They have come a long way and have created quite a buzz in Spanish wine circles. The hotel is expensive but worth every penny.

8 Pago de Cirsus - Navarra

This Navarra "Bodega" (winery) also has a hotel and restaurant. They make a variety of wines, using both native grapes such as Tempranillo, as well as imports such as Chardonnay.

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It is particularly interesting because the whole wine production process takes place on the estate (Vino de Pago), meaning visitors get to see the whole process from beginning to end. The hotel is laid back and, of course, offers the estate's wines. It is surrounded by olive trees and vineyards you can observe from the top of the hotel's tower. July/August is the best time to visit.

7 Roda - Rioja

RODA is often described as a cult red wine and is popular with connoisseurs and Spain's rich and famous. Its pretty winery is near a railway station. Unlike some wineries on this list they do not have set visiting hours and you must call and book an appointment.

Their focus is very much on the wine. RODA is into quality, as opposed to quantity. They produce Reserva Rioja wine, meaning the wine has been aged for three years in a cask and a bottle. Visitors, of course, get to sample the goods. The staff at the winery are very charming.

6 Bodegas F. Remirez de Ganuza - Rioja

The Bodegas' founder Fernando Remirez de Ganuza is a character and a force to be reckoned with. His winery is located in a modernized country mansion in the pretty village of Samaniego. Traditionally Spanish, the winery uses the Tempranillo and Graciano grapes.

Visitors can stroll through the picturesque mature vineyards, see the processes used and sample the wines in a cozy and well-lit tasking room. Ganuza, unlike some of his fellow vintners, tends towards modernization and his wines are aged in oak. Visitors get to see a different kind of winemaking there.

5 Agusti Torello Mata - Catalonia

The bubbling fountain outside says it all. Agusti Torello Mata produces Cava, Spain's sparkling wine. Unlike other wineries, they insist on using indigenous Spanish grapes and have almost singlehandedly made Cava a prestigious tipple. Kripta, their flagship Cava, has become a collector's wine.

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Visitors must make an appointment and the price depends on the length of the visit. An hour's visit is around $11. Barcelona is close to a number of very good wineries in Navarra, Catalonia, and Rioja and is a good jumping-off point for tours of Northeast wineries.

4 Pares Balta - Catalonia

Like the other Catalonian vineyards and wineries, Pares Balta is near wine-loving Barcelona and the Spanish Mediterranean Sea coastline. It's clear that it is very much a family multi-generational family affair. In fact, the main winemakers are female family members.

Of course, they produce Catalonia's own Cava, but they also produce some still red and white wines. While not certified as organic, they use "eco-friendly" processes, allowing roaming sheep to fertilize the vineyards. They are opened every day of the year.

3 Nadal - Catalonia

This vineyard has a long history, going back to the 16th century when ancestors of the present owners made wine. Today it is a famed name in the Cava production world. Their current vineyards were planted in the 1940s.

The mature vines and their meticulous attention to detail mean that their Cavas are world-class. It is an easy trip from Barcelona. The harvest party, in the twilight, looks like fun, a bit of relaxation after the hard work and anxiety that harvest time always brings to winemakers. Are the grapes ready? Do we wait? Do we harvest?

2 Costers del Siurana - Catalonia

Here you have a boutique winery in the midst of the pretty village of Gratallops. It's a laidback and intimate encounter with wines and their makers in an idyllic setting. Costers del Siurana's most famous fine is Clos de l'Obac, a profound wine that is a blend of five grape varieties.

The wine is so famous and renowned, that usually Costers del Siurana is dubbed Clos de l'Obac. This winery emphasizes quality and not quantity. A visit is always a treat and very romantic. But don't forget, you need to make a reservation.

1 Bodegas Torres - Catalonia

Bodegas Torres is a one-off for this list because the Torres family has been making wine for nearly 150 years and have an extensive and large international operation. It is the largest winery in Spain.

Torres runs a global operation that distributes to over one hundred countries. It is a case study in large scale modern production methods, distribution, and marketing and worth a visit just as a contrast to the smaller and boutique wineries on this list. They run an organized tour for the curious. Smaller wineries may not be able to manage a formal tour.

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