Spanish Wine

Spain has over 2.9 million acres of vineyard planted, making it the most widely planted wine producing nation but it is the third largest producer of wine in the world after France and Italy. This is due, in part, to the very low yields and wide spacing of the old vines planted on the dry, infertile soils found in many Spanish wine regions.

The country is ninth in consumption worldwide with Spaniards drinking, on average, 21.6 litres per person per year.

Grape VarietiesRegionsClassificationHistory
The country has an abundance of native grape varieties with over 400 planted throughout Spain though 80% of the country’s wine production is made from only 20 grapes. Most Spanish red wine is produced from Garnacha, Tempranillo and Monastrell, while most Spanish white wine isproduced from Albariño from Galicia, Palomino, Airen and Macabeo; and the three Cava grapes Parellada, Xarel·lo, and Cariñena.
The major Spanish wine regions include the Rioja and Ribera del Duero which are known for their Tempranillo production; Valdepeñas (known for high quality tempranillo at low prices); Jerez, the home of the fortified wine Sherry; Rias Baixas in the north west region of Galicia that is known for its white wines made from Albariño and Catalonia which includes the Cava and still wine producing area of Penedès as well the Priorat region.
Spanish wine laws created the Denominación de Origen (DO) system in 1932 which were later revised in 1970. The system shares many similarities with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system of France. Wines that have been granted DO/DOC status will feature the regional stamp of the ‘Consejo Regulador’ on the label.
The abundance of native grape varieties encouraged an early start to viticulture with evidence of grape pips dating back to the Tertiary period. Archaeologists believe that these grapes were first cultivated sometime between 4000 and 3000 BC, long before the wine-growing culture of the Phoenicians founded the trading post of Cádiz around 1100 BC.

More recently, a major turning point occurred in the mid 19th century when the phylloxera epidemic ravaged European vineyards, most notably those of France. With the sudden shortage of French wine, many countries turned to Spain, with French winemakers crossing the Pyrenees to Rioja, Navarre and Catalonia, bringing with them their expertise and winemaking methods. One of these developments was the introduction of the 225 litre oak ‘barrica’. Phylloxera eventually reached Spain, devastating areas such as Malaga in 1878 and reaching Rioja in 1901. Its slow progress was due in part to the wide tracts of land, including the Meseta Central, that separated the Spanish wine regions from each other. By the time the Spanish wine industry felt the full impact of phylloxera, the remedy of grafting American rootstocks to the European vines had already been discovered and widely used.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that domestic stability brought a period of revival for the Spanish wine industry. The death of General Franco in 1975 and the Spanish transition to democracy allowed more economic freedom for winemakers and created an emerging market with the growing middle class in Spain. The 1990s saw the influence of flying winemakers from abroad and wider acceptance of the use of international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Soon the quality and production volume of premium wines began to overtake the presence of generic Spanish bulk wines and Spain’s reputation entering the 21st century was that of a serious wine producing country that could compete with other producers in the world wine market.

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