Spanish Wine

Spain is a land of spectacular landscapes, a deep, complex culture, and colorful history. Wine in Spain has played a significant role for a long period of time. Since 3000 B.C, grapevines have been planted on the Iberian Peninsula, although it was not until 1000 B.C. that winemaking was started in earnest. The Phoenician traders brought the skill from the eastern Mediterranean. Currently, the country is home to more vines than any other country in the world. The national wine output in Spain is only exceeded by Italy and France.

All seventeen of Spain's communidades autónomas (administrative regions) produce wine to some extent, including the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. Castilla-La Mancha has the greatest concentration of vineyards, however, the finest and most popular wines come from Galicia (Rias Baixas) Andalucia (Sherry), Catalonia (Priorat and Cava), Castilla y Leon (Toro, Rueda, and Ribera del Duero) and Rioja.

Gnarled bush vines in southern Spain
Geography and climate combined, play a basic role in defining the various wine styles in Spain. From cool, lush Galicia and the snow-capped Pyrenees in the north, through the dry central plateau, to sandy, sunny Andalucia in the south, the topography in Spain is very diverse. The country covers seven degrees of latitude (36°N to 43°N) and leaves 800km (500 miles) between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. In-between these two unique coastlines are numerous mountain ranges, with each mountain ranging having its own specific effect on the regional climate and landscape. For example, The Cordillera Cantábrica range creates outstanding contrasts between the lush land to the northern Atlantic side, and dry, dusty Castilla y Leon on the southern, inland side of the country.

Spanish vineyards depend on the rivers that rise among the mountain peaks and plateaux. These rivers are important not just as a source of the much-needed water, but also because of their effect on regional soils and mesoclimates. The most important 'wine rivers' in Spain are the Duero, Tajo, Miño, Ebro, and Guadiana. Apart from the Ebro, all the other flow westwards into Portugal, where they are referred to as the Douro, Tejo, Minho, and Guadiana (check out on Portugal). The Ebro which flows eastward remains purely in Spanish territory for its entire journey. It passes through some of the most important vineyard areas in Spain. On its descent from the mountains of Cantabria, the river flows through Castilla y Leon, Navarra, Aragon, El Pais Vasco, and Rioja. The Ebro river reaches the Mediterranean coast in Catalonia.

The geology, topography, and topography vary around Spain, and the same can be said about the wine styles. The cool vineyards of the far north and north-west produce crisp, light, white wines, symbolized by Rias Baixas and particularly Txakoli. Wines grown in warmer, drier areas further inland produce mid-bodied, fruit-driven reds like Ribera del Duero, Rioja, and Bierzo. Vineyards adjacent to the Mediterranean produce more powerful, heavier reds like Jumilla. In higher-altitude districts, reduced humidity and heat enable the production of lighter reds and the sparkling white Cava. It is not easy to group Sherry, however, its distinctive style is as a result of human ingenuity (winemaking techniques) but not climatic factors.

Wine grape varieties in Spain are not as many when compared to their counterparts like Italy. Spanish varietals also receive far less fanfare; it was only recently that the wine industry in Spain begun to show any interest in marketing and varietal-led winemaking. Spanish vineyards use several hundred varieties to some extent, but most of the Spanish wine is made from just a small fraction of these. Important red-wine varieties, in terms of acreage, are Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha and Monastrell. Some of the leading white-wine varieties include Airen, Viura/Macabeo and Albarino and Palomino.

Tempranillo, which has many local synonyms like Cencibel, Ull de Llebre, and Tinto Fino, appears in both quantity and quality. Tempranillo accounts for over 20% of all Spanish vines and features prominently in the most prestigious wines in Spain such as Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. Although Bobal is relatively unpopular, it covers an impressive 7% of the country's vineyard area, mainly in eastern Spain throughout Manchuela, Valencia, and particularly Utiel-Requena. Here Garnacha is valued, as elsewhere, it has high potential alcohol and a juicy, fruity character. Garnacha is put to good use in the deeply-colored rosés of Navarra and is at its best when blended with the darker-flavored, more-structured Tempranillo-Monastrell.

The little known Airen is surprisingly the most commonly planted variety. It is a drought resistant high-yielding white-wine variety favored by growers, its grapes usually disappear into anonymous blends and brandy. Macabeo, also known as Viura in Rioja, is an important varietal for both sparkling cava and still wines. Palomino is mostly used for sherry, although it is occasionally used in varietal table wines. Albarino can be found almost exclusively in the north-west, this wine gained recognition following the success of Rias Baixas, a renowned wine style.


'International' varieties like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay are becoming increasingly popular in Spain, while their plantings are thriving in various wine growing regions in Spain. Besides the most popular varieties, there are local also specialties like; Marmajuelo in the Canary Islands, Hondarrabi Zuri in the Basque Country, and Zalema in Andalucia.

In the last few decades, the wine industry in Spain has undergone a great deal of modernization, with traditional practices and equipment being replaced with state-of-the-art technologies. The result has been a great improvement in reliability and quality. The modernization initiative in the vineyard and winery reflects in the offices of government. The wine-classification system in Spain has been worked on astronomically in the new millennium (check up on Spanish Wine Label Information).

The position of Spain in the wine world is changing. A majority of producers (but not all) are adapting to the demands of the international wine market, emphasizing on innovation and offering both consumer favorites with relative value for money. The export market is now of great importance, due to the shrinking domestic market as wine consumption in the country per capita continues to fall year after year. The ever-increasing global demand for premium red wines indicates a growth for the likes of Ribera del Duero, Rioja, and Priorat. Traditional, less-mainstream styles such as Getariako Txakolina and Sherry are likely to fare well in the coming few decades and will be a point of interest.

Grapes available in Argentina

Tempranillo 22%
Rioja Red Blend 9%
Cava Blend 6%
Grenache 5%
Rare Red Blend 4%
Palomino 4%
Albarino 3%
Other 47%
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