I would like to share an incredibly condensed history of Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, compare some grape varietals and discuss the value of Spanish wine. Often overlooked and seen as France’s and Italy’s little sibling, Spain offers a diverse history when it comes to wine making. It has nearly 3 million acres of planted vines and has world renown wine producing regions. Producing bulk wine for wineries to make wine instead growing their own grapes, of which France is probably the largest purchaser (super exaggerated eye roll while sipping this Tempranillo,) and growing lesser known grape varietals contribute to a lower demand but better price for wine drinkers. Clearly I have already started with a glass, so catch up, while we discover why we should be drinking more Spanish wine.
Spain’s viticulture and winemaking history dates back nearly 3000 years, when it was brought to the southern region Andalusia by the Phoenicians around 800 BC. There have been numerous regime changes in the long history of Spain. Forming, shaping, integrating, unifying and empire building have had an impact on what is Spain today. From the Carthaginians and the Punic Wars to the Romans, when Spanish wines were strong and exported throughout the empire. After a civil war the Germanic Vandals swooped in and then the Visigoths. Next were the Moors then the Reconquista. Cistercians monks planted vineyards, developed maceration processes and built wine cellars. Ferdinand and Isabella unite Spain, Columbus sets sail and thinks Cuba is China (probably because of the wine.) The Hapsburg kings take reign in Spain and during this time about one-third of the allotted space on ships is for wine. Enter the House of Bourbon and war with Napoleon. Wine production and the global market are affected by the war, and the development of aging sherry wine becomes important. Fast forward to the 20th century, Spain remained neutral for World War I and II but had its own civil war between the two wars. The Spanish Civil War destroyed the wine industry. It gained some traction during the second World War but regulation after the war had ended led to poor quality wine, lack of global market, loss in reputation for Spanish wine producers. The 1970’s saw an end to a dictatorship and a bounce back in the wine industry with global recognition. Each of these eras have had an impact in how wine was produced and how it was regulated. Despite the countless invasions and wars, Spain’s wine makers have continued to innovate, cultivate and preserve the viticulture. Ultimately creating the Spanish wine we find remarkable.
Spain has the world's largest vine acreage and is consistently in the top three in wine production with nearly 100 Denominación de Origen Protegida, DOP ('Protected Denomination of Origin') identified wine regions. Castilla La Mancha, yes the land of Don Quixote, produces more than half of the country’s grapes on over 200,000 hectares. My favorite, Castilla v Leon, where we find the Ribera del Duero and Rueda regions covering one-fifth of the Spanish land mass. One of the most popular wines from Spain is the fortified wine, Sherry, from the Andalusia region. I have to mention Cava, Spain’s answer to France’s Champagne and Italy’s Prosecco. Cava is mostly produced in the Catalonia region of Penedes, which also contains Priorat, one of two DOCa qualification regions. Galicia is home to a green landscape that resembles Ireland, and is bordered by the Atlantic on the west and north with some vineyards overlooking the cliffs. The most renowned wine region is La Rioja, the other DOCa qualified region. Known mainly for its barrel aged red wines, it is divided into three regions Rioja Baja, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. It is Spanish philosophy that the origin affects the quality, taste and overall experience of the wine. The DO classification system in Spain is complex and full of passion for exceptional elaborated wines.
The grape varietals that are indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula are as diverse as its history. Popular grapes such as Garnacha, Grenache in France, and Monastrell, Mourvedre in France, are believed to have originated in Spain. Some varietals have gained considerable international recognition such as Tempranillo, Albarino, Verdejo and Monastrell. La Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions are dominated by significant and often impressive Tempranillo. Albarino is the prominent grape in the green region of Rias Baixas. Verdejo, the most planted varietal in the unique terroir of Rueda, one of the lesser known areas in Spain. Now, Monastrell, Mourvedre in France, is blended with Grenache and Syrah in the southern Rhone Valley for “GSM” blend, but in Spain is usually a bold, medium to full bodied, high tannin single varietal. Other grapes being grown in Spain are making incredible Cava, remarkable rose` and fantastic fortified wines that are ready for wine drinkers to take advantage of. The current generation of winemakers in Spain are placing an emphasis on indigenous grapes and celebrating their terroir.
Wine from Spain lacks the reputation of French and Italian counterparts, which keeps the price lower. A large part is due to not enough people are aware of the fantastic quality wines of Iberian Peninsula. This is changing as some wine regions have gained notoriety with their quality and are receiving higher prices. Taste the diverse and complex history of the Iberian Peninsula. Explore the regions of Spain like the many peoples that have inhibited the peninsula. Taste the thoughtful elaborations of raw grape varietals being produced by humans and terroir. What does this mean for us? We have the opportunity to savor delicious quality wine at an incredibly appreciable value. Salud!