Wine-growing in Spain has an ancient tradition, as vines were already cultivated 3000 years before Christ. The Phoenicians founded the city of Gadir (Cádiz) around 1100 B.C. and carried on lively trade in wine in the Mediterranean. The first flourishing was in 200 B.C., because the Romans loved the wine from Baetica (Andalusia). The development was stopped by the invasion of the Moors in 711. For religious reasons the Muslims cleared large parts of the vineyards or only allowed the production of raisins. They brought with them the art of distillation, but this was not used for alcoholic drinks, but essential oils, as perfumes and fragrances. Only after 700 years did the Christians succeed in reconquering and with the advance to the south they planted new vineyards. As in many other countries, it was mostly Catholic monastic orders who planted vines near their monasteries for the preparation of mass wine. In the following centuries, viticulture developed into an important economic and export branch. From the beginning of the 16th century, the conquistadors brought huge quantities of wine to the newly discovered America. The Spaniards planted European vines in many areas and thus initiated viticulture on this continent, especially in Central and South America. They thus made a significant contribution in many countries of the New World.
In the second half of the 19th century phylloxera also invaded Spain and destroyed most of the vineyards. But Rioja was spared for the time being and when the pest reached this area at the beginning of the 20th century, most of the vineyards were already planted with grafted vines. The French were no longer able to meet the demand for wine in their own country due to the vineyards destroyed by phylloxera. At first, French merchants bought large quantities of wine in Spain, but later many French winegrowers emigrated to Spain and started to grow wine. Their sophisticated cellar technology has had a lasting influence on viticulture to this day.
In the early 1930s there was political unrest. These finally led to the Spanish Civil War and ended in 1939 with the victory of the nationalists under General Franco. During this period, large areas of vineyards and many cellars were destroyed. After the opening of the borders and accession to the European Union in 1986, a new start was made in Spanish viticulture. From the 1960s onwards, a great boom began with the original Spanish wines Rioja and Sherry. Today Spain is one of the most dynamic wine countries in the world. In 2012, the area under vines covered 1.017 million hectares, of which 31.1 million hectolitres of wine were produced. This puts Spain at the absolute top of the world ranking and it is constantly jostling for first place with Italy and France (see also under Wine Production Volumes).
Soil & Climate
Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. The western mountain ranges are mostly composed of metamorphic and crystalline rock. The most common is slate, the parent rock of the country's best vineyards. It is found mainly on the Catalan coast, in the Priorato highlands, in the Rioja region and in the Douro port wine region. In the coastal regions light, sometimes sandy soils dominate. In the Jerez sherry region the strongly calcareous Albariza soil is found. The Canary Islands on the other hand are of volcanic origin. The country is criss-crossed by a number of large river veins that provide water for the vineyards and, like all waters, have a positive influence on viticulture. These are mainly Ebro and Duero in the north, the Tajo (Tagus) in the west, the Guadiana in the south and Júcar and Turia in the east.
Spain is divided into three major climate zones. In the so-called "green Spain" in the north with Aragon, Asturias, Basque Country, Galicia, Cantabria, Catalonia, Navarra and La Rioja there is a high amount of precipitation with hot summers and cold winters. In the centre is the extensive central plateau Meseta (Tableland) with the regions of Extremadura and La Mancha. It is characterized by extremely hot summers, very cold winters and low rainfall. The third zone is the coastal strip with southern Catalonia, the Levant and Andalusia. Here sea breezes soothe the hot summers, but there is also little rain.
Regions & growing areas
A new classification system with controlled designation of origin was introduced in 1970, based on Italian and French wine legislation. Around half of the vineyard area has DO status to date. About 70% of the Spanish production are simple consumer wines. Above the quality designation "Denominación de Origen" is the name of the DO (for example Alicante, Ribera del Guadiana or Tarragona), only for the sparkling wine Cava and for Sherry there is an exception, the names speak for themselves. The regions with their areas classified as DO, DOCa or Vino de Pago
The central body for all quality wines is the INDO (Instituto Nacional de Denominaciónes de Origen), with a separate supervisory authority, the "Consejo Regulador", responsible for each DO area. It is made up of employees of the Ministry of Agriculture, winegrowers, producers, traders and biochemists. With the "Reglamento", this authority defines the authorised grape varieties (and also decides on new plantings), the permitted documentation, the yield in hectolitres per hectare, the stocking density, the pruning and the vinification methods(ripening technique, alcohol content, residual sugar, dry extract values). Only after organoleptic examination of the wines by a committee of the Consejo is the label released. In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation became valid for all member countries with fundamental changes to the wine designations and quality levels; the new designations are (see also detailed under Quality System)
DOP = or the alternatively possible old designations DO, DOCa, VCIG, VdP = quality wine
IGP (Indicación Geográfica Protegida): There are 41 IGP areas.
DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida): In the case of quality wines, there are five different categories within the DOP denomination which may continue to be used as traditional terms:
VCIG (Vino de Calidad con Indicación Geográfica): These are quality wines of geographical origin with regional characteristics in terms of grape varieties and winemaking (in the past, this was a stage, so to speak, between country wine and quality wine or a DO preliminary stage). There are seven such areas.
DO (Denominación de Origen): There are 67 DO areas
DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada): This level was introduced in 1988 (and its objective is similar to that of the DOCG in Italy). It is only awarded to wines from outstanding areas whose production is particularly carefully controlled. Only two areas have been classified so far, Rioja in 1991 and Priorato in 2001, with Ribera del Duero being the next candidate.
Vino de Pago (DO) or Vino de Pago Calificado (DOCa): This denomination was introduced in 2003 for vineyards or areas with a special character. They can be located within a DO or DOCa area, but also outside it. In most cases they are owned by a single vineyard. A detailed description and a complete list of the 17 classified areas can be found under Vino de Pago.
In addition, there are also a large number of traditional designations associated with winemaking or quality. The most important of these are:
Maturity: Traditionally, Spanish wines are only marketed when they are ready to drink. For each type of wine there are specifications for the time of maturation in barrel and/or bottle. These deadlines are often far exceeded by top producers. The white and rosé wines each only have to mature for six months in the barrel and may be marketed one year earlier; there are hardly any Reservas or Gran Reservas. The following designations exist for the red wines:
Joven: young wine sold in the year after the grape harvest and matured only briefly (maximum six months) or not at all in the barrel. These are intended for immediate consumption.
CrianzaThese wines must be aged for at least 24 months, six months in the barrel and 18 months in the bottle.
ReservaThese wines must be aged for at least 36 months, of which at least 12 months in the barrel and the rest in the bottle. Is reserved for DO and DOCa wines.
Gran Reserva: These wines must be aged for at least 60 months, of which at least 18 months (24 until 2005) in the barrel and the rest in the bottle. Is reserved for DO and DOCa wines.
Ageing Classification: Regardless of the regulations for Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, there are designations that may be used depending on the ageing and ageing method. These are Añejo (24 months), Noble (18 months) and Viejo (36 months). These are not uncontroversial, since with higher age of a wine they certify it a priori a "better quality".
LabelThe following information is included: the degree of sweetness depending on the residual sugar content (seco = dry, semiseco = semi-dry, abocado = semi-sweet, dulce = sweet) and the type of wine (clarete = light red wine, cava = sparkling wine, tinto = dark wine, rosado = rosé wine, generoso = dessert wine).