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Wine Country: Spain

A country on the rise in the wine making world

Spain isn’t just home to the Running of the Bull; Spain is also home to some of the best wine in the world. Spain’s culture in winemaking comes as no surprise because Spain is the most widely planted country in the world. At 2.9 million acres planted, it comes as no surprise that Spain is only behind France and Italy for the most wine production in the world.

The history of the Spanish wine is as rich as any country. Grapes were believed to be first cultivated between 4000 and 3000 BC. First, the Phoenicians took the reigns over Spain then followed shortly after the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians introduced new advances in winemaking. The Roman Empire took over after Carthage lost the wars against the Roman Empire. Under the Roman rule, wine became widely exported from Spain. The Roman influence brought more Spanish wine to the Gaul than Italian wine.

Malaga, Rioja and Sherry became popular in the 17th and 18th century. Just when Spain’s wine industry was at an all time high, the Phylloxera epidemic destroyed European vineyards.

Because of the wide space between Spain’s vineyards, it took a while for Phylloxera to spread through the Spanish vineyards. During the time that the Phylloxera was making its way to Spain, the French winemakers that were affected by the epidemic fled to Spain to use their expertise of winemaking; the world turned to Spain because of the shortage of French wine.

Just as the 19th century was nearing its end, the Catalonian region produced Spain’s version of sparkling wine called Cava. Just when the 20th century rolled in, Cava rivalled the Champagne region of France in worldwide production.

In the 20th century, General Miguel Primo de Rivera ruled Spain. This military dictatorship laid the early groundwork of the Denominacion de Origen appellation system.

Climate and Soil
The Meseta Central is what is referred to as central Spain and is a dominant geographical influence on the Spanish viticulture. Spain’s main rivers run through most of the Spanish wine regions. The Ebro river runs through the Rioja and a few Catalan wine regions; the Duero river runs westward through the center of the Port wine region, the Ribera del duero region.

Cordilleras, a mountain range, serve as isolation and influence the climate of several Spanish wine regions. The Cantabrian Mountains act as a protector of the Rioja region from the rain and the cool westerlies coming from the Bay of Biscay. Acting as a roof, it shelters the Basque Country from the 59 inches of rain it receives annually. Other winemaking regions, such as Rioja, receives18 inches of rain and the northwest coast regions, annually receives 40 to 80 inches of rain near the mountainous border of Castile and Leon.

The climate reaches high temperatures further inland towards the Meseta Central. The area experiences very hot summer temperatures that can reach 104 degrees F (40 C). There are drought conditions but rain only falls as a sudden downpour during the spring and autumn months; this becomes a risk for flash flooding.

North of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, temperatures reach 45 C. To adapt to these high temperatures, many Spanish vinewards plant on higher elevations with locations located over 2000ft above sea level.

Grape Variety
There are over 600 grape varieties planted throughout Spain’s wine regions. However, only twenty grapes have been used in 80% of the country’s wine production. Airen is a white wine grape that is the most widely used. Second to Airen is the red wine grape Tempranillo. There are a variety of synonyms associated with Tempranillo under the Spanish labelling system; labels such as Cencibel, Tinto Fino and Ull de Llebre. Tempranillo’s wines are full-bodied and are the variety of used by Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Penedes.

Classifications, Labelling and Appellation System
Spain’s appellation system called Denominacion de Origen (DO) have similar characteristics with AOC of France and DOC of Italy. There were 67 DOs across Spain as of 2007. Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) is a status given to wines with a consistent track record for quality; Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero are the only regions that currently hold that status.

Wines are classified through a five-tier system and are administered by Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origen (INDO).

Vinos de Messa (VdM) – This wine is equivalent to most country’s table wines and are made with unknown grape types and unclassified vineyards.

Vinos de la Terra (VdlT) – This appears on labels with a wider geographical designation, such as Andalucia and Levante.

Vino de Calidad Producido en Region Determinada (VCPRD) – This is a level in which DO status becomes a step closer.

Denominacion de Origen (DO) – This is a status for mainstream quality wine regions.

Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) – A step above DO because of its track record for consistent quality.

Labelling Laws
This is to indicate the type of aging the wine has received.

Crianza red wines are aged for 2 years and are oaked for at least 6 months. Crianza white wines are at least aged for 1 year and oaked with at least 6 months.

Reserva red wines have at least been aged 3 years with at least 1 year in oak while the Reserva white wine and rose must be aged 2 years with 6 months in oak.

Gran Reserva – wines typically appear in wines that are above average vintage wines. Red wines require aging of at least 5 years with 18 months in oak, while white wines and rose have aged at least 4 years with at least 6 months in oak.

Dehesa Gago G Toro
Dos Victorias Elias Mora Toro
Numanthia Tina de Toro
Bodega Primo Mauro Prima Toro
Torremoron Ribera del Duero Temranillo
Valdubon Reserva del Duero
Aalto Ribera del Duero
Scala Dei Negre Priorat
Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses Priorat
Morlanda Crianza Priorat