The world's largest vineyard in terms of surface area (1 million hectares in 2017, compared to 700,000 in Italy), Spain is one of the largest and most prestigious wine producers in the world. Nevertheless, due to a very hot and dry climate, coupled with a low density of plantation of vines, productivity is lower than in France or Italy. In fact, the country only ranks third in the world in terms of the volume of wine produced. Throughout the country, some 150,000 winegrowers cultivate and vinify more than 430 different grape varieties, 85% of which are indigenous! Surprising fact: more than half of the vineyards are planted with white grapes and many of the grape varieties in the south of France are of Spanish origin!
Introduced by the Greeks and Phoenicians more than 3000 years ago and then shaped by the Romans, the cultivation of the vine is part of the centuries-old traditions of the Iberian Peninsula. Put to sleep during the Ottoman occupation, production was resumed during the Reconquista thanks in particular to the Benedictine monks. Its quality and diversity will continue to increase at the end of the 19th century, until the ravages caused by phylloxera. Following the example of other European countries, this upheaval forced a profound reorganisation of the Spanish vineyard. Then, during a large part of the 20th century, wine production remained mainly food-based and centred on local supply. Scattered over a vast and fragmented territory, geographically landlocked, Spain's wine-growing regions knew little about trade at the time. However, since the 1980-90s, the entry into the European Union and the real estate boom have had a huge impact on the creation of imposing wineries, with the parallel emergence of small innovative craftsmen, sharing common ambitions: quality and modernity. Today, throughout the various regions, Spanish wine producers are constantly reinventing themselves, making the country one of the most dynamic and diversified, producing wines capable of competing with the best French or Italian vintages.
A vast territory, Spain is made up of a mosaic of valleys and terroirs (the Mancha plateau as wide as it is warm, the impressive Duero valley, the green, rain-swept hills of Galicia, the slopes of the Pyrenees, the torrid, white plains of Jerez). Bordered by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the peninsula is subject to various climatic influences: the vineyards close to the Atlantic produce fresh and refined wines (in Galicia or in Bierzo for example). Vineyards adjacent to the Mediterranean (Priorat, Alicante) are exposed to warmer climatic conditions. Parts of the central part of the country are tempered by mountains and rivers, which act as thermal regulators.
Apart from its rich and diverse nature, the country also has an impressive cultural heritage. Every year, many visitors marvel not only at the monuments of its many historic cities (Seville, Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Malaga, Cordoba, Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela), but also at its wild nature, its heavenly seaside, its tasty cuisine and its authentic inhabitants. This exceptional cultural and natural heritage is reflected in an astonishing cuisine, particularly in the famous tapas, aperitifs (or dinners) as tasty as they are varied, to be taken on the go or with friends in a festive atmosphere, accompanied by wines that are either easy to drink or full-bodied, depending on taste. A true national emblem, tapas and their convivial concept have been exported to wine bars and restaurants all over the world.
Following the example of Italy, Spain's wine-growing regions are organised according to autonomous communities. Throughout the territory, including the islands, all regions (17 in total) produce wine, but only 12 produce wine under appellation. The most famous regions are located in the north and centre of the country. However, the Spanish revival is bringing out young talents everywhere.
In the south: Andalusia (with the appellations Xeres and Montilla Morilles), Murcia (appellations Jumilla and Yecla), Valencia (Alicante) and Extremadura.
In the centre, with the regions of : Castilla-La Mancha (including the appellations Uclès and Almansa), Madrid, Castilla-León (Ribera del Duero, Toro and Bierzo) and Aragon (Calatayud).
To the north, on the Atlantic coast are the regions of Galicia (with the famous Rias Baixas), Asturias, the Basque Country, Navarre, the famous Rioja and, on the Mediterranean coast, Catalonia (with the superb terroirs of Priorat, Montsant, Penedès and Tarragona).
As for the islands, they are divided between sea and ocean: in the Mediterranean, the Balearic Islands have two appellations. On the Atlantic side, the Canary Islands, located near Morocco, have more than ten appellations.
Within the autonomous communities, wine-growing regions have been established in a slightly more precise manner. The DOCs (Denominaciòn de Origen Calificada), represent wines of superior quality, much like the DOCGs in Italy. DOs (Denominaciòn de Origen) can be assimilated to DOCs. Note that autonomous communities (such as Catalonia) can be DOs in their own right, as can wines from a single estate (called DOs of Pago). In the following list of appellations, there are the VCIGs (Vino de Calidad con Indication Geografica). It corresponds to regions awaiting DO classification, but are not recognised at European level. Finally, there is the VdIT classification (Vino de la Tiera). After the restructuring of 2020, there are a total of 90 appellations, including 2 DOCs (Rioja and Priorat), 68 DOs, 6 VCIGs and 15 Pago.
In addition, Spain also has a system for classifying wines according to the length of time they have been aged:
Vino joven or wine of the year is a young wine, bottled after clarification. To be drunk in the following year;
Vino de roble is a two year old wine that has spent at least four months in oak barrels;
Vino de crianza is a wine aged for two years, including twelve months in oak barrels;
Reserva is a wine that has been aged for three years, of which at least one year in oak barrels;
Gran reserva is a wine that has been aged for five years, two of which in oak barrels.
The reputation and quality of Spanish wines is not only due to the talent of the winemakers and the typicality of the different terroirs, but also to the immense variety of its native grape varieties. Indeed, the country boasts no less than 430 grape varieties, even though the vast majority of wines are made from only about twenty varieties. While international grape varieties are well represented, particularly within the VdIT appellation, the indigenous varieties remain the benchmark: Tempranillo, Bobal, Grenache and Mourvèdre (Monastrell) for the reds; Airen, Albarino, Palomino, Pedro Ximenes and Macabeu for the whites. Although the country is renowned for its powerful and robust reds, half of the vineyards are dedicated to whites, notably for producing Cava (based on Xarello) and also sherry.
In Rioja, the best known wine region, Tempranillo reigns supreme, as does Ribera del Duero, where it is known as Tinto Fino, and the promising Toro region, where it is known as Tinto del Pais or Tinto de Toro. Grenache, with its companion Carignan (which went to conquer the regions of the South of France and Sardinia) does wonders in the regions of Montsant and Priorat. In the South, it is rather Monastrell (Mourvèdre), which has conquered the regions and shows an impressive level of quality, with Palomino, at the origin of Xeres.