Spain is the number one country in terms of vine cultivation and one of the top 3 producers together with Italy and France in the world. It is as well, one of the oldest wine-growing countries dating back at least from 3000 B.C and very much influenced by the Romans, which is easy to believe when you look at their rich culture and traditions. Except for the Romains, the Phoenicians have had an important role too in the Spanish wine history with the foundation of the city of Gadir (Cádiz) in Andalusia around 1100 B.C and have developed lively wine trade in the Mediterranean. It was not until the beginning of the 16th century when the wine trade and the viticulture in the country have flourished due to the “conquistadores” which have brought huge quantities of wine to the recently discovered America.
Spain is a beautiful country, with history and culture where wine did and still plays an important role. The whole country produces wine, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, however, the greatest concentration of vineyards is in Castilla-La Mancha, and the most famous wines come from Galicia (Rias Baixas), Catalonia (Cava and Priorat), Andalucia (Sherry), Castilla y Leon (Rueda, Toro and Ribera del Duero) and of course Rioja.
Spain is an enormous country with a big diversity of landscapes and climates, with its mountain chains playing a major role in the regional differences and a fundamental role in defining Spain's many wine styles. From mountain peaks to sunny and hot regions, each region has its own style. From light, crisp, white wines, such as Rias Baixas and particularly Txakoli produced in the north, to mid-bodied, fruit-driven reds such as Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Bierzo to heavier, more powerful reds for those regions closed to the Mediterranean.
Similarly, the topography is very diverse. The western mountain ranges are mostly composed of metamorphic and crystalline rocks and the most common soil type is slate, the same soil of the country's best vineyards. Similar soil can be found mainly on the Catalan coast, in the Priorato highlands and Rioja region. The coastal regions are dominated by light, sometimes sandy soils. Down in the most southern point of Spain, in the Jerez sherry region, the soil is strongly calcareous white Albariza. On the other hand, the Canary Islands have a volcanic type of soil. Several large river veins across the country are providing water for the vineyards and, like all waters basins, have a positive influence on viticulture. These rivers are mainly the Ebro and Duero in the north, the Guadiana in the south, the Júcar and Turia in the east, and the Tajo in the west.
There are 17 wine administrative regions made of around 130 sub-regions or DO (Denominación de Origen). The most significant for the Spanish wine production are - Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Penedés, Navarra, Rueda, Cava, Rías Baixas, Jeréz, Priorat, Toro and Bierzo. Spain has a very good classification system divided into four categories which in ascending order of quality are: Vino de Mesa, Vino de la Tierra, DO (Denominación de Origen) and the best DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada), with only two regions Rioja and Priorat.
The country has more than 500 indigenous grape varieties, with 30 the most planted, as well as international grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which are producing some outstanding wine and are becoming more and more popular in Spain. Tempranillo is the main grape variety and the most planted - it is used in the country's most prestigious wines. Other varieties are Bobal, Garnacha (same as Grenache), Monastrell and Viura. Lastly, Albarino, a white grape variety that is growing in popularity.
The diversity of wine style in Spain is immense like its territory, but the most prominent examples are the fine and mineral white wines from Galicia, the world-famous La Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions with their big and in the same time elegant red wines, the historical Sherry from Jerez, the refreshing sparkling Cava from Penedés. Over the past few decades, Spain's wine production was involved in a great deal of modernization, keeping the traditional practices and implementing modern equipment. The outcome has been a significant increase in the quality and reliability of the Spanish wine.
Somehow, Spain has always been in the shadow of France and Italy in terms of viticulture, winemaking techniques and popularity on the international wine market. But nowadays, producers are adapting to the demands of the international wine market with innovation and up-to-date winemaking techniques and offering both consumer favourites and great value for money. In the past few decades, the country has produced some exceptionally high-quality wines which are competing with the best wines in the world.