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Spain is a wine producing powerhouse that has been crafting delicious wines for centuries and is currently the third largest wine producing country in the world.
Spanish vineyards are internationally recognised for producing amazing sherry, brandies and Cava, as well as impressive red wine blends.
In this article, we'll look at a brief history of Spanish wine, the main wine producing regions, and the most notable grape varieties in Spain, before recommending some Spanish wines that you just have to try!
Spain has a long history of wine production, with archaeologists finding evidence of vineyards dating back to 4000 B.C.
The first records of Spanish wine being widely exported was during the time of the Roman Empire, with Tarragona and Andalucia being the dominant production regions.
It was really the discovery and settlement of Spanish colonists in the Americas that fuelled the growth of the Spanish wine industry in the 15th and 16th century. New territories provided new export markets for Spanish wine, and also presented the opportunities to plant grapes in colonised locations.
Spanish wines continued to enjoy popularity across the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, with Sherry being an incredibly popular export.
The outbreak of the vine pest phylloxera across Europe at the end of the 19th century was damaging for the Spanish wine industry and destroyed a lot of established vineyards that needed to be re-planted with phylloxera resistant rootstock.
The Spanish wine industry also faced challenges because of the two World Wars in the early 20th Century which affected the wine export markets, and also the Spanish Civil war which saw many vineyards be damaged or destroyed.
Spain would have to wait until the 1980s before there was an actual drive for growth in the Spanish wine industry. This growth largely came courtesy of the European Union who provided grants and financial support for wine producers across the country once Spain had joined the union.
If we fast forward to today, Spain is the world's third largest producer of wine, and also the world's third largest exporter of wine - behind France and Italy in both cases.
Spain has got more hectares dedicated to vineyards than any other country, and this is spread across 13 major Spanish wine regions: Pais Vasco, La Rioja, Navarra, Catalonia, Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha, Valencia, Mercia, Andalucia, Extremadura, Madrid, Castilla y León and Galicia.
The Spanish wine region with the highest wine production by far is Castilla-La Mancha, which is located in the heart of Spain, around 50km south of Madrid. Castilla-La Mancha produces wines from a range of grape varieties, including Airén, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Petit Verdot and Bobal. Historically, the region has been known for producing high volumes of affordable wine for both domestic and export markets and hasn't been recognised for its quality. But this is a reputation that is showing signs of change, with an increasing number of highly respected wines being produced in the region.
Another famous wine producing region of Spain is Andalucia, specifically the sub region of Jerez which is the only place that Sherry is allowed to be produced.
The Rioja wine region is arguably one of Spain's most established and internationally recognised regions. It is best known for producing excellent red wines from Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes. However, in recent years, white wines from Garnacha Blanco and Macabeo are gaining attention from the international wine market.
Another important wine region in Spain is Castilla y León, which enjoys a climate with hot summers and high levels of altitude, with some vineyards being planted over 300 feet above sea level. Castilla y León is well recognised internationally for the quality of it’s wines, with the red wines produced in the area of Ribera del Duero suggested to be some of best in the world, often blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Tempranillo and Merlot.
You can't talk about Spanish wine without talking about Sherry, which is a fortified wine made from white grapes in Jerez in Andalucia. Sherry is typically made from the Palomino grape and enjoys popularity worldwide.
Another style that needs to be mentioned when talking about Spanish wines is the sparkling white wine Cava. This is the Spanish interpretation of French Champagne and is made using similar production methods. Cava is typically produced using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with over 90% of Spain's Cava production being based in Catalonia.
Spanish brandy is also incredibly popular internationally, and relies on the production of the Airén grape in Castilla-La Mancha. It surprises a lot of people, but Airén is actually the most planted grape in Spain.
The second most planted grape variety in Spain is Tempranillo, which is often what international red wine drinkers associate with Spanish wine. Tempranillo is often blended with other red grapes such as Garnacha or Graciano, but it is also popular as a single varietal wine. In the Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo is sometimes referred to as Tinto Fino and is the primary grape in red wine blends.
For anybody looking to get started with Spanish wine, Spain is a country with a rich history and a variety of climates, so it is going to produce some exciting varieties of flavours to tickle your taste buds!
If you head over to our Spanish Wine page you will find a fine selection of wines from Spain to try.
Some of our favourites include:
Find out more about other wine producing countries: