Savoring Sunshine: Exploring Spanish Wines for an Unforgettable Journey

Embark on a virtual journey through the rich landscape of Spanish wine, where every swirl and sip transports you to a world filled with history, culture, and the warm embrace of the Iberian Peninsula's warm sunshine.

A Sip Back in Time - Tracing Spain's Historic Winemaking Journey

Spain's love affair with wine is deeply rooted in history, dating back to before Roman times.

The Phoenician navigators settled in the south around the 9th century B.C., establishing the town of Xera (now Jerez) around 1100 BC, they planted the first Spanish vineyards on the surrounding hills.

During Roman times, Spanish wine was widely traded within the Empire. The main wine production areas were Terraconensis (modern-day Tarragona, in Catalonia, in the northeastern corner of Spain ) and Baetica (now Andalusia, in the south of the Iberian Peninsula). After the Roman Empire's decline, barbaric invasions led to the loss of many vineyards. While details are very scarce, some evidence suggests winemaking persisted when the Moors conquered the land in the early 8th century AD.

Despite Islamic laws prohibiting wine consumption, caliphs and emirs owned vineyards, and winemaking continued. After the Reconquista in 1492, winemaking thrived again. In the 16th century, Spanish viticulture flourished, thanks to the English introducing Spanish wines to a wider audience.

Fast forward to the 19th century, despite historical ups and downs, Spanish winemakers showcased resilience and passion. In the late 19th century, the phylloxera devastated vineyards everywhere in Europe. The disease quickly spread to all Spanish vineyards, causing production to collapse. However, not all grapevines succumbed to the phylloxera attack. Some resisted, and these are the ones now called "ungrafted" or "own-rooted," meaning they are not grafted onto "American" rootstocks. These were mostly vineyards planted in sandy soils, such as those found in the Canary Islands. The high sand content in the soil hindered the infestation's spread because the larvae couldn’t move in this substrate and died.

The Rise of Natural Winemaking in Spain

In recent years, a movement has gained momentum on the Iberian Peninsula, with winemakers returning to the roots of tradition. They embrace minimal intervention, allowing the terroir to speak for itself. Illustrating the growth of natural winemaking in Spain, the Association of Natural Wine Producers in Spain (PVN) focuses on transparency. 

Established seven years ago, the Association of Natural Wine Producers champions natural wine. This category encompasses wines crafted in limited quantities by small-scale vintners, using manual techniques with minimal intervention and without the incorporation of any additives. Essentially, natural wine is solely the result of fermenting grape juice in its most pristine form.

Indeed, the Association of Natural Wine Producers mandates that the production of natural wine adheres to the following guidelines:

- No added SO2

- No commercial yeast or any other product to speed up or guide alcoholic fermentation.

- No control of malolactic fermentation

- No acidification or deacidification of acidity

- No ascorbic acid, sorbic acid, or potassium sorbate

- No addition of aromas

- No wood chips or pieces for flavoring

- No reverse osmosis

- No Concentration

- No cryomaceration or any other technique that involves the artificial breakdown of the components of the must or wine

- No clarifications

- No filtration

Navigating Spain's Diverse Wine Regions

Spain is a land that is as varied as the people that call it home. It is filled with a fascinating mosaic of different wine regions, each one with its own special story to tell. 

One of the most famous wines made in Spain comes from Rioja, in the north of the country. It is the guardian of the Tempranillo grape, known for its delightful dance on the palate with notes of cherry, leather, and a hint of vanilla.

Venturing north, the refreshing breezes from the Atlantic shape the wines of Galicia, where the Albariño grape reigns supreme, producing crisp and aromatic whites.

It is in Catalonia, that the rebellious spirit of Priorat unfolds. In the shadow of craggy hills, Grenache and Carignan grapes brave rugged terrain to produce robust, full-bodied wines. 

Additionally, in Catalonia, the Penedès region is the birthplace of Spain's famous sparkling wine Cava. The first sparkling wines were produced in Spain around 1872 and were called "champagne." The name "cava" was adopted only in 1959 when France demanded that Spain stop using the word "champagne" to designate its sparkling wine. The sparkling wine "Cava" is undoubtedly one of the most emblematic expressions of the harmonious blend between tradition and innovation.

Heading south to Andalusia, the place of origin of flamenco, Sherry takes the stage. The chalky soil imparts a unique character to the Palomino grapes, resulting in a fortified wine that ranges from bone-dry Fino to the lusciously sweet Pedro Ximénez.

In the course of this exploration across the Spanish terrain, regions like Ribera del Duero come to attention, renowned for their robust Tinto Fino.

 Grapes Galore: The Stars of Spanish Wine - A Deep Dive into Flavor Profiles

The allure of Spanish wine lies in its diverse grape varieties, each contributing a unique flavor profile to the diverse selection of wines that are made in Spain. 

Proceeding into the exploration of red royalty, Tempranillo, originating from the esteemed regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, both in the north of Spain. This grape produces wines with notes of cherry, leather, and a hint of vanilla when aged in oak barrels.

Then there's Garnacha, a sun-loving grape thriving in the arid regions of Aragón, in the north-east of Spain. Its wines are like a warm embrace, full-bodied and brimming with red fruit flavors. 

Monastrell is a grape that loves the sun and is capable of growing even in arid soils. It was imported to the northern part of Spain by the Phoenicians, and the first certain documentation dates back to 600 onwards, thanks to the Catalan monk Francis Eiximenis who gave it the recognition of the most important and prestigious wine in the Spanish territory.

On the white side, Albariño dominates supreme. Grown in the misty vineyards of Galicia, the most northwestern region of Spain, it's a zesty, citrus-infused delight. Verdejo, from Rueda, a Spanish wine region located in the Castile region in the northwest of Spain, adds a crisp and aromatic touch to the Spanish white wine spectrum. And let's not overlook the unique Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parellada trio that brings life to the effervescent joy of Cava. Cava is produced using the traditional method, called “méthode Champenoise” in Champagne, its birthplace. During this process, yeast and sugar are mixed with a still base wine in bottles, triggering a second fermentation. This fermentation combines with the carbon dioxide in the wine, creating the characteristic fizz of the sparkling wines. The yeast, essential for this fermentation, settles at the bottle's bottom, transforming into lees that impart rich brioche notes as the wine matures. Cava must age in a bottle for a minimum of 9 months on its lees, with extended aging requirements for Cava Reserva (15 months) and Cava Gran Reserva (30 months) before it can be released.

Interesting Spanish Wine Facts 

Here are some interesting facts about Spanish wine:  

Spain has the largest vineyard surface in the world. In 2022, it was estimated that there are 955 million hectares under cultivation.

- The term "Reserva" on a Spanish wine label indicates it has been aged for a minimum of three years, with at least one year spent aging in oak barrels.

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