September has started, and so has the harvesting season in Spain. Wine in Spain has gained such an importance that it is not just a drink or a business here, but even a lifestyle. If you love wine there is no way around to come to Spain and get a holistic wine experience during you journey. The history is just one reason why wine became so important, and nowadays still is.
Research shows, that the wine production in Spain dates back to Tertiary period (65-2.6 million years ago). The most important time for Spanish wine began with the establishment of the Roman Empire in Spain. The main growing areas back then were Tarragona and Andalusia. Years after the Roman times, when the Muslims occupied the country, the viticulture increased, even though their religion forbid to drink alcohol. But not only the taste of the Spanish wine, but also of the fresh and dried grapes is incredible delicious. The next decades which were primarily important to the todays fame of the wine, were during the Middle Ages. Monks from around the world started travelling and settled in different countries. They brought new varieties and revolutionised the production with modern techniques of planting and harvesting. These techniques evolved even more during the Industrial Revolution.
In the 19th century, during the plague of the phylloxera wine louse, some regions even made profit out of that. Spain was very late affected by this disease and therefore the export increased strongly in the northern part of the country. When the plague came to Spain, a way how to cure it was already discovered. Due to this event, the first designation of origin was established for the region La Rioja.
There was not a lot of time to recover from this setback in the wine industry. Wars including the First and the Second World War and the Spanish Civil War affected the export and production of wine negative.
After this time, the wine industry started to recover. The boom of the importance and presence of Spanish wine in the whole world started simultaneously with the start of democracy after the death of Franco in 1975. Further improvements and a growth of the variety stock in Spain came due to the accession to the European Union and the ban of watering, which made people search for new places to plant the vines.
Spanish wine growing regions
Spain is sub-divided in 7 distinct climates and regions. First the northwest “Green” Spain, which is Galicia. Next, there is Mesata Central (Central Plateau) which includes the capital of Spain, Madrid. Another region, which lies at the southern sea of Spain, is Andalucía. The most southern wine growing region of Spain are the Canary Islands. The most important regions are Duero River Valley, Catalonia and Basque Country, which get further examined in the next paragraphs.
Ribera del Duero
Ribera del Duero is a Denomination of Origin and is next to La Rioja one of the most famous wine growing areas in Spain. It is located in the wine growing region Duero River Valley (political name: Castilla y León), between the cities Bilbao and Madrid. The valley is influenced by Continental climate, meaning that the vines are exposed to long, hard winters and hot, dry summers. The landscape formed by the Duero River, which is floating through the hills.
This area almost without exception produces red wines. The only white grape, cultivated there is called Albillo and is mainly consumed by locals. The most important production area in Duero River Valley of minerally white wines is called Verejo. The most planted variety of Ribera del Duero is Tinto Fino (AKA Tempranillo), which is also the most used variety for red wine production in whole Spain. This spicy herbal red wines with some notes of berries are usually stored in oak barrels and aged for some years. The red wines in Castilla y Leon are bold and rich and the most important areas are Ribera del Duero, Toro and Leon. The most famous winery of Spain, which is located in Ribera del Duero, is called Vega Sicilia, which operates since 1982.
In 2010 the wines of Ribera del Duero got an extraordinary rating of Robert Parker, which is the most famous person in the world of wine and rates wines according to their taste, smell and character every year with Parker Points. Ribera del Duero was even named Wine Region of the Year 2012 by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
This wine growing region is located in the north east of Spain, at the Mediterranean coast and at the border to France. It over 9 Denominations of Origin and 1 Qualified Denomination of Origin (DOQ) area which is named Priorat. The region has two main influential factors: one the one hand side the sea, which makes the area around there dry with warm temperatures and on the other side the mountains, which makes the surroundings humid with lower temperatures.
Catalonia is known for its delicious wine and food offer. The amount of wine produced there accounts for 25% of the whole Spanish wine production. An important wine production is Cava, the traditional Spanish sparkling white wine. A well-known producer of Cava is Freixenet, which is located in the DO Penedés. Other than that they mainly plant white wines and just a small amount of reds. The predominant white wine varieties are Malvasia and Airán. In the warmer zones of Catalonia deep red wines are produced out of the grape Monastrell.
The region País Vasco, as it is called in Spanish, is located in the north and northwest of Spain, next to the Atlantic sea and to the borders of France. There are 2 main parts in this region, Txakoli, a typical Basque wine, and Rioja, which wears the stamp DOCa (Qualified Designation of Origin). Basque Country’s wines are influenced by rather cold weather compared to the rest of Spain, with winters where the temperature often goes under zero and mild summers in the coast and hot summers and colder winters in the Ebro valley. There is quite a lot rainfall at the coast. The region is marked by a lot of hills and mountains and by the Bay of Biscay at the north. The Bay of Biscay is characterised by cliffs and caves as well as by sandy beaches. The most popular cities in this area are Bilbao and San Sebastián which both lies in the northern coast.
País Vasco is famous for its rich cuisine and its tasty wines. The food is full of fresh fish and seafood, due to the proximity to the sea, as well as meat like lamp, beef and pork from local farms. The typical tapas of the region are called Pintxos. The tapas are usually small snacks, like bread with some cold cuts or tortilla which are spiked on a wooden spit.
The typical white wine of the region is the zesty white Txakoli. Txakoli or Txakolina is mainly produced in San Sebastián. The taste is usually citrusy and it is low in alcohol with spritz. People in the coast focus a lot in white wine production, because they do not want to compete with the red wines of La Rioja. Even though, they also produce some delicious red and rosé wines, as well out of the Txakolina grapes.
The most famous red wine variety is the powerful Rioja, which grows in La Rioja. This area is further sub-divided in Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Traditionally the wine is produced out of a mixture of the grapes of all 3 regions, even though, there is a trend to use the grapes of just one of this areas. The varieties planted in La Rioja include Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo. Even though La Rioja is known for its reds, they also produce some white and rosé wines.
Source: Le Petit Ballon
In the sub-region Navarra, which lies in the northeast of Basque Country, the vintners produce a lot of rosé (rosado) wines out of the grape Garnacha. The most important and famous red wine grape is Tempranillo. The variety Vinura, is used for white wine production. These white wines are known, because they are aged in oak barrels.
Festivals and traditions
Due to the long history and the importance of wine in Spain, the inhabitants celebrate lots of events in honour of the delicious wine. Right now, the beginning of September, which is also the beginning of the harvesting season (which usually goes until the end of October), a lot of harvesting festivals get celebrated, which are called Fiestas de la Ventima. It is typical, that wineries open their cellars and have open days in their production halls. Wine enthusiasts, tourists and locals are invited to taste wines and to try the tasty food of the regions. The programs also includes typical traditions like folk dance, live music, parades or theatrical performances. The most famous ones are Rioja Grape harvest festivals and the Autumn Festivals.
Source: Espana Profunda
Another famous celebration, which takes part at the end of June, is called Haro Wine Festival, or also known as Batalla del Vino. It is a huge wine battle, where locals and tourists get together and throw red wine against each other. It takes part every year in the town Haro in La Rioja and lures hundreds of tourists to enjoy this spectacular celebration.