Spain is one of the largest producers of wine worldwide, it has the largest area planted with vines in the world (14.3% of total), and ranks third in terms of production (13.1% of overall production, only behind France -17.3%- and Italy -17.2%-). Spain is also the second largest exporter in volume terms. It is a very important sector in Spain, for its economic, social and environmental importance, and because wine projects an image of the country abroad.
As for the export market, almost two thirds of Spanish wine exports by volume, are intended for European Union countries. In terms of exports by volume, the main destinations are France (19.8%), Germany (14.7%), Portugal (10.5%) and Russia (7.2%). By country, Germany (16.2%), United Kingdom (14.4%), USA (10.9%) and France (7.1%) take the lead in the ranking by value of such exports.
Rioja red wines, wines from Jerez and Catalan cava are the best known outside Spain, however, the lesser known reds of Ribera del Duero are those who have had the greatest impact on the international wine fairs. Spanish wine has much more to offer than Rioja, Cava and Jerez. Spain has a diversity that reflects its terrain, climate and culture.
As mentioned above, Spain has more acres of vineyard than any other country in the world, mostly cultivated with native varieties of grapes of Spanish origin. Tempranillo is the best known variety and is the mainstay of Rioja, although the less known variety, Airen, is the most widely planted, producing large amounts of white table wine, which is rarely found outside the region.
The last decade has seen a revolution in Spanish winemaking: new vineyards have been planted and new winemaking technologies have been introduced, but the traditions and heritage have been maintained. Spanish wine has improved beyond recognition, especially whites, and now more than ever they are worth a try.
Some of the most popular regions:
Located in Galicia, the coastal area of Rias Baixas is strongly influenced by the sea. It has a cool maritime climate with high rainfall. Some of the best white wines in Spain are found here, thanks to the success of the Albariño grape, which thrives in these climatic conditions. Albariño plantations have been increased by eight in the last 15 years. Albariño makes refreshing and aromatic wines.
Inland, the Rueda region is at the heart of Castile-Leon and produces the best white wines in this region. Rueda has a long history of wine production, although it is only recently that whites have come to light, thanks to modern winemaking methods. Verdejo is the most planted variety. The grapes are picked before dawn and transported to the winery in sealed containers under a blanket of inert gas (usually nitrogen) to avoid contact with air. This protection is maintained at all stages until bottling.
It is the birthplace of Spain’s flagship wine – Vega Sicilia Unico – and the region’s emphasis is on quality, not quantity. It mainly produces red wines and the grape generally used is Tempranillo, known locally as Tinto del Pais. The region is at high elevation, and vineyards are located 700-800m above sea level, practically the maximum altitude at which vines grow. The region has its own microclimate, where hot summer days contrast with a sharp drop in nighttime temperatures. The result is a wine with a real intensity and a powerful aroma.
La Rioja is the most famous wine region of Spain, and the first to be awarded DOC. Within the area there are three sub-regions: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. The first two are located further north, where the climate is influenced by the Atlantic, while the latter is a low plateau more influenced by the Mediterranean. Many Rioja are mixtures of more than one region, and are allowed up to seven varieties of grapes, but Tempranillo is the main grape in most Rioja reds. Meanwhile, the most popular white is the Viura, also known as Macabeo. The Rioja, generally, are aged in oak, which gives a mild flavor and easy drinking style.
Separated from Rioja by the Ebro river, the varieties of the region are similar, although more international grapes are grown here, as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The most popular variety is Grenache, which is used for reds and rosés, but some wineries are beginning to mix local and international varieties.
About 150 kms south of Navarre is the smaller region of Calatayud. All strains are planted over 500 meters without any influence of the sea. Summers are hot and winters very cold. The Grenache grape is the main variety, and the conditions allow the production of powerful wines with high alcohol levels.
The region of Jumilla is located 80 kilometers off the coast of Alicante. The lower areas are home to dry and sweet white wines, while the higher ground has red grapes such as Monastrell, known in France and elsewhere as Mourvèdre, and in Australia as Mataro.
Priorat was the second region (after La Rioja) to obtain the highest quality rating, DOC, in 2001. It is a small region, with a unique ground known as “llicorella” which is filled with small particles of mica, which allows the retention of heat. As a result, red wines are very powerful and high in alcohol.
A group of producers recognized the benefits of this location in the 80’s and planted native grapes (Grenache and Carignan), with French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
This coastal region is a few kilometers west of Barcelona in the Catalonia region. It has two notable features: the majority of Spanish sparkling wines -Cava- are made here, and the enormous influence of Miguel Torres, director of one of the largest wine companies in the world. In recent decades, Torres has planted a number of international varieties and has revolutionized winemaking.