Chatting about Spanish wine during dinner with our guests last night it again struck me how little knowledge there is about this great product amongst people who seem to know quite a lot about it in general. Of course this all has to do with the way that how the Spanish present and market it abroad. This sadly enough isn’t limited to wine only but counts for most of the country’s fine products such as cheese and olive oil.
Another Romans already noted the most popular wine in Rome (from Spain of course) known as Saguntum, was quite good for getting your mistress drunk.
On a more serious note: Spain has 78 sub-regions of wine across 17 provinces of the country, including the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. They are classified as Denominación de Origen (DO) and Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC). Both denote wineries meet stringent requirements to produce wine, with the DOC designation being the highest quality. Currently only two regions have met DOC requirement in Spain, Rioja and Priorat.
There are over 400 grape varieties in Spain! However, the bulk of the production comes from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Albariño, Palomino, Airen, Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. The most widely planted is Airen, a white wine grape which is valued for a variety of reasons including its hardiness. Second is Tempranillo, the popular grape of Rioja, followed closely by Garnacha which is planted throughout Spain but mostly known internationally due to the Catalan region of Priorat.
Everyone knows that Cava is the Spanish equivalent of sparkling wine, which utilizes a similar method of production as Champagne. Although 95 percent of Cava production comes from Catalonia where it originated in the late 19th century it can also be produced in Aragon, Castile and Leon, Valencia, Extremadura, Navarra, Basque Country and Rioja.(so not region bound as is Champagne, or Sherry here in Andalusia) It is regulated by DO Cava, which determines the rules and regulations of the production of Cava.
The Franco dictatorship was a dark time for wine production, as wine was not allowed to be exported. Franco felt wine should only be used for church sacraments and not much else. Still, when it was discovered that US President Eisenhower was a fan of sparkling wines, Franco commissioned Perelada to produce a special cava for his visit to Spain in December of 1959. Some of the original bottles from the commission are on display at the winery. Salvador Dali was also a fan of Perelada cava, offering it to his guests who came to visit.
Over 80.000 hectares of land is specifically registered and documented as organic. Even Spain’s largest wine producer, Torres, has one third of their vineyards as organic. This has been a meteoric rise, as organic wineries were rare in Spain up until the 1990s. However, due to traditional winemaking techniques, many winemakers throughout Spain have refused to use chemicals or pesticides in wine production from the 1950s up to the present time. The earliest documentation of an organic winery is from the 1970s at the Penedes vineyard of Albet i Noya. In those years I had never even heard of green, organic or bio. Says probably more about me though…