With its current 955,717 hectares of vineyards, Spain is the largest wine-growing country in the world. Nevertheless, with its average annual production of 42 million hectoliters of wine, Spain is only the third bigger producer after Italy (average of 48 million hectoliters) and France (46 million hectoliters). This is mainly due to Spain’s specific soil and climatic conditions (including the great drought prevailing in many parts of the country), which only allows for low yields. This, added to the long-standing traditions predominant in the country, makes Spain the European country with the lower number of vines per hectare. Despite these problematic climate characteristics, Spain has a great variety of wine styles and qualities, and not only for red wine, which is what the country is mainly known for; actually, Spain is the world leading manufacturer of white wine.
In 1100 BC, the Phoenicians, who had already discovered viticulture, settled in southern Spain and founded the city of Cádiz. They then started laying out vineyards around this city. For most historians, this was the beginning of Spanish viticulture, though some archeologists believe there were already grape fields way before the Phoenicians arrived, dating as far back as 4000-3000 BC. Later on, the Carthaginians introduced new advances in vine cultivation and, when both them and the Romans began a thriving trade market across the Mediterranean (200 BC), Spain’s vine culture really blossomed for the first time. After waging many wars against the Carthaginians, the ever-growing Roman Empire conquered Hispania, which is how they named the Iberian Peninsula. This again had a great impact in the country’s viticulture, as the Romans technical knowledge in this field was introduced and new wine qualities were achieved. The wines from Baetica (Andalusia) and Terraconensis (Tarragona) were quite popular at the moment, rivalling with the Italian wines, and were exported in large quantities to Rome. Following the decline of the Roman empire, Spain was invaded by various tribes (including the Visigoths, who ruled for 250 years) until, finally, the Moors conquered the country at the beginning of the 8th century. Despite the Islam ban and Prophet Mohammed’s prohibition of alcohol, the Moors tolerated winegrowing and the vineyards continued producing regularly. After all, the Emirs and Caliphs were filling their pockets with the wine taxes. Then came the 15th century, with Spain being reconquered by the Catholics and the discovery of America, prompting a boost in wine production, which was now travelling all the way to the New World. In these travels, alcohol was used both as a stimulant and as an antiseptic for drinking water. By this time, Jerez and Málaga were the main Spanish wine-growing regions. Soon afterwards, the trading affairs with England began to flourish, with wine been one of the main exported commodities (since it was reportedly stronger and cheaper than French wine). This relationship between Spain and England was the main culprit of Jerez wine (mostly known by its English name Sherry) achieving its worldwide fame.
During the second half of the 19th century, the lands were severely affected by powdery mildew and the Phylloxera parasite, a catastrophe that affected Spain later than the rest of European countries. Because of this, many Bordeaux winegrowers became interested in buying vineyards in North Spain (especially in the regions of Navarra and La Rioja), after their own were ultimately decimated. These areas were able to benefit from the “barriques” (barrels) and new cellar techniques the Frenchmen brought with them.
When phylloxera finally reached Spain, some regions were vastly devastated, including Málaga and La Rioja. Luckily, due to Spain’s wide tracts of land and the consequent separation between major wine regions, the phylloxera advance was slowed down and, by the time it hit the hardest, grafting American rootstock have been already discovered and broadly applied to the European vines.
During the first half of the 20th century, after the ravages of both the World War and the Spanish Civil War, Spanish viticulture suffered a big blow from which it could hardly recover. Winegrowing was finally brought back to life through the founding of numerous wine cooperatives that mainly focuses on the mass-producing and trading of simple table wines, with a resultant decline of quality.
It was only in the late 80s and early 90s, after Spain joined the European Community (1986), that a new generation of Spanish producers (propelled by foreign investments) invigorated the market by carrying wine from hot to cooler zones and investing heavily in the modernization of cellar technology and vineyard production, shaping the wine that we can enjoy today.
Denominations of Origin
Origin Denomination (Denominación de Origen, D.O.)
The wines must be elaborated in the D.O region with grapes from that specific geographic area. The wine characteristics must depend on the area characteristics, be prestigious market-wise and five years must have passed since the wine was recognized as a product from the region.
List of Origin Denominations as per 2017: Abona, Alella, Alicante, Almansa, Arabako Txakolina-Txakolí/Chacolí de Álava, Arlanza, Arribes, Bierzo, Binissalem-Mallorca, Bizkaiko Txakolina-, Txakolí/Chacolí de Bizkaia, Bullas, Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Catalunya, Cava, Cigales, Conca de Barberá, Condado de Huelva, Costers del Segre, El Hierro, Empordá, Getariako, Txakolina-Txakolí/Chacolí de Guetari, Gran Canaria, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, Jumilla, La Gomera, La Mancha, La Palma, Lanzarote, Las Islas Canarias, Málaga, Manchuela, Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Méntrida, Mondéjar, Monterrei, Montilla-Moriles, Montsant, Navarra, Penedés, Pla de Bages, Pla i Llevant, Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Ribera del Duero, Ribera del Guadiana, Ribera del Júcar, Rueda, Sierras de Málaga, Somontano, Tacoronte-Acentejo, Tarragona, Terra Alta, Tierra de León, Tierra del Vino de Zamora, Toro, Uclés, Utiel-Requena, Valdeorras, Valdepeñas, Valencia, Valle Güimar, Valle de la Orotava, Vinos de Madrid, Ycoden-Daute-Isora, Yecla
Qualified Origin Denomination (Denominación de Origen Calificada , D.O.C.a.)
The wines undergo a strict quality control from production to commercialization. All wine produced must be sold in bottles, and ten years must pass since they were recognized as D.O.
List of Qualified Origin Denominations: Priorat, Rioja
Other Categories: “Vino de calidad con indicación geográfica”, “Vino de Pago” and “Vino de Pago Calificado” (Denominaciones de Origen Protegidas) and “Vino de la Tierra” (Indicaciones Geográficas Protegidas)