What is the Wine Capital of Spain?
Spain, historically known as one of the forefathers in the art of winemaking, has been producing wine for over 3,000 years, which is six times longer than the United States. As one can imagine, traditional methods of winemaking have been passed down from generation to generation to preserve the art and history of “Old World” winemaking practices.
While we hear about France and Italy when it comes to winemaking, most don’t know about the historical significance Spain holds when it comes to Grenache. Here’s everything you need to know about the history of wine in Spain, the types of wine originating from Spain, and its coveted wine capital, Rioja.
The History of Wine in Spain
Although Spain as a whole didn’t see the fame their northern counterpart, France, saw until around 50 years ago, one region made an early and historical rise to the spotlight. Rioja, a direct neighbor to both the Navarra wine region and the southern border of France, is the undisputed wine capital of Spain.
Rioja, best known for its use of oak barrels and its production of Grenache and Tempranillo, was the very first wine region to be awarded DO status (denominación de origen, a prestigious quality classification), and later was the first region to receive the top-level DOCa status (the highest classification). The status of a region, similar to the United State’s use of AVAs, is used to classify and give labeling status to help consumers understand where their wine is coming from.
Rioja has had an unwavering history when it comes to winemaking, with a large boost during the mildew and phylloxera invasions of Bordeaux. During this time, in the late 19th century, many winemakers and merchants traveled south and ended up in Rioja, where they were able to buy supplies and introduce the use of French Oak barrels for wine fermentation and storage.
This forged relationship between Bordeaux and Rioja is the reason for Rioja’s use of oak barrels which has now distinguished the region and placed it at the top of the list for Spanish wine regions.
Types of Wine That Originated in Spain
Although there are over 400 varieties of wine grapes planted throughout Spain, only 20 varieties make up 88 percent of the country’s grape production. Among those 20 varieties, the two that have held onto the spotlight and are now planted in wine regions around the world are Grenache and Tempranillo.
Grenache is a late ripening fruit that needs a hot, dry region to grow properly, making it a unique varietal that can be planted in areas most varieties would not flourish. Grenache, which originated in Spain, and is now almost 500,000 acres worldwide, has a medium acid and tannin profile and typically has notes of black cherry, raspberry, and occasionally tobacco. Grenache is also commonly used as a high percentage blending wine used in Rioja for their Rioja blends.
Tempranillo is another varietal that originated in Spain, and although it has not been introduced to as many international wine regions as Grenache, it has become one of the staple wines of Spain, and has a heavy impact on Spanish winemaking practices. Compared to Grenache, Tempranillo has a higher tannin and lower acid profile with a dark fruit flavor profile, like cherries and plums.
A Final Note on Wine in Spain
Understanding the history of Spain and the country’s significance in “Old World” wine and the now worldwide culture of winemaking, one can see the importance to preserve the style and history that began centuries ago and founded the culture many have grown to love. Wine is continually spreading and reaching every corner of the planet, and it all began in regions like Rioja, Navarra, and Bordeaux.