Spanish Wine

Category: Locations

Wine has been produced in Spain for over 3,000 years. There are still a few vineyards in Catalonia and Aragon that were planted by the Romans.

The most famous Spanish wine comes from Jerez. The British at one time could not pronounce this properly and called it “sherry.”

Jerez is in the south of Spain and it is very dry. This makes it difficult to grow grapes, and the heat makes it difficult to keep the wine. To stop the wine from going bad, a kind of brandy is added to it. This prevents it from fermenting too much, and makes it stronger, which is why sherry is called a “fortified” wine.

Sherry is mostly drunk as an aperitif (aperitivo), in small glasses, before a meal. There are three basic types of sherry –Fino, which is light and dry, Amontillado, which is darker and less dry, and Oloroso, which is dark and sometimes slightly sweet.

Cream and brown sherries are made from a mixture of sherry and sweet wines. Other wines from the south are Manzanilla and Montilla.

Wines that are not fortified and not as strong as sherry are produced in almost every part of Spain.

La Rioja, an area in the north through which the Ebro River flows, is a distric with two distinct climates. In the Rioja Alta, the highlands where the vines get more rain and less sun, the wines are light and delicate. The Rioja Baja (Lower Rioja) around Ebro River produces stronger, more fruity wines because the hot summer sun makes the grapes produce more sugar.

Most areas produce red wines and white wines, some produce rosé wines, which are pink. One area, Galicia, produces “green wines,” vinos verdes. These are not in fact green but yellow and are normally made from a mixture of red and white wine. Sparkling wines, such as champagne, are produced as well.

Planting vines, taking care of the grapes and picking them is hard work. Crushing the grapes in now done by machines instead of people´s feet, and modern methods make it easier to control the process by which the grapes are fermented to produce wine. Grapes have their own sugar, in the juice on the inside, and their own yeast, on the outside. When the grapes are broken by the crushing, the sugar and yeast combine and, at the right temperature, start to ferment. This is a frothy chemical reaction that produces alcohol.

The best of this alcohol is piped away to become good wine. The second best becomes the second best wine. The rest, if it is good enough, may be distilled to make brandy, otherwise it becomes industrial alcohol. Hardly anything is wasted.

In Spain, wine is stored in bodegas, which are wine vaults. They are close to the vineyards where the wine is made and are dark and cool. They have been designed over many centuries to keep the wine at an even temperature. Temperature is very important keeping wine because, if it heats up too much, it starts to ferment again and is ruined.

In the bodegas, the wine is matured in wooden casks or in bottles. Some bodegas are enormous and sell or export millions of gallons of wine. Others, in the small villages, belong to one or two families who take great pride in their production of a few hundred bottles from one tiny vineyard.