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Spain is a member of the Big Three when it comes to Old World wines, as it’s the third-largest wine producer after France and Italy.
Similar to its neighbors, winemaking in Spain dates back to the BC era under Roman influence.
The turning point for Spanish wine production occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries when the phylloxera epidemic devastated vineyards in France and other parts of Europe. A number of esteemed French winemakers began working in Spain, bringing their world-renowned techniques and wine regulations.
In 1932, Spain introduced the Denominación de Origen (DO) designation, which ensures quality controls for the wine produced in specific regions. Today, there are over 60 DO areas. There is one designation above DO: the DOC—Denominación de Origen Calificada. Currently, only two regions hold this classification: Rioja and Priorat.
One key characteristic that sets Spanish wine apart is that it’s ready to drink when you buy the bottle. Spanish producers age the wine before releasing bottles for distribution, and a bottle will actually tell you how long it has already been aged. You might see the terms Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva on the label.
Crianza wines have a minimum aging requirement of two years: one in oak barrels and one in the bottle. These are popular bottles for everyday enjoyment and pair well with almost any meal. Reserva bottles have been aged for three years: one in oak and two in the bottle. And finally, you have Gran Reserva wines, which have been aged five years: two in oak and three in the bottle. These are highly sought by collectors, which makes them a pricey, but exciting, find.
Catalunya, also known as Catalonia, is one of Spain’s most important wine regions. Located in the northeastern corner of the country, laying just southwest of Barcelona near the Mediterranean, Catalunya holds the DOC Priorat sub-region and is also the center of Cava production.
Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne and Prosecco. This popular sparkling wine is crisp and dry; you’ll probably recognize green apple flavors and citrus aromas. The D.O. Penedès sub-region, about 40 miles from Barcelona, has been the largest producer of Cava since the 1870s.
DOC Priorat is Catalunya’s other world-famous sub-region. The vineyards are built on steep hills, sometimes at elevations over 2,000 feet. The chalky, slate soil, combined with the region’s old vines, produce low quantities of grapes. But those grapes produce powerful red wines with dark fruit flavors and high levels of alcohol.
The Spanish capital, Madrid, is located in the dry, sunny center of the country. Outside the city, you’ll find the Vinos de Madrid DO region. While winemaking has been practiced in the area since the 13th century, the Madrid DO is only about 30 years old. The most popular red varieties grown here are Garnacha and Tempranillo, while popular white wines include Malvar, Airén, and Albillo. These extremely drinkable wines pair perfectly with tapas or any meal you find in Madrid’s culinary scene.
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