The origins of the history of wine-growing in Spain date back to the 8th century with the Greeks, but it was the Romans who first commercialised Spanish wine, exporting it to France, Normandy and England. At present, Spain is one of the most interesting wine-producing countries in Europe, not only because it ranks third in the world in terms of quantity, but above all because of the high quality standards it offers, holding the world record for the lowest yields per hectare.
Spanish wine is managed by the 'bodegas', which buy the grapes from external winemakers and take care of all the wine-making and marketing processes; in fact, few winemakers produce their own bottles from their own vineyards.
As in France and Italy, the wine system in Spain is also defined by a production regulation, which is divided into 6 categories: at the base there are the Vino de Finca, Vino de la Tierra and Vino de Calidad de Indicación Geográfica (I.G.). Then there are the D.O., or Denominación de Origen, and the D.O.Ca., or Denominación de Origen Calificada, of which there are only two: Rioja and Priorat.
Another type of classification is based on the ageing that the wine has undergone, a parameter that is indicated on the label using the following terminology: "Joven" for wines aged less than one year, "Crianza" for reds aged more than two years (of which at least one in barrel) and a minimum of six months for whites, "Reserva" and "Grand Reserva" for reds aged at least three and five years (of which at least one in barrel) and two and four years (of which six months in barrel) for whites. "Doble Pasta" for reds that macerate on twice as much skin as a normal wine.
About 600 different grape varieties are cultivated in Spain, but most of them are international. As far as indigenous grape varieties are concerned, the most widespread red grape variety is garnacha tinta, but tempranillo is the noblest variety from which the most important Spanish red wines are made. Among the white grape varieties, the most important are albariño and verdejo.
There are mainly 6 wine-growing areas in Spain:
Rioja is by far the most important area, located in the north of the country, famous for its tempranillo-based reds: rich, complex and structured wines that age in wood for a long time, with typical tertiary and earthy scents.
The Priorat is the second most important region of Spain, the only one together with Rioja to hold the D.O.Ca., famous for its red wines based on Cariñena and Garnacha grapes, which give life to structured wines rich in alcohol and tannin.
Ribera del Duero is also recognised for its red wines made from the Tinto Fino grape, a genetic mutation of the Tempranillo.
Rìas Baiaxas is the northernmost area of the country, famous for its white wines made from Albariño grapes, Spain's most important white grape variety, characterised by its great aromaticity and fresh, savoury taste. The white wines of this area are fermented and aged in steel, and are ideal for drinking at a young age.
Penedès is a wine area in Catalonia, near Barcelona, famous for its classic method sparkling wines called Cava, made from Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, to which a variable percentage of Chardonnay is added.
Finally, Jerez in Andalusia is the birthplace of one of the world's most famous fortified wines: Sherry, made using the Soleras method.