Viticulture in Spain goes back a long time: it was probably brought there by the Phoenicians as early as 3000 BC. Under their rule viticulture blossomed and later on of course the Romans further enhanced it. The fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent invasions by barbarian hordes however stopped the growth of viticulture. When the Moors ruled Spain (from the 8th century) viticulture blossomed once again, for while production and consumption of alcoholic beverages was prohibited under their rule, they were in need of table grapes and unfermented must.

But true growth came after the Reconquista (the reconquering of the land that lasted many centuries and was actually only completed in 1492) by the Catholic Kings. Important innovations came in the 19th century, when almost the whole European vineyard was wiped out by Phyloxera. This disaster came to Spain when a proper solution had already been found (grafting to American rootstock, which is resistant). French wine growers had traveled to Spain when their own vineyards had been overcome, and they had brought modern visions with them, together with their grape varieties. The plantation of Merlot and Cabernet in Spain can be traced back to those days, as well as the use of barriques.

Around 1960 Spanish viticulture got new élan and today it is one of the nicest "Old World" wine countries, with largely its own grape varieties, the shunning of old traditions and the embracing of modern techniques, and the huge steps in quality that come with that. It seems as if every year two or three regions are rediscovered. Rueda for instance is a strong newcomer and a clear example of how modern technique in the cellar has a direct influence on the quality of the wine produced: crisp, dry, fresh and very fruity white wine that was nigh unthinkable some 25 years ago.

Spain is the world's biggest wine country in terms of vineyards: 1,2 million hectares of them. Still, Spain is not the biggest wine producer of the world, because of the warm climate. Vines are planted not as dense and therefore production is lower (yet still an admirable 46 million hectolitre or 17% of World production).

Typical for Spain is the Tempranillo grape variety, that is planted under an amazing number of names in practically every region, and produces a powerful red wine almost anywhere. Red wines can be made from Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre) or Cariñena (Carignan), as well as from international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir, plus a handful of local varieties. White wine is made from Viura (that grows under a number of names, just like Tempranillo), Verdejo, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Garnacha Blanca, plus a number of lesser known grape varieties that slowly disappear. In the north-west province of Galicia you can find Godello, Treixadura and Albariño, that grow almost nowhere else (although across the border, in Portugal, you can find Trajadura and Alvarinho). These varieties are now proving to be sought-after, and have written yet a new chapter for viticulture in Spain.



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