On the shelves of our local grocery store here in Torrevieja there is one of the widest selections of wines we have seen thus far in our travels. The prices are amazingly low. You can get a bottle of wine for less than a $1. All of these wine bottles made me wonder more about Spain’s wine industry.
Spain has 2.9 million acres of land planted with grapes to produce wine. Spain is the most widely planted wine producing nation but it is the third largest producer of wine in Europe, behind France and Italy. This is due to the very low yields and wide spacing of the old vines planted on the dry, infertile soil. The drought currently affecting Spain is also hampering wine production and articles appear almost daily about Spanish wine producers seeing record low yields. It will not be the first time in Spain’s history that drought or climate change has had an affect on wine production.
Spain reportedly has over 400 varieties of grapes but only 20 varieties of grapes are used for wine production. In a country that has been producing wine since 4000 – 3000 BC the abundance of native varieties of grapes fostered an early start to viticulture. Spanish wine under Roman times was widely exported and traded. When the Moors conquered Spain in the 8th Century the Moorish rulers held an ambiguous stance on winemaking and even though it was not an accepted Muslim practice many caliphs owned vineyards and drank wine. In 1492 grape vines and wine were exported to the new Spanish Colony in the New World. In the 19th Century a phylloxera epidemic hit European vineyards causing a shortage of wine. The epidemic hit Spain last but the remedy of grafting American rootstock to the European vines had already been discovered and saved the wine industry. During the Spanish Civil War and World War I and II wine production ground to a halt and many vineyards were neglected and wineries destroyed throughout Spain. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the Spanish wine industry recovered. Several large wineries were founded during this period and an international market was created for bulk wines.
The full bodied and high alcohol in most Spanish wines make them favored blending partners for the “weaker” wines of other countries. Many Spanish vineyards will be planted on higher elevations, with many vineyards located over 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level. These high altitudes allow the grapes to maintain acidity levels and coloring. Regions with lower altitude vineyards are suitable for producing grapes of high alcohol levels and low acidity.
As of 2009, there were 79 quality wine areas across Spain. For the vintage year to appear on the label, a minimum of 85% of the grapes must be from that year’s harvest. There are three accepted aging designations on Spanish wine labels. They are: Crianza – red wines aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Crianza whites and rosés must be aged for at least 1 year with at least 6 months in oak. Reserva – red wines aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak. Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. and Gran Reserva – wines in above average vintages with the red wines requiring at least 5 years aging, 18 months of which in oak and a minimum of 36 months in the bottle. Gran Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 4 years with at least 6 months in oak.
By the way, the favored oak used in fermentation is American oak which tends to bring with it a rich and nutty flavor. Cava, the most famous sparkling wine in the world after Champagne, makes its home near Barcelona. Spanish wine makers must be doing something right because in 2013 the number one wine on the Wine Spectator Top 100 was a red Spanish wine from Rioja. It was the first time in the history of the Top 100 that a wine from Spain has been the top wine of the year. In wine circles this is like an Academy Award. Wine production is so important to the economy of Spain that in the Valencia region vintners have been awarded a 56.6 million euro grant to launch advertising campaigns abroad for 2015-2016. The money can also be used to extend vineyards, buy new machinery, and equipment. They will be targeting sales to the US, China and Mexico. So far 130 projects have been earmarked to be funded. Spanish wine exports increased 39% last year alone with the EU receiving 71% of the exports.
There are many wine tours offered here in Spain. One of the fun experiences that a life of travel affords us comes when we are standing in a liquor store browsing the wine offerings. Mike and I will count the many countries we have traveled too and remember fondly the wines that we sampled while in those countries. While we won’t be able to find any Spanish wines for $1 on the shelves in the United States we know what the quality of the wines will be, so when we get homesick for any of these countries we open a bottle of wine and it helps us to feel less homesick.
*Two Buck Chuck is the nickname given to the In-House wine Charles Shaw sold through Trader Joe’s in the United States. Trader Joe’s is the budget friendly half of the Aldi food empire based in Germany. Trader Joe’s has an extensive selection of wines on offer from countries around the world.