SPAIN - WINES AND
It is thought that
grapes were first planted in the Iberian Peninsular in the region of
Andalusia somewhere around 1.100 BC by the Phoenicians which they
brought with them from the east. It is imagined that the vines
suffered greatly after the Roman period of occupation when the
Peninsular was invade by the Vandals. However, when the Moors in 711
AD took their possession of the Peninsular they appreciated the
value of the grape as a fruit and restored the vineyards. The
subsequent Christian Kings who replaced the Moors in the 14th
Century were wine drinkers and quickly expanded the vineyards to
include sufficient production for export wine. In the early part of
this century Spanish wines were attainable in London and some other
capitals of Europe.
In the beginning of the 19th Century Spain had been less affected by
the phylloxera disease that had France and other countries so
they were still maintaining a successful export trade. However, in the
1930’s their trade suffered a severe setback when France introduced
laws to limit imports other from their own colony, Algeria. This was
followed by their own Spanish Civil War in 1936 which caused the
vineyards to be neglected to the extent that whole areas of vines
were affected by the disease phylloxera and had to be destroyed.
The Second World War did nothing to help the situation and in the middle
1940’s droughts and outbreaks of mildew created further detrimental
problems. In was only in 1952 that Spanish production recovered to
previous levels and has since expanded as an important revenue for
During the last century the fame of their fortified wine know
throughout the world as Sherry has done much to promote
trade. It is a fashionable drink whilst Port and Madeira from the
neighbouring country of Portugal enjoy a much lower popularity. Even
in Shakespeare’s time Sherry was a popular tipple among the
In the past, the quality of their red and white wines could never
compete with the superior taste of those from France and Germany.
Today, the qualities of both have been much improved and the Rioja
and the Valdepeñas are accepted as being the fine quality wines.
Generally speaking other regions are producing some very good
drinking wine and of sufficient quality to compliment a good meal.
DOC Regions of Spain
Alella - Catalunya
Alicante - Valencia
Almansa - Castilla-León
Ampurdán - Costa Brava
Campo de Borja - Aragón
Cariñena - Aragón
Cava - Catalunya
Conca de Barberá - Catalunya
Huelva - Andulucia
Ilas de Canaries - Canary Islands
Jerez - Andulucia
Jumilla Monastrell - Mucia
La Mancha - Northern Andulucia
Majorca - Majorca
Méntrida - Castilla-La Mancha
Navarra - Northern Spain
Noblejas - Toledo
Penedés - Catalunya
Priorato - Catalunya
Rías Baixas - Galicia
Ribeiro - Galicia
Ribera del Duero - Castilla-León
Rioja - Northern Spain
Rueda - Castilla-León
Somontana - Aragón
Tarragona - Catalonya
Terra Alta - Catalunya
Toro - Castille-León
Utiel Requena - Valencia
Valedeorras - Galicia
Valdepeñas - Castilla-La Mancha
Valencia - Valencia
Yecia - Murcia
The red wines form this region was well known many centuries ago as
Tent. The red wine tends to be deep in colour, high alcohol
content with a strong body. Some rosés are also produced.
Although this area is always basically associated with the town of
Jerez and “Sherry” the region also produces some good red and white
wines. A producer to look for is Don Miguel.
The idea of Sherry was initiated in the Middle Ages when the Arabs
introduced the invention of a pot type still known as an alembic. By
adding their hepsema and using this pot the first initial
production of Sherry came into being. There are six accepted types
of Sherry which are here described.
Manzanilla Fino - The most classical form of this drink made
in the region of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Manzanilla Fina - Relatively modern version of the one above
but the casks are allowed more “ullage”.
Manzanilla Pasada - The Sherry has been allowed to age which
increases its alcoholic content.
Fino - A Sherry which has developed more body with a smooth
almond flavour and very dry.
Amontillado - Aged by at least eight years the Sherry
acquires an amber colour a nutty flavour.
Oloroso - This is a Sherry that has been aged to perfection
and is genuinely dry, and rich.
The producers to look for are A.R. Valdespino, Allied-Lyons,
Barbadillo, Hijos de Agustín Bláquez, Bodegas Internacionales, Cayd,
Croft, Cuvillo, Delgado Zuleta, Díez-Mérito, Don Zoilo, Duff Gordon,
Garvey, González Byass, Harvey, Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín “La
Guita”, John William Burdon, La Gitana, La Riva, Luís Caballero,
Lustau, M. Antonio de la Riva, Mérito, Osborne, Monte Verde,
Palomino & Vergara, Pedro Domecq, Real Tesoro, Sandeman, Terry,
Savory & James, Valdespino, Williams & Humbert and Wisdom
The large area of the Aragón generally does not lend itself to
quality wine production. A well know district is Cariñena
located south of Saragossa where most of the red and white
wines produced are sweet and more suitable as an accompaniment to
dessert. Another two districts to be noted are Campo de Borja
and Somontano. The first of these two districts takes its
name from the famous “Borgia” Italian family who used to own the
area in the late 15th Century. The reds tend to be full, robust and
alcoholic and the rosés need to be drunk immediately. The later
district of Somontano produces a light medium bodied red, a
pale dry and fruity white, while the rosés are fresh, dry and
Both the labels Canary Sack and Palma Sack became very
popular as far back as in the Elizabethan age. Due to the 18th
Century plague of oidine the most vines were destroyed and
the labels lost their market to brands originating from other lands.
The production has recovered to a certain extent and it is now mostly
drunk within the Islands.
This is an expansive area which produces heavy and fiery wines. The
principal producing town of the region is Valdepeñas whose
local wine typifies this relatively cheap easy to be drunk wine due
to its low acidity. Another district is Méntrida whose wine
is of the same nature. The area is also producing some good rosés.
Producers to look for are Bodegas Félix Solis, Dom Miguel,
Iberia, Victori, Vinícola de Castilla and Zarpardiel.
Located on the upper banks of the River Douro are vineyards
producing Spain’s most famous and most expensive wine – Vega
Sicilia Unico Reserva. It is kept in its wood for 20 years
before being bottled. The wine has a true dense colour with a full
body packed with rich oaky-sweet fruity flavours. A lesser known
district is the Ruedo which is small and further down the
same river and producing a fine, creamy and crisp white wine. The
district of Toro produces a red that is full bodied with a
fruity-oak flavour, a white that is dry, fruity and well-balanced,
and a rosé that is smooth, dry and fruity.
This region can not be mentioned without introducing a father figure
with the name of Sr. Miguel Torres Jr. His introduction of modern
wine-making principles has had far reaching effect on the production
from this area and to the whole of Spain. The vineyards to the north
of Barcelona produce the Alella district wines of which the
white wine tends to be the most popular. When the term “Cava” is
encountered it is important to note that it is a DOC appellation
applied to a method of production and not to a fixed geographical
origin and these white wines have a distinct toasty flavour. Some of
Spain’s best sparkling wines come from this area and a label to look
for is Mestre Mas Via. The vineyards that stretch south from
Barcelona are best known as Tarragona. In this area there is
produced a Catalan fortified red that is somewhat similar to the
Portuguese “Port”. The normal red and whites can vary in flavour and
are commonly slightly sweet to the taste. The Priorato
district wine is produced in red and white and the latter is best
drunk in its dry variety. The Sitges and Penedés
district wines reflect the vibrant personality of its Barcelona
producers and they are usually served in the city’s restaurants to
accompany courses of fish and shellfish. The producers to look for
are Bach, Castellblanch, Celler Josep María Torres I Blanco,
Codorníu, Freixenet, Jean León, José Garcia, Marqués de Monistrol,
Mas Rabassa, Masía Bach, Mestres, Miguel Torres, Mont Marcal,
Raimat, René Barbier, Seguras Viudas and Torres.
Due to the regions proximity to the Bay of Biscay and the prevailing
winds the wine of this region can be likened to those of the “vinho
verdes” of northern Portugal. The red wines are well coloured and
have a crisp flavour and high acidity. The whites are fresh and
fruity and dry. The rosés are pale, light-bodied and fruity.
The wine producing area stretches from the town of Huelva to the
ancient city of Seville. This semi-flat expanse of land produces
heavy wines which are very drinkable if not looking for a fine wine.
It is probably here that the famous aperitif wine Manzanilla
originated before being purloined by the Jerez district. Two
labels to be tried are Condado de Niebla and Palma del
The Island of Majorca has a healthy production of a very dark and
heavy red wine. The Island also produces a dessert wine of the
Yecla is probably the best producing wine district in this area.
Their reds tend to be ink-black or cherry coloured with body. The
white wine is fresh and fruity whilst the rosés are dry with a
suggestion of a cherry flavour.
This area lies between the Rioja area and the north coast of
Spain. There are five districts and the first Baja Montana is
noted for producing a good rosé wine which is fresh and fruity. The
second Ribera Alta produces soft and fruity reds and dry and
fresh whites. The third Ribera Baja produces robust reds and
some sweet Moscatels. The fourth Tierra Estella makes
fruity reds and rosés along with crisp whites. Valdizarbe is
the last of the five and is the smallest area producing excellent
reds and rosés. The producers to look for are Agronavarra Cenal,
Bidegas Simón Cayo, Bodegas Julián Chivite, Bodegas Irache, Bodegas
Ochoa, Bodegas Villafranca de Navarra, Señorio de Sarría, Vinícola
Navarra, Cooperativa Cirbonera and Sociedad Cooperativa Nuestra
Señora del Romero.
Without question this area in the north of Spain enjoys the best
reputation amongst the Spanish red wines which tend to be oaky in
flavor. Its production varies from light young whites to heavy
fruity reds and the best wines are produced in three districts, the
Alta, Alavesa and Baja districts of which the first
two are the most outstanding. The producers that enjoy the greatest
reputation are AGE, Bodegas Alaves, Bodegas Berberana, Bodega
Bilbaínasa, Bodegas El Coto, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Bodegas Lan,
Bodegas Martínez, Bodegas Muerza, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Olarra,
Bodegas Rioja Santiago, Bodegas Riojanas, Campo Viejo, Carlos
Serres, Contino, CVNE, Federico Paternina, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de
Cáceres, Marqués de Murrieta, Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de
Villamagna, Pedro Domecq, R. López de Heredia, Ramón Bilbao,
Remélluri and Viña Tondonia.
To the south-west of Santander there is a district known as
Valdeorras which produces a white and red wine.
To the north of this town is a district known as Zamora which
produces the Toro and Rueda wines. The reds tend to be
dark, high in alcohol, and strong in flavour. The whites compliment
the reds in an equal burst of flavour. The famous oenologist Dr.
Maynard Amerine some time ago encounter a wine bottled with the name
of Vega Sicilia that he claimed was rare and outstanding
except for its high acidity. Today it is probably the most expensive
wine in Spain!
Due to the nature of the soil the district of Noblejas
produces a wine very similar in taste and bouquet to the Côtes du
Rhône in France. Two of the white wines worth attention are the
Yepes and Ocaña.
The region was in the past famous for its robust red Benicarlos
from the area of Castellón. It has now become unimportant as
a major player having been outstripped by the popular Rioja
wines. The Valencia red wines will be found to be sweet and often
perfumed. The Utiel-Requena district located in the extreme
west of the Province produces fine and fruity flavored reds, and
soft whites and rosés with fresh character. Producers to look for
are Juan Hernández.
SPAIN – SPIRITS
Brandy distilling was learnt by the
Spanish from their Arab conquerors. A report on how to distill to
make the product has been recorded by Arnaldo de Vilanova
(1240-1311). Principally it was used only for medicinal purposes and
somewhere in history it became commercially produced for general
consumption. Evidence shows that a Jesuits College was founded in
Jerez in 1580 and had a distillery attached. Today, pure grape
Brandy is generally made in Jerez, La Mancha, Catalunya and
A pure white spirit is made by the name of Aguardiente that is
not made from grain but rectified from the residues of wine, or
obtained from beet and cane sugar. A popular drink is Absinthe
which is a sister to those made in France. The true product is made
from a base of the wormwood plant. Anis is another drink that
is a substitute for the true Absinthe and is made from the
seeds of the Star Anis plant. The main area for the production of
this latter drink is La Mancha as it ideal location for the
growth of this herb.