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The Language Of Spain

Until the constitution of 1978, Spain was a country of 50 provinces. Now there are 17 autonomous regions (autonomias), each encompassing one or more of the original provinces. In terms of wine, Spain can be divided into several large areas which have a common gastronomic, climatic and cultural heritage that determined the kind of wine they made in the past although they may be producing different, more, and different wines today.

Galicia and the Basque country (Pais Vasco) include some of the most wine-producing areas in the country. The Atlantic Ocean influences the climate, the economy (based traditionally on the fishing industry) and the wines, which are mainly light, dry whites to partner the fish. Also in the north, Navarra, La Rioja - Spain's best-known wine region - and Aragon make up the wine lands of the Upper Ebro Valley. The three areas share a history of livestock farming and strong crossborder influences from France. Wines tend towards heavier reds that mature with grace, and robust whites to accompany river fish.

Catalonia, at the mouth of the Ebro, has a culture all its own. The fishing industry and Mediterranean climate have
traditionally led the region towards white wines. Catalonia was also the birthplace of the Spanish sparkling wine industry.

Castilla-Leon is a traditional wineproducing region in the Duero Valley. Its climate is continental, although tempered close to the river. This area was the hunting-ground for the Castilian nobility and boasted strong links with the Church and centres of learning. The region produces rich red wines, and full-bodied dry whites that complement river fish so well. The style is uncompromisingly Castilian, with much less French influence than is evident in the Upper Ebro Valley.

The best Spanish wines come from the above-mentioned regions. But there are large grape-growing areas in central and southern Spain. The vast plains of Castilla-La Mancha and the Vinos de Madrid are found on the Meseta. Historically, this was an isolated area - as important an influence on its winemaking as the strongly continental climate and sheep-farming culture. The area has traditionally produced fairly heavy wines, both red and white. After Madrid became the national capital in 1561, the wines of the region came into their own.

Levante is made up of the autonomias of Valencia and Murcia, two provinces with a very strong export mentality: the ancient port of Valencia is Spain's leading wine-trading centre. A tradition of fishing and a Mediterranean climate bred Valencia's traditional whites, but the region discovered very early a talent for making wine any way the customer wanted it.

Andalucia in the south of Spain is a single, very large autonomia, and is principally fortified-wine country. All wines have been, until recently, in the sherry mould. Today, wineproducing areas are experimenting with light, fresh table wines.

Finally, Spain's islands produce small amounts of wine. The Balearic Islands' geology is similar to that of Catalonia, and the wine industry developed as part of that region's maritime culture. Light and fruity reds and crisp, dry whites in the joven (young) style are made mainly for the holiday market. The Canary Islands are totally different: the bedrock is volcanic and the soils completely black in places. Wines are mainly red, again in a light, fresh joven style, for the tourist resorts.

Wine regions of the world.

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