Wine and styles
Grape varieties
Structure of the wine industry
Spanish Wine Laws
Quality levels
The status of Spanish wines
Reading a label
The Language Of Spain

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From bulk wine producer to quality wine exporter, Spain's wine industry has been transformed, and promises
exciting new developments in the future.

Spain is the second largest country in Europe, after France, and the fourth-largest wine producer in the world. It makes a wide range of wines including fortified sherry - dealt with in a separate chapter - and both distinguished and everyday red, white and sparkling wines. The very unusual geography of Spain is an important influence on its wines. The country consists of a central plateau (the Meseta) at an altitude of about 650m (2,150ft), surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges. The wine-producing areas range in altitude from under 200m (660ft) to over 800m (2,640ft): most of the best-quality wines are made from grapes grown towards the upper end of this range - for example, up to 500m (1,650ft) in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, and 700m-800m (2,310-2,640ft) in the Alt-Penedes and in the Ribera del Duero vineyards. Here the sun exposure is good but the ambient temperature, particularly at night, is lower. Most of Spain's top wines come from north of Madrid - from (east to west) Galicia, the Duero Valley, the Ebro Valley and Catalonia. The best sites are in mountain valleys with fairly lightweight topsoils overlying clay subsoils, but there is a good deal of alluvial soil close to the rivers Ebro and Duero. The climate also varies, from cooler, much wetter Atlantic influences in the west, through more continental conditions (hot summers and cold winters) in the north-central valleys, to Mediterranean along the Catalan coast. Three thousand years ago the wines most prized by the Phoenicians came from Xera in southern
Spain. Today that town is known as Jerez; its wine, now fortified, is called sherry. The Romans, arriving a thousand
years later, brought their own vinification method (treading grapes in a stone trough and allowing them to ferment naturally, now known as the metodo rural), which is still used in some country districts. Vine cultivation continued under Moorish rule, but grapes were eaten rather than made into wine. In 1492 Spain became a united country and as she prospered, wine became an increasingly important commodity. Rules governing winemaking already existed in regions such as Jerez and Rioja, but these were tightened up, and new rules issued for emerging areas like Toro and Rueda.

Then, in the 1860s, phylloxera devastated the French vineyards. Negociants flooded across the Pyrenees wine, and found to their delight wines of the right style and quality in northern Spain. Once again exports boomed, but, inevitably, phylloxera arrived in Spanish vineyards. By that time the solution to the problem - grafting European vines on to American roots had already been discovered. Some regional authorities helped growers replant and encouraged a new approach to vinegrowing and winemaking, and many of today's most respected bodegas have their origins in the late 1890s.

In the second half of the 20th century, Spain has made the transition from being mainly a shipper of anonymous, cheap bulk wines 30 years ago, to a leading producer of quality wines today. In the 1970s, Rioja, followed by estates like Vega Sicilia, and later wines from Valde-penas and Catalonia began to be exported. By the end of the 1980s Spain was producing 322 million cases a year. Now vineyards are being grubbed up, new and better grape varieties are replacing the old heavy-croppers, and what used to be obscure wine-producing areas are coming forward with new ideas to offer the wine-buying world.

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