Spain is an ancient wine-producing country that vies with France and Italy as the number-one wine producer in the world. Spain’s wine heritage is at least three thousand years old; vineyards in today’s Sherry region were planted by the Phoenicians around 1,100 BC. Wines from vines grown along the sunny Mediterranean coast and the cooler Atlantic coast were traded and consumed by the Romans.
But the arrival of the teetotaler Islamic Moors in 711 AD put an end to Spanish wine commerce until the Moors’ final defeat in 1492. With the Iberian Peninsula freed from Islamic rule, wine returned with a vengeance.
But with the limited exception of Sherry, only Rioja enjoyed much international awareness until the late twentieth century. Wealthy producers such as the Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Murrieta and Vega Sicilia had the wherewithal to produce wines that brought international attention, but Spain mostly operated under the radar, ruled as it was by a military dictatorship until the mid – 1970s.
Until the end of the Franco regime, winemaking was sometimes typical of a pre-modern age. Grapes might be picked unripe, and red and white grapes could be thrown together into the fermenting pit. Barrels, stainless steel and even sterile wineries were innovations only sparingly used. Leading minds like Miguel Torres pushed the industry forward, but to turn the ship in another direction altogether required time and the efforts of many.
But since the reemergence of democracy, Spain has grabbed a larger and larger share of the international spotlight. Competing on the world stage has necessitated embracing the most sophisticated techniques both in the vineyards and the wineries, but certain iconoclasts haven’t abandoned the old ways altogether. Indeed, some still produce traditional; both modernists and traditionalists are making great wines.
The State of Spain
The stirring gaudiness of Gaudí’s architecture, the African-influenced art of Picasso, the lush staccato of the flamenco musicians and dancers, the roar and drama of a bullfight, the friendly buzz of the tapas bar: these are the popular images of Spain. They may well be clichés, but that makes them no less true. All these pulse with a rhythm that is uniquely Spanish.
There is a modern Spain that is still being discovered. In it, the architects Santiago Calatrava and Ricardo Bofill have reinvented the look of bridges and buildings; in the cinema, Pedro Almodóvar has morphed from wild transgressor to gentle emotionalist; in art galleries, Spain’s artists are forging new works and new media; and most importantly, Spanish cuisine now leads the culinary world, bringing not just new dishes to the table but entirely new ways of cooking and thinking about food.
Spanish wine has kept pace by generating an explosion of new wines, wineries, brands, and regions – these developments are unprecedented in vinous history. While wine has underpinned commerce and nutrition in Spain for thousands of years, what we are seeing today is something that no other country has ever experienced: a compressed revolution in which pedestrian, paint-by-numbers wine is developed into great art. It’s as if the last century of wine development in the most successful wine-producing countries has been achieved in only a few short years.
All of Spain is waiting for your discovery, one delicious glass at a time.