Introduction to Spanish Wines

Spanish Wines have a long and storied history. The first grapes that were cultivated for wine can be dated back to the Tertiary Period between 4000 and 3000 BCE. From then to today, the process that Spain uses for making wine has had many transitions and influences. They have been influenced by the Carthaginians, who were excellent wine makers, the Roman Republic, various barbaric tribes and more.

One area that Spanish wines are considered unique is the way that the wine is created. The Spanish philosophy of making wine is very different from other countries. Instead of producing wine, they feel that their job is to simply nurture the process. For decades, Spanish wine makers were stuck in traditional methods of wine production. They used almost exclusively oak barrels, even with white wines, and aging the wine for up to 20 years. This created flavors that are distinct to this particular process and region, however have not been held in high regard on the national stage. A large part of the problem was that the grapes were crushed and fermented in earthenware jars and then transferred to either oak barrels or pigskins lined with resin.

In many of the warmer areas of Spain, where red wines rule, the wines were too high in alcohol and much too low in acidity. To solve this problem, it was common practice to add some white wine grapes to the wine. While this added the acidity that was needed, it also diluted the fruity flavors of the red grapes. Fortunately, with modern advances many of these problems have been rectified; the most important being the creation of temperature control stainless steel fermentation tanks.

Spain still uses the most amount of land of any country to produce wine. Unfortunately, the yields are always very low because of the dry and infertile soil that is found in almost every region of Spain. 80% of the entire country’s wine production comes from only 20 grape varieties, however over 600 varieties are planted throughout the country.

The most common grape is a white grape known as Airen. It is utilized primarily because it has a very hardy stalk and has a high resistance to dropping off the vine. It is the base for Spanish brandy. Most wines that are produced from this grape are highly alcoholic but are very vulnerable to oxidation. The second most popular grape is a red grape known as Tempranillo. It is called by several different names in Spain depending on the region and wine maker.  The Garnacha is another red grape that is produced at levels rivaling the Tempranillo. Both of these red grapes are known for creating full-bodied wines that are very fruity and often herbaceous.


Sherry is a very popular fortified wine that is produced primarily in Southern Spain. In the 1990’s, the European Union limited the use of the name “Sherry” to only wines produced in this area. It is made primarily from the Palomino grape which dominates the region however the Moscatel can be used as well. There are 7 different varieties of Sherry that are considered to be common.

1. Fino

A sherry that is very light and delicate, while characterized by Flor (a native yeast). It is often 15 to 18% alcohol

2. Manzanilla

This sherry usually has a salty taste due to the surrounding sea air, however is similar to Fino in every other regard.

3. Oloroso

This sherry is more fortified as well as being darker in color and containing more residual sugar. It normally has between 17 and 22% alcohol.

4. Amontillado

This sherry is also similar to Fino, however it uses much less Flor and has a deeper color and is also dryer. It will contain between 16 and 22% alcohol.

5. Cream Sherry

A cream sherry is extremely rich and is often best used as a dessert wine. It has between 15 and 22% alcohol.

6. Palo Cortado

This type of sherry is very rare. It is actually a Oloroso wine that has aged differently. It is a natural process that has not yet been replicated by wine makers.

7. Pedro Ximenez

This sherry is very rich and quickly became popular as a dessert wine. It is actually made from Pedro Ximenez grapes that have been turned into raisins. It often has around 18% alcohol

The signature sparkling wine in Spain is Cava. It uses the traditional method that the French use to create champagne. Almost 95% of all Cava is produced from Catalonia at the village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.

Spain has a variety of wines to choose from. However, they are most well known, internationally, for their sherry and cava. There other wines have a large amount of variance based on what methods and materials are being used to crush, ferment, and store the wine.

Photo Credits

Photo by 야후! 줄리아

Photo by by roar/shock

Photo by Nicole Lerner

Sonya Lee

Since a child, Sonya has been traveling from the corners of Canada to the far east Asia. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she led a normal family life with her brother, mother and dad. A well received job opportunity in Hong Kong for her father put the compass in action from a young age. Sonya loves good food, and I mean GOOD simple food. She loves an occasional drink, be merry and enjoy the good times. Having recently healed herself from a large ruptured cyst, her favorite foods include fresh carrot juice, grilled vegetables, sauteed portabello mushrooms and truffle french fries. Her philosophy? Healthy food makes a healthy body. Read more on the Editor page. When she's not fretting over WAFT, she runs a small design agency called mowie media and shares the good times with her dog, Monster and 3 cats Sabi, Kaeli & Misty.

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