Spain has long been recognized for its fortified wines, particularly sherry, or Jerez as it's known locally, but in recent years both production and quality of its table wines has improved remarkably. The third largest producer of wine in the world after France and Italy, Spain is now making inroads on to the international market for table wine due to improved marketing and better quality production of its reds and whites. However, it's the fortified wine sherry which is produced in the region around Jerez de la Frontera, which has been the country's main export for hundreds of years, with most of the sales being to the United Kingdom.
Wine-making in Spain dates back to the Roman Empire and was also influenced by an early Greek settlement. There are four red grape varieties with the most famous and noble being the Tempranillo, followed by Garnacha (also called Grenache), Graciano and Mazuelo. Crianza wines have been aged for two years, Reservas for three years and Gran Reservas (also known as Reservas Especial) are aged for at least five years. The harvest is influenced by the warm, hot, dry climate, which means the yield for Spanish grapes is usually quite low. Harvest takes place from August-October.
There are many wine regions in Spain with the first being Rioja, which extends for about 120km along both sides of the Ebro River and is bounded by mountains on either side. Navarra has transformed itself from producing generally oxidized roses to full-bodied reds in a very short time. Garnacha, once the workhorse rose grape has been replaced by the Tempranilo grape to produce a better table wine. Catalona's premiere wine region of Penedes, located less than an hour south of Barcelona, produces a range of still wines ranging from delicate whites to heavy reds, as well as the flagship Cava.
Some of the more remote, or smaller regions include Priorat, Rias Baixas, and Ribera-del-Duero. The wine region of Somontano is located on a high plateau in the ski region of Huesca, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains. The name Somontano literally means Under the Mountain But it is the region of Toro, a relatively little known area located in Zamora province, that has Spanish wine writers excited. Many believe this is Spain's most promising wine region. Spanish wines fall into two main categories: DOCa Denominacin de Origen Calificada is the highest quality category for Spanish wine and the wines must be bottled in the region. Only Rioja and recently also the Priorat wine region received DOCa status.
DO Denominacin de Origen , the second category is much like the French AOC that includes the most renowned classical Spanish wines. The wines have to meet the specifications of the Consejo Regulador (Supervision of the individual wine regions), who then determines whether a wine-maker is entitled to use the DO label for his wine. Table wines are classified as VdlT Vino de la Tierra, which are wines from areas with no DO status as yet, but with an identifiable regional character, VC Vino Comarcal, is the label given to areas that do not have great claims on quality, while VdM Vino de Mesa is wine produced from grapes from unclassified areas or blended from different classified areas.
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