An Overview of the Spanish Wine Industry

A man picking grapesBoth in quality and quantity, Spain is a world-class producer of wines. Currently there are close to three million Spanish acres sown with wine grapes, making it the most widely planted wine-producing nation. Worldwide, only France and Italy manage to bottle more wine than Spain. The discrepancy is due to Spanish vineyards’ tendency to have wider spacing of older, larger vines, along with drier, less fertile soil–and therefore far lower yields than the French or Italians are able to elicit. Roughly one-third of Spain’s wine is exported. Germany, the UK, the US, and France are the top importers of Spanish wines.

More than 400 different varieties of wine grapes are grown in Spain. Airén, Macabeo, Palomino and Pedro Ximénez or “PX” are the most popular white grapes. Tempranillo, Bobal from Valencia, Garnacha tinta (Grenache noir), and Monastrell are the most popular red ones. Most of Spain’s wine is red, but 60-65% of grapes harvested are white because of the large quantities of both brandy and sherry produced in the country. Vineyards exist in all 17 autonomous regions of Spain. Viticultural conditions vary greatly. Galicia in the northwest, for example, has a true oceanic climate, with about 100 days of rain annually, while Murcia in the southeast is extremely dry, with a semi-arid Mediterranean climate which translates to high temperatures and scant precipitation, particularly in the summertime.

Spain is well known for its most highly prized red wines from the regions of Rioja and Priorat, along with some fine tintos and blancos from Ribera del Duero, and crisp white Albariños from Rias Baixas in Galicia. Spain’s distinctive sherry or vino de Jerez has always been in high demand. Jerez is a wine fortified with brandy and produced only in the province of Cádiz in the Andalusian south. Likewise, premium red and white wines from the Penedès region near Barcelona–including many fine sparkling, Champagne-like wines called Cavas produced in Penedès and nearby areas in Catalonia–have become extremely popular domestically and internationally.

Photo of Rioja Harvestworker courtesy of Vibrant Rioja