Spain and Wine
Spain is an ancient wine-producing country and produces nearly as much wine as the number-one and number-two wine producers in the world: Italy and France. Spanish wine History is at least 3,000 years old; vineyards in today’s Sherry region were planted by the Phoenicians around 1100 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 tee-totaling Islamic Moors in 711 AD put an end to legal Spanish wine commerce until the Moors’ defeat in 1492. With the Iberian Peninsula freed from Islamic rule, wine returned as part of daily life, no less important than the daily bread.
Only in the modern era of commerce has food and drink become something more than local. Though wines as far–flung as Tokaji, Constantia, and Commandaria once commanded the world's attention, by the mid nineteenth century the French owned the spotlight. Sherry, Falstaff's beloved drink, remained a stock character on the stage, but the rest of Spain's vinous players stayed largely in the wings. It was only the sudden arrival of the destructive phylloxera pest among the vineyards of Bordeaux, France's principal lead, that allowed Rioja its brief turn on that stage.
Wealthy producers such as the Marqués de Riscal and Marqués de Murrieta had the wherewithal to produce Rioja wines that garnered attention, even if primarily limited to Spain. Once phylloxera was quashed, Bordeaux returned to health and prominence, and like all good understudies, Rioja returned to the chorus. Bordeaux, however, had left behind a style of winemaking that still influences Spanish wine today. We will see below just how long aging in barrel was learned from nineteenth century Bordeaux winemakers and how their ideas linger.