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SPAIN - WINES AND OTHER DRINKS

It is thought that grapes were first planted in the Iberian Peninsular in the region of Andalusia somewhere around 1.100 BC by the Phoenicians which they brought with them from the east. It is imagined that the vines suffered greatly after the Roman period of occupation when the Peninsular was invade by the Vandals. However, when the Moors in 711 AD took their possession of the Peninsular they appreciated the value of the grape as a fruit and restored the vineyards. The subsequent Christian Kings who replaced the Moors in the 14th Century were wine drinkers and quickly expanded the vineyards to include sufficient production for export wine. In the early part of this century Spanish wines were attainable in London and some other capitals of Europe.

In the beginning of the 19th Century Spain had been less affected by the phylloxera disease that had France and other countries so they were still maintaining a successful export trade. However, in the 1930’s their trade suffered a severe setback when France introduced laws to limit imports other from their own colony, Algeria. This was followed by their own Spanish Civil War in 1936 which caused the vineyards to be neglected to the extent that whole areas of vines were affected by the disease phylloxera and had to be destroyed. The Second World War did nothing to help the situation and in the middle 1940’s droughts and outbreaks of mildew created further detrimental problems. In was only in 1952 that Spanish production recovered to previous levels and has since expanded as an important revenue for the country.

During the last century the fame of their fortified wine know throughout the world as Sherry has done much to promote trade. It is a fashionable drink whilst Port and Madeira from the neighbouring country of Portugal enjoy a much lower popularity. Even in Shakespeare’s time Sherry was a popular tipple among the gentry.

In the past, the quality of their red and white wines could never compete with the superior taste of those from France and Germany. Today, the qualities of both have been much improved and the Rioja and the Valdepeñas are accepted as being the fine quality wines. Generally speaking other regions are producing some very good drinking wine and of sufficient quality to compliment a good meal.

DOC Regions of Spain
Alella - Catalunya
Alicante - Valencia
Almansa - Castilla-León
Ampurdán - Costa Brava
Campo de Borja - Aragón
Cariñena - Aragón
Cava - Catalunya
Conca de Barberá - Catalunya
Huelva - Andulucia
Ilas de Canaries - Canary Islands
Jerez - Andulucia
Jumilla Monastrell - Mucia
La Mancha - Northern Andulucia
Majorca - Majorca
Méntrida - Castilla-La Mancha
Navarra - Northern Spain
Noblejas - Toledo
Penedés - Catalunya
Priorato - Catalunya
Rías Baixas - Galicia
Ribeiro - Galicia
Ribera del Duero - Castilla-León
Rioja - Northern Spain
Rueda - Castilla-León
Somontana - Aragón
Tarragona - Catalonya
Terra Alta - Catalunya
Toro - Castille-León
Utiel Requena - Valencia
Valedeorras - Galicia
Valdepeñas - Castilla-La Mancha
Valencia - Valencia
Yecia - Murcia

Alicante
The red wines form this region was well known many centuries ago as Tent. The red wine tends to be deep in colour, high alcohol content with a strong body. Some rosés are also produced.

Andalucía
Although this area is always basically associated with the town of Jerez and “Sherry” the region also produces some good red and white wines. A producer to look for is Don Miguel.

The idea of Sherry was initiated in the Middle Ages when the Arabs introduced the invention of a pot type still known as an alembic. By adding their hepsema and using this pot the first initial production of Sherry came into being. There are six accepted types of Sherry which are here described.
Manzanilla Fino - The most classical form of this drink made in the region of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Manzanilla Fina - Relatively modern version of the one above but the casks are allowed more “ullage”.
Manzanilla Pasada - The Sherry has been allowed to age which increases its alcoholic content.
Fino - A Sherry which has developed more body with a smooth almond flavour and very dry.
Amontillado - Aged by at least eight years the Sherry acquires an amber colour a nutty flavour.
Oloroso - This is a Sherry that has been aged to perfection and is genuinely dry, and rich.

The producers to look for are A.R. Valdespino, Allied-Lyons, Barbadillo, Hijos de Agustín Bláquez, Bodegas Internacionales, Cayd, Croft, Cuvillo, Delgado Zuleta, Díez-Mérito, Don Zoilo, Duff Gordon, Garvey, González Byass, Harvey, Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín “La Guita”, John William Burdon, La Gitana, La Riva, Luís Caballero, Lustau, M. Antonio de la Riva, Mérito, Osborne, Monte Verde, Palomino & Vergara, Pedro Domecq, Real Tesoro, Sandeman, Terry, Savory & James, Valdespino, Williams & Humbert and Wisdom & Warter.

Aragón
The large area of the Aragón generally does not lend itself to quality wine production. A well know district is Cariñena located south of Saragossa where most of the red and white wines produced are sweet and more suitable as an accompaniment to dessert. Another two districts to be noted are Campo de Borja and Somontano. The first of these two districts takes its name from the famous “Borgia” Italian family who used to own the area in the late 15th Century. The reds tend to be full, robust and alcoholic and the rosés need to be drunk immediately. The later district of Somontano produces a light medium bodied red, a pale dry and fruity white, while the rosés are fresh, dry and light-bodied.

Canary Islands
Both the labels Canary Sack and Palma Sack became very popular as far back as in the Elizabethan age. Due to the 18th Century plague of oidine the most vines were destroyed and the labels lost their market to brands originating from other lands. The production has recovered to a certain extent and it is now mostly drunk within the Islands.

Castilla-La Mancha
This is an expansive area which produces heavy and fiery wines. The principal producing town of the region is Valdepeñas whose local wine typifies this relatively cheap easy to be drunk wine due to its low acidity. Another district is Méntrida whose wine is of the same nature. The area is also producing some good rosés. Producers to look for are Bodegas Félix Solis, Dom Miguel, Iberia, Victori, Vinícola de Castilla and Zarpardiel.

Castilla-León
Located on the upper banks of the River Douro are vineyards producing Spain’s most famous and most expensive wine – Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva. It is kept in its wood for 20 years before being bottled. The wine has a true dense colour with a full body packed with rich oaky-sweet fruity flavours. A lesser known district is the Ruedo which is small and further down the same river and producing a fine, creamy and crisp white wine. The district of Toro produces a red that is full bodied with a fruity-oak flavour, a white that is dry, fruity and well-balanced, and a rosé that is smooth, dry and fruity.

Catalunya
This region can not be mentioned without introducing a father figure with the name of Sr. Miguel Torres Jr. His introduction of modern wine-making principles has had far reaching effect on the production from this area and to the whole of Spain. The vineyards to the north of Barcelona produce the Alella district wines of which the white wine tends to be the most popular. When the term “Cava” is encountered it is important to note that it is a DOC appellation applied to a method of production and not to a fixed geographical origin and these white wines have a distinct toasty flavour. Some of Spain’s best sparkling wines come from this area and a label to look for is Mestre Mas Via. The vineyards that stretch south from Barcelona are best known as Tarragona. In this area there is produced a Catalan fortified red that is somewhat similar to the Portuguese “Port”. The normal red and whites can vary in flavour and are commonly slightly sweet to the taste. The Priorato district wine is produced in red and white and the latter is best drunk in its dry variety. The Sitges and Penedés district wines reflect the vibrant personality of its Barcelona producers and they are usually served in the city’s restaurants to accompany courses of fish and shellfish. The producers to look for are Bach, Castellblanch, Celler Josep María Torres I Blanco, Codorníu, Freixenet, Jean León, José Garcia, Marqués de Monistrol, Mas Rabassa, Masía Bach, Mestres, Miguel Torres, Mont Marcal, Raimat, René Barbier, Seguras Viudas and Torres.

Galicia
Due to the regions proximity to the Bay of Biscay and the prevailing winds the wine of this region can be likened to those of the “vinho verdes” of northern Portugal. The red wines are well coloured and have a crisp flavour and high acidity. The whites are fresh and fruity and dry. The rosés are pale, light-bodied and fruity.

Huelva
The wine producing area stretches from the town of Huelva to the ancient city of Seville. This semi-flat expanse of land produces heavy wines which are very drinkable if not looking for a fine wine. It is probably here that the famous aperitif wine Manzanilla originated before being purloined by the Jerez district. Two labels to be tried are Condado de Niebla and Palma del Condada.

Majorca
The Island of Majorca has a healthy production of a very dark and heavy red wine. The Island also produces a dessert wine of the Malmsey type.

Murcia
Yecla is probably the best producing wine district in this area. Their reds tend to be ink-black or cherry coloured with body. The white wine is fresh and fruity whilst the rosés are dry with a suggestion of a cherry flavour.

Navarra
This area lies between the Rioja area and the north coast of Spain. There are five districts and the first Baja Montana is noted for producing a good rosé wine which is fresh and fruity. The second Ribera Alta produces soft and fruity reds and dry and fresh whites. The third Ribera Baja produces robust reds and some sweet Moscatels. The fourth Tierra Estella makes fruity reds and rosés along with crisp whites. Valdizarbe is the last of the five and is the smallest area producing excellent reds and rosés. The producers to look for are Agronavarra Cenal, Bidegas Simón Cayo, Bodegas Julián Chivite, Bodegas Irache, Bodegas Ochoa, Bodegas Villafranca de Navarra, Señorio de Sarría, Vinícola Navarra, Cooperativa Cirbonera and Sociedad Cooperativa Nuestra Señora del Romero.

Rioja
Without question this area in the north of Spain enjoys the best reputation amongst the Spanish red wines which tend to be oaky in flavor. Its production varies from light young whites to heavy fruity reds and the best wines are produced in three districts, the Alta, Alavesa and Baja districts of which the first two are the most outstanding. The producers that enjoy the greatest reputation are AGE, Bodegas Alaves, Bodegas Berberana, Bodega Bilbaínasa, Bodegas El Coto, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Bodegas Lan, Bodegas Martínez, Bodegas Muerza, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Olarra, Bodegas Rioja Santiago, Bodegas Riojanas, Campo Viejo, Carlos Serres, Contino, CVNE, Federico Paternina, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Cáceres, Marqués de Murrieta, Marqués de Riscal, Marqués de Villamagna, Pedro Domecq, R. López de Heredia, Ramón Bilbao, Remélluri and Viña Tondonia.

Santander
To the south-west of Santander there is a district known as Valdeorras which produces a white and red wine.

Salamanca
To the north of this town is a district known as Zamora which produces the Toro and Rueda wines. The reds tend to be dark, high in alcohol, and strong in flavour. The whites compliment the reds in an equal burst of flavour. The famous oenologist Dr. Maynard Amerine some time ago encounter a wine bottled with the name of Vega Sicilia that he claimed was rare and outstanding except for its high acidity. Today it is probably the most expensive wine in Spain!

Toledo
Due to the nature of the soil the district of Noblejas produces a wine very similar in taste and bouquet to the Côtes du Rhône in France. Two of the white wines worth attention are the Yepes and Ocaña.

Valencia
The region was in the past famous for its robust red Benicarlos from the area of Castellón. It has now become unimportant as a major player having been outstripped by the popular Rioja wines. The Valencia red wines will be found to be sweet and often perfumed. The Utiel-Requena district located in the extreme west of the Province produces fine and fruity flavored reds, and soft whites and rosés with fresh character. Producers to look for are Juan Hernández.

SPAIN – SPIRITS

Brandy distilling was learnt by the Spanish from their Arab conquerors. A report on how to distill to make the product has been recorded by Arnaldo de Vilanova (1240-1311). Principally it was used only for medicinal purposes and somewhere in history it became commercially produced for general consumption. Evidence shows that a Jesuits College was founded in Jerez in 1580 and had a distillery attached. Today, pure grape Brandy is generally made in Jerez, La Mancha, Catalunya and Valencia.

A pure white spirit is made by the name of Aguardiente that is not made from grain but rectified from the residues of wine, or obtained from beet and cane sugar. A popular drink is Absinthe which is a sister to those made in France. The true product is made from a base of the wormwood plant. Anis is another drink that is a substitute for the true Absinthe and is made from the seeds of the Star Anis plant. The main area for the production of this latter drink is La Mancha as it ideal location for the growth of this herb.

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