Spain is a unique wine-producing country. Notably, the climate for hoticulture in Spain is a study in extremes. The southern and central regions of Spain are quite dry, while the northern and eastern parts of the country close to the Atlantic Ocean are very wet. The precipitation includes both rain and snow, and soil varies from volcanic to desert. In addition, Spain's rich variety of local grapes, such as Albariño, Moscatel, and Listán, form the basis of the country's wine tradition, although international grape varieties such as Merlot and Chardonnay have also found a home in Spain.
Spain has a five-tier system for classifying its wine regions. The two largest regions, with the top levelDenominación de Origen Calificada certification, are Rioja and Priorat. The next largest classification isDenominación de Origen, the second largest type. About two thirds of the wine regions in the country are of this classification, which is reserved for wines of good quality. The regions vary greatly in climate, especially with regards to the amount of precipitation they receive. The dryness in some regions protects the vines from the mildew that might otherwise plague them. Traditionally, Spanish winemakers space their vines much farther apart than other countries do- Spanish wine regions have less than an eight of the vine density of other famous regions like Burgundy.
Spain is known for having a great diversity of grapes, but only 20 grape varieties supply 80 percent of the country's wine. Airén is the most popular, a grape planted in central Spain that yields high-alcohol white wines. The second and third most popular grapes are Tempranillo and Garnacha, both reds. Tempranillo is particularly associated with the Rioja region, and Garnacha with the Priorat. Monastrell and Bobal are planted in the Levante, and are used in dry red wines as well as rosé.
There are two main types of wine unique to Spain. The first is Sherry, from the area in southern Spain of the same name. Sherry is a white wine fortified with brandy. Nearly all Sherry is made with the Palomino grape. Some variants of Sherry develop with a native yeast called flor. Sherries tend to be high in alcohol and dry. Different vintages of Sherry are blended together in the solera system, so a given Sherry will not carry a certain vintage on the market.
The other unique variety is Cava. Nearly all of Spain's Cava comes from the Catalonia region. Cava is a sparkling wine, like Champagne. The name refers to the cellars in which the wine ages in the bottle. Cava uses white wine grapes like Macabeo and Parellada. Both Cava and Sherry are protected terms under the European Union's terms of trade.
Spanish winemaking has a rustic tradition, tending to long oak aging. There are three classifications of Spanish wine that divide the wine according to how long it has been aged, and each class has a minimum required time of age spend in oak. Modern Spanish winemaking is more open to innovation, making use of international grapes and occasionally releasing young wines that do not undergo any aging before they reach the market. The advent of modern winemaking tools has revolutionized winemaking in Spain, and the future of Spanish winemaking draws on both these new tools and the nation's traditional approach and native grapes.
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