Wine is one of man's greatest creations, and without a doubt, an amazing achievement. Wine is a drink that has been through much of our history. The ancient Egyptians made and consumed wine, Jesus was a wine drinker, and Christopher Columbus and his crew drank wine on their boats as they found the Americas. History traces Spain as one the oldest wine producing countries, with the first grape vines being planted around 1100 B.C. in the region of Andalucía. However there have been some studies that believe that grape seeds were planted in Spain between 4000 and 3000 B.C. Either way, we know that Spain has at least been making wine for the past 3000 years, and has a rich history on the development of wine and what is has become today.
When Spain was conquered by the Phoenicians around 1100 B.C., they planted what is considered the first grape vines in Cadiz and started the production of wine. When the Romans conquered Spain around 210 B.C. wine production expanded throughout the country and it became a main source of work and income for the people. The quality of the wine varied from region to region, but it can said that the province of Tarragona and the Region of Andalucía produced and exported most of the best wine throughout the Roman empire.
When the Roman Empire fell, the Moors conquered most of Spain (A.D. 711) and forbid the use of alcohol, which was their religious belief. Though wine was still produced during the Moorish rule, most grapes where used for "food", and wine was no longer a major trade in Spain. However, the Moors did keep some vineyards for wine and started the production of fortified wine, which was the birth of "Sherry", Spain's sweet fortified wine. To this date, Sherry is still being produced in the region of Andalucía and is one of Spain's most popular exported items.
Spaniards fought battle after battle to re-gain control of Spain, and finally ejected the moors in 1492 to took back control of their country. At that time, wine production came back to life. Many new vineyards were planted and the country was ready to open its market to the rest of Europe. After Christopher Columbus found the Americas, it opened the door for the Spaniards to export much of its wine to Latin America and once again, wine became a big part of Spain's economy.
Through much of Spain's wine history (and the rest of the worlds), Spanish wine was light in color, had herbal fragrances, and made to be consumed right after it was made. Let's fast forward to around 1850. The country of France, know as the kings of wine at the time, had a bug called the "phylloxera", it destroyed most of the vineyards in France. At that time, many French winemakers moved to neighboring Spain as the bug had not attacked Spain. When the French arrived, they brought many new wine making styles and techniques that the Spaniards did not know, around that time is when Spanish wine really started to get more color, better fragrance, more fruit, and giving it a longer shelve life.
In the past, wineries in Spain usually picked grapes well before they where mature or even ripened, and would sometimes mix red and white grapes together. The wine would usually stay in wine barrels for a long period of time (10+ years) so the wine would become smoother and not rancid. At some point during the 1960's new wine techniques started evolving in La Rioja. Most wine makers started to leave the grapes on the vine for a longer period before harvesting them, and left the wines on the barrels for a shorter amount of time. This method offered fruiter wines with a smoother finish and a fuller body, which has evolved to what Spanish wine is today.
Around 1900 is when Spain's Cava (Spain's version of Champagne) started in the region of Catalonia. Cava rivaled Champagne from the start, as the quality was in par with Champagne, but the price was much lower. To this date, Cava is one of the most popular sparkling wines in the world, providing that "Champagne" taste, for a fraction of the price. Not to say that Cava is better than Champagne, with respect to the French, Champagne will always be King, but the price for a bottle can be out of most peoples reach. Thanks to the sparkling wines from Cava, the rest of us can open a bottle and celebrate the good times.