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Spanish Red Wine

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Following the decline of the Roman Empire, Spain was invaded by various barbaric tribes-including the Suebi and the Visigoths. Little is known about progress of viticulture and winemaking during this period but there is evidence that some viable form of wine industry was present when the Moors conquered the land during the early 8th century AD. While the Moors were Muslim and subjected to Islamic dietary laws that forbid the use of alcohol, the Moorish rulers held an ambiguous stance on wine and winemaking during their rule. Several caliphs and emirs owned vineyards and drank wine. While there were laws written that outlawed the sale of wine, it was included on lists of items that were subject to taxation in Moorish territories. The Spanish Reconquista reopened the possibility of exporting Spanish wine. Bilbao emerged as a large trading port; introducing Spanish wines to the English wine markets in Bristol, London and Southampton. The quality of some of these exported Spanish wines appears to have been high. In 1364, the court of Edward III established the maximum price of wine sold in England with the Spanish wines being priced at the same level as wines from Gascony and higher than those from La Rochelle. The full bodied and high alcohol in most Spanish wines made them favoured blending partners for the “weaker” wines from the cooler climate regions of France and Germany though there were laws that explicitly outlawed this practice.
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In Spain, winemakers often use the Spanish word elaborar (to elaborate) rather than fabricar (to produce/make) when describing the Spanish winemaking philosophy. This relates to the view that the winemaker acts as more of a nurturer of the grapes and wine rather than as a producer. For many years, Spanish winemaking was very rustic and steeped in tradition. This included the judicious use of oak with some wines, even whites, spending as much as two decades ageing in the barrel. This created distinctly identifiable flavors that were internationally associated with the wines from regions such as the Rioja. In the 19th century, wine writers held negative views about Spanish winemaking. Richard Ford noted in 1846 that the Spanish made wine in an “unscientific and careless manner” while Cyrus Redding noted in his work the History and Description of Modern wines that Spanish gave “rude treatment” to the grapes. Some of these criticisms were rooted in the traditional manners of winemaking that were employed in Spain. Crushing and fermentation would take place in earthenware jars known as tinajas. Afterwards the wine was stored in wooden barrels or pig skin bags lined with resin known as cueros. In the warmer climate and regions of lower elevation, the red wines tilted towards being too high in alcohol and too low in acidity. The standard technique to rectify those wines was the addition of white wine grapes which balanced the acidity but diluted some of the fruit flavors of the red grapes.
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Under Roman rule, Spanish wine was widely exported and traded throughout the Roman empire. The two largest wine producing regions at the time were Terraconensis (modern day Tarragona) in the north and Baetica (modern day Andalucia) in the south. During this period more Spanish wine was exported into Gaul than Italian wine, with amphorae being found in ruins of Roman settlements in Normandy, the Loire Valley, Brittany, Provence and Bordeaux. Spanish wine was also provided to Roman soldiers guarding border settlements in Britain and the Limes Germanicus in Germania. The quality of Spanish wine during Roman times was varied, with Pliny the Elder and Martial noting the high quality associated with some wines from Terraconensis while Ovid notes that one popular Spanish wine sold in Rome, known as Saguntum, was merely good for getting your mistress drunk. (Ars amatoria 3.645-6).
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It wasn’t till the 1950s that domestic stability helped to usher in a period of revival for the Spanish wine industry. Several large co-operative wineries were founded during this period and an international market was created for generic bulk wines that were sold under names like Spanish sauternes and Spanish chablis. In the 1960s, Sherry was rediscovered by the international wine market and soon Rioja wine was in demand. The death of Francisco Franco in 1975 and the Spanish transition to democracy allowed more economic freedom for winemakers and created an emerging market with the growing middle class of Spain. The late 1970s and 1980s saw periods of modernization and renewed emphasis on quality wine production. The 1986 acceptance of Spain into the European Union brought economic aid to the rural wine industries of Galicia and La Mancha. The 1990s saw the influence of flying winemakers from abroad and broader acceptance of the use of international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. In 1996, the restrictions on irrigation were lifted which gave winemakers greater control over yields and what areas could be planted. Soon the quality and production volume of premium wines began to overtake the presence of generic Spanish bulk wines on the market and Spain’s reputation entering the 21st century was that of a serious wine producing country that could compete with other producers in the world wine market.
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A red Rioja wine was aged in barrels made of Spanish oak wood (Quercus robur, Quercus petraea,Quercus pyrenaica, and Quercus faginea) during 21 months. The concentrations of some volatile compounds were studied in these wines and compared with those of the same wine aged in barrels made from French oak of Q. robur (Limousin, France) and Q. petraea (Allier, France) and American oak of Quercus alba (Missouri). Similar concentrations of these compounds were found in wines aged in Spanish and French oak wood barrels, and significantly different concentrations were found with respect to wines aged in barrels made of American oak wood, indicating a different behavior. Thus, wines with different characteristics were obtained, depending on the kind of wood. Also, the kind of wood had an important influence on sensory characteristics of wine during the aging process. Spanish oak wood from Q. robur, Q. petraea, and Q. pyrenaica can be considered to be suitable for barrel production for quality wines, because a wine aged in barrels made of these Spanish oak woods showed similar and intermediate characteristics to those of the same wine aged in French and American oak woods usually used in cooperage.
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AbstractA red Rioja wine was aged in barrels made of Spanish oak wood (Quercus robur, Quercus petraea,Quercus pyrenaica, and Quercus faginea) during 21 months. The concentrations of some volatile compounds were studied in these wines and compared with those of the same wine aged in barrels made from French oak of Q. robur (Limousin, France) and Q. petraea (Allier, France) and American oak of Quercus alba (Missouri). Similar concentrations of these compounds were found in wines aged in Spanish and French oak wood barrels, and significantly different concentrations were found with respect to wines aged in barrels made of American oak wood, indicating a different behavior. Thus, wines with different characteristics were obtained, depending on the kind of wood. Also, the kind of wood had an important influence on sensory characteristics of wine during the aging process. Spanish oak wood from Q. robur, Q. petraea, and Q. pyrenaica can be considered to be suitable for barrel production for quality wines, because a wine aged in barrels made of these Spanish oak woods showed similar and intermediate characteristics to those of the same wine aged in French and American oak woods usually used in cooperage.
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The 17th & 18th centuries saw periods of popularity for various Spanish wines-namely Sherry (known in Britain as “sack”), Malaga and Rioja wine but the Spanish wine industry was falling behind other European countries which were embracing the developments of the early Industrial Age. A major turning point occurred in the mid 19th century when the phylloxera epidemic ravaged European vineyards-most notably those of France. With the sudden shortage of French wine, many countries turned to Spain, with French winemakers crossing the Pyrenees to Rioja, Navarre and Catalonia-bringing with them their expertise and winemaking methods. One of these developments was the introduction of the 59 gallon (225 liter) oak barrica. Phylloxera eventually reached Spain, devastating regions like Malaga in 1878 and reaching Rioja in 1901. Its slow progress was due in part to the wide tracts of land, including the Meseta Central, that separated the major Spanish wine regions from each other. By the time the Spanish wine industry felt the full force of phylloxera, the remedy of grafting American rootstock to the European vines had already been discovered and widely utilized.
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The defeat of the Spanish Armada by Elizabeth I of England greatly reduced the strength of the Spanish navy and contributed to the country’s debt incurred during the reign of Philip II. Spain became more dependent on the income from its Spanish colonies, including the exportation of Spanish wine to the Americas. The emergence of growing wine industries in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina was a threat to this income, with Philip III and succeeding monarchs issuing decrees and declarations ordering the uprooting of New World vineyards and halting the production of wine by the colonies. In some countries, like Chile, these orders were largely ignored; but in others, like Argentina, they served to stunt growth and development until independence was gained from Spanish rule.

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