Spanish wine can be tough to decipher, but with 1,154,000 ha of planted vines (recorded in 2005), there is plenty to consider. Viticulture is an ancient pastime in Spain, traces of grapes have been found that are millions of years old and evidence of wine production dates back to 4000 BC.
Spain implements a Denominación de Origen (DO) system which is similar to the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) classification of France, whereby regions are defined and stipulations such as yield control, and the use of certain grape varieties, are applied accordingly. In addition to the DO system, Spain attaches further categories to its wines which denote the age and duration of oak contact; namely: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Crianza wines are two years old with six months of ageing (apart from in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, where the wines will have been oak aged for 12 months). Reserva wines legally must be 3 years old, with a minimum of 1 year in oak cask. Gran Reservas are 5 years old, with a minimum of 2 years in cask.
For some, Rioja might signify the extent of their Spanish wine experience. However there are more than 70 quality wine areas in Spain. Amongst these regions are the Rias Baixas in Galicia in north-west Spain, where fresh, aromatic Albariños are produced. Further East is Ribera del Duero where Tempranillo is blended with international Cabernet Sauvignon. Sherry is produced around the town of Jerez, but this is another subject in itself. Finally, the DOCa of Rioja is the home of iconic wines produced from Temprenillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo.