Ancient Wine Traditions in Spain and Portugal
Society & Culture in Spain & Portugal

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Society & Culture
Ancient Wine Traditions in Spain and Portugal
By Genevieve McCarthy
Dec 2, 2003, 05:08

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Sherry Bodega, picture courtesy Gerry Dawes
The Iberian Peninsula, encompassing Spain and Portugal, is steeped in history, and this history is full of memorable characters: El Cid, and his reconquest against the Moors; Juana la Loca (Jane The Mad), the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile who was locked away in Tordesillas until her death; Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator and explorer whose fleet was the first to reach India from Europe and open up the trade routes; Prince Henry the Navigator; Cervantes' fictional characters Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, hopelessly fighting the windmills across the dusty plains of La Mancha; Salvador Dali, surrealist genius; and Pablo Picasso, one of the most fascinating artists of all time.

The peninsula has been occupied and ruled by various peoples throughout history, and each of these groups has left their mark architecturally, culturally and gastronomically. Celts, Phoenicians, Visigoths, Romans, and Moors have all invaded and conquered towns and regions in Spain and Portugal. We are left with stunning reminders of these occupations, such as: the 1st century Roman aqueduct in Segovia; the striking Temple of Diana in Évora; The Phonenician city of Cádiz (founded as "Gadir"); the glorious tilework throughout Portugal (introduced by the Moors); and of course the beautiful, geometric designed gardens and Moorish monuments throughout Andalucía.

Noah is claimed to have planted the first vineyard around 5000bc. In Iberia, the Phoenicians were transporting sweet wines in clay amphorae as far back as 1100bc, into modern day Sherry Country around Cádiz and Jerez. The next big innovation was the arrival of the Romans in 100bc. They brought new viticultural methods, and vines. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the North African Moors arrived on the scene, introducing the method of distillation (originally only used for medicine, but later on for spirits, such as brandy). During the Moorish occupation of much of modern day Spain and Portugal, the ruling "Califs" tolerated the production of wine in monasteries. Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side by side in cities and villages throughout the peninsula for centuries. In the 16th century, Sir Francis Drake made big news when he sacked the town of Cádiz, making off with about 3,000 barrels of Sherry and creating a huge market for the distinctive wine back in the UK. Many of the traditional sherry wineries were in fact founded by British and Irish immigrants -Osborne, Harvey, Croft, Garvey, De Terry and Williams & Humbert, among others. In Portugal, in the 1800's, the port wine market was also successful in the UK. Port became the first demarcated wine region in the world, in 1756.

The next big shift in wine history was the epidemic of phylloxera. With the onslaught of this vine-annihilating insect in the 1900's, most vineyards in France were devastated. French winemakers fled south with as many clean vines as they could, establishing vineyards in Spain's Penedés and La Rioja wine regions. Their presence influenced modern Spanish winemaking, introducing new techniques. Spain and Portugal's wine regions fell into neglect during the dictatorships of Franco and Salazar, respectively. In the last 30 years, and particularly in the last 10, the peninsula has had a wine renaissance. Domestic and foreign investment into wineries, bringing technology and marrying it with traditional has proved to be enormously exciting and successful. Wine tourism as a concept, is only just taking off in Spain and Portugal (compared to the established and commerical practice in France and Italy of "Enotourism"), despite the existence of all of the key components for a great wine trip (historic vaulted wineries, lovely countryside, dynamic winemakers, excellent regional cuisine). This is a wonderful time to visit these unspoiled and gorgeous wine regions, why not join one of the specialized and luxury wine trips in Spain & Portugal?

For information on wine tours to Spain and Portugal, contact Cellar Tours

© Copyright 2003 by & Genevieve McCarthy

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