50 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
has a number of distinctive wines that you can explore, especially matched
with some Spanish tapas. So I hope that after you read this, you will drink
and eat in a “Seville” Spanish way.
The history of winemaking on the Iberian Peninsula is lost in the mists
of time. We know that it dates back to at least the fourth millennium BC.
Today, Spain is the most widely planted wine-producing nation in the
world, though due to generally low grape yields on its dry-farmed and headtrained
(also called goblet-trained) widely spaced vines, it is not the largest
producer. It falls behind smaller Italy and is on a par with France.
A few of its denominated wine regions are famous, most notably Rioja,
Navarra, Priorat, Ribera del Duero (mostly for red table wines), Jerez (for
sherry) and Penedès in Catalonia (for Cava). But the country has 36 distinct
appellations (each a Denominación de Origen or “D.O.”) producing a wide
variety of wines, many from grapes that few of us know, though some are
making headway on the world wine stage.
So what is the history of those 5,000 years of wine production?
We know little about it, other than that it existed, in the period before the
winemaking Phoenicians founded the trading post of Cadiz around 1100 BC.
They were followed by the Carthaginians, who advanced growing and winemaking
techniques (supposedly following the teachings of a pioneer agriculturalist
named Mago, who may or may not have existed1—another
mystery lost in time).
Next came the Romans after their defeat of Carthage and its empire.
Under the Romans, Iberian wine was widely exported and traded throughout
the empire. The major producing areas were in Andalusia in the south
and Tarragona in the north. The Roman-era winemakers carved large fermentation
vats out of rocky embankments from which the fermented wine
was released by gravity down rock-hewn channels into amphorae. Some
can still be seen today in Rioja, and more amazingly, some producers still
use this venerable technique.
After the fall of the Roman empire, relatively little is known about how
winemaking survived until the Moors conquered much of Spain in the
eighth century AD. While being Muslim and subjected to Islamic dietary
laws that forbade alcohol, the Moorish rulers allowed winemaking for
medicinal use, and that exception was loosely interpreted, apparently with
some caliphs and emirs owning vineyards and drinking wine for the general
happy feelings it brought—as good a medicinal purpose as any.
When the Moors surrendered Spain to King Ferdinand and Queen
Isabella of the House of Aragon in 1492, ending the Reconquista (reconquering),
winemaking moved mostly to monasteries. The pilgrims who from
medieval times trekked, by hundreds of thousands, to the tomb of James