You've heard of paella. You've heard of tapas. You may even be aware of Spain's emerging prominence in the winemaking world.
But there's a lot that visitors don't know about Spanish food and wine. (And yes, Spanish cuisine is more than just paella and tapas.)
The food you eat when traveling can truly make or break your experience. These interesting facts about food and wine in Spain will help you make informed decisions about the best local products to try and so much more.
Interesting facts about food in Spain
- Spain makes 44 percent of the world's olive oil, more than twice that of Italy and four times that of Greece. As a result, it's the top olive oil producing country in the world. More than a quarter of Spain's oil (10 percent of the total world production) comes from the province of Jaén in Andalusia.
- Nearly three-quarters of the world's saffron is grown in Spain. If you've ever wanted to stock up on the world's most expensive spice, now's your chance.
- The original paella was not a seafood dish. Rather, the traditional Valencian variety was made with chicken, rabbit and pork (and sometimes snails). While seafood paella is a delicious option when done well, purists will tell you it's not authentic.
- Tapas are not a type of food, but rather a way of eating it. The art of tapas in Spain involves going out to a bar (the more crowded, the better) with a big group of friends and ordering several plates to share.
- There are several purported origin stories regarding how tapas came to be. One popular legend suggests that the first tapas were simple slices of cheese or ham placed over a drink to keep flies out (the verb tapar means "to cover" in Spanish).
- The Spanish (in particular, the people of Cadiz) claim to have invented fried fish. Great Britain had links to Cadiz in the eighteenth century, and it is thought that the British imported the idea of fish and chips from there. It remains one of the most popular dishes in Spain as well as in the UK even today.
- "Denominations of Origin" are common in Spanish wine labeling (more on that in a bit). However, these distinctions also used in Spain to guarantee the quality of everything from ham to olive oil and even paprika.
- Tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, tobacco, and cacao (for chocolate) were all imported into Europe by Spain.
- Spain is one of the top five importers of Scotch whiskey in the world.
Spanish Wine Labeling and Denominations
- Grapes are the third biggest crop in Spain after grains and olives.
- 15.5 percent of the world's vineyards are in Spain, making Spain the top country in the world in terms of area covered by vineyards.
- However, Spanish vineyards have a low yield (because of the dry climate), meaning Spain places third in wine production behind France and Italy.
- There are vineyards in all of Spain's 17 autonomous regions, from wet Galicia in the northwest to dry Murcia in the south-east.
- The biggest surface area of vineyards is in Castilla-La Mancha.
- The most densely planted vineyards in Spain are in La Rioja, Spain's most famous wine region.
- 56.2 percent of Spanish wine is designated as a "quality wine" (VCPRD—Vino de Calidad Producido en una Región Determinada or "Quality Wine Produced in a Determined Region").
- As of 2017, Spain had more than 90 denominaciones de origen (D.O.s)
- There are also 42 areas with wines designated as Vino de Tierra (literally, "Wine from the Land"), which is the next step down from denominación de origen in terms of quality.
- Wine labels sometimes include words like joven, crianza, and reserva, among others. These denote how long the wine has been aged for.
Types of Wine in Spain
- Despite most of Spain's wine being red, 61.5 percent of Spain's vineyards are white. This is largely because Spain also makes a lot of brandy and sherry, but also because Spain does actually make some excellent white wines.
- The main red grape varieties in Spain are Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha (Grenache), and Monastrell.
- The main white grape varieties in Spain are Airén, Macabeo, Palomino, and Pedro Ximenez.
Fortified Wines in Spain
- Spain's most famous fortified wine is sherry, made in the "sherry triangle" near Cadiz. It gets its unique flavor from flor, a film of yeast that forms on the top of the wine as it ages.
- Sherry originally hails the city of Jerez in Andalusia. The word "sherry" comes from "Shariz," the Persian name for the city. In Spanish, sherry is simply called vino de Jerez (literally, "Jerez wine").
- Spain also makes what is often called "straw wine," or wine made from raisins. Malaga sweet wines and Pedro Ximenez sherry are made like this.
Serving Spanish Wine
- The ideal temperature to serve red wine at is 47 to 56 degrees. This is contrary to the common advice to drink red wine at room temperature. The more precise advice is to drink wine at cellar temperature, which is much colder than most modern rooms.
Spanish Wine Exports
- One third of Spanish wine is exported. This figure is increasing.
- Spain's top wine customers are the UK, Germany and the USA.
- Spain is the fifth biggest exporter of wine to the US after Italy, Australia, France and Chile.