Interesting Facts About Spain: Food and Wine

Vineyards in La Rioja, Alava, Rioja and Basque Country, Spain, Europe.
Carlos Sanchez Pereyra / Getty Images

Interesting facts about food in Spain.

Learn more about Spain:

  • Spain makes 44% of the world's olive oil, more than twice that of Italy and four times that of Greece. More than a quarter of Spain's oil (10% of the total world production) comes from Jaen. 
  • Nearly three-quarters of the world's saffron is grown in Spain. Read more about Spanish Saffron.
  • The original paella was not considered a seafood dish but had chicken, rabbit and pork (and sometimes snails). There is some debate over the origin of the word. Read more about Paella in Spain.
  • Tapas is not a type of food but a way of eating it. Tapa means cover and was traditionally a slice of cheese or ham placed over a drink. Read more on Popular Misconceptions About Spain and the origins of Tapas.
  • 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 'n' chips from there. Read more about Cadiz.
  • 'Dominations of Origin', common in wine labeling, is also used in Spain to guarantee the quality of ham, olive oil and even paprika. Read more about Spanish paprika
  • Though Spain is more famous for its red wine than white, the majority of its vineyards have white grapes. Read more Facts About Spanish Wine.
  • The fortified wine sherry comes from the city of Jerez in Andalusia. 'Sherry' is a corruption of Shariz, the Persian name for the city. In Spanish, sherry is simply called 'vino de Jerez' (Jerez wine). Read more about Sherry Bodegas in Jerez.
  • Tomatoes, potatoes, avocadoes, 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.

Wine Labeling and Denominations

  • Grapes are the third biggest crop in Spain after cereals and olives.
  • 15.5% of the world's vineyards are in Spain, making Spain the number one ranked country in the world in terms of area covered by vineyards.
  • Spanish vineyards have a low yield (because of the dry climate) meaning Spain is only third in production behind France and Italy.
  • There are vineyards in all of Spain's 17 autonomous regions - from wet Galicia in the north-west 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.
  • 56.2% 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').
  • Spain has 65 Denominación de Origen (DO).
  • There are 41 areas with wines designated as Vino de Tierra ('Wine from the Land')
  • Wines are often labeled 'joven', 'crianza' and 'reserva', among others. These denote how long the wine has been aged for. Read more about Crianza, Joven and Reserva on Spanish Wine Bottles.

    Types of Wine in Spain

    • Despite most of Spain's wine being red, 61.5% 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! Read more about White Wine in Spain.
    • The main red grape varieties in Spain are Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha (Grenache) & Monastrell.
    • The main white grape varieties in Spain are Airén, Macabeo, Palomino & Pedro Ximenez.

    Fortified Wines in Spain

    • Spain's most famous fortified wine is sherry, made in the 'sherry triangle' around Cadiz. It gets its unique flavor from 'flor', a film of yeast that forms on the top of the wine.
    • Spain also makes what is often called 'straw wine' - wine made from raisins. Vino de Malaga and Pedro Ximenez sherry are made like this.

    Serving Spanish Wine

    • The ideal temperature to serve red wine at is 14ºC to 18ºC (47ºF to 56ºF). 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 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.
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