La Rioja is by far the most famous wine region of Spain, and remains one of the world's great wine producing regions, consistently offering deep, complex red wines of character and distinction, partly due to the fact that La Rioja benefits from excellent soils, rich in minerals and nutrients, and plenty of sunshine. The climatic conditions allow the fine grape varietals to reach full ripeness and express plenty of the best features of their terroir, making La Rioja wines some of the most interesting to have ever come out of Europe. The Cantabrian mountains to the north provide the perfect shelter from the colder, wetter influences of the Atlantic oceans, and in the beloved vineyards of La Rioja, wineries have been cultivating exceedingly flavorful Tempranillo grapes for generations for the inclusion in their fine single variety and blended wines. Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.