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Andalusia, in the south of Spain, is surely the quintessential Spanish wine region. Here we find all the color and passion of this ancient country, the streets ringing with flamenco music, and wines being enjoyed with gusto at every pavement cafe. The viticultural history of Andalusia is so old, that nobody really knows when it began - it could have been started by the ancient Greeks, or by the earlier Phoenicians who certainly used the peninsula as a trading post. Whoever got it started certainly did a good job, however, as by the time the Romans moved in, the wine industry was already well established, and it has barely faltered since.
Today, the most famous wines made in Andalusia are surely the Sherries, those beautiful, aromatic fortified wines, which come out of the city of Jerez and which are made from the characterful native Palomino grape. Sherry is not the be all and end all of Andalusian produce, however - the region is also highly appreciated for the sweet dessert wines of Malaga and Montilla Moriles, as well as the beautifully refined dry red and white wines from the region’s other DO (Denomination de Origen), Condado de Huelva which are quickly gaining popularity outside of Spain.
One of the most widely grown and easily recognized wine grape varietals in the world is the Muscat, an ancient grape with an exceptional amount of versatility. For centuries, Muscat varietal grapes have been used all over Europe for the production of wonderfully fruity wines of many different shades and colors, which, with their strong 'grapey' flavor have come to be known as a quintessential fine wine grape. Their relatively high acidity also means they are ideal for the production of sparkling wines, and the fizzy Muscat wines of Italy are widely agreed to be amongst the best in the world. In more recent years, New World countries have shown a huge amount of flair when it comes to the Muscat grape, and have had plenty of success in allowing its natural and vibrant character to come through in the bottle.
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.