The ancient, arid and beautiful region of Castilla y Leon is the largest in Spain, and amongst the largest single 'regions' in any country of Europe. It has been famed throughout the centuries for its architecture, its people, its art and literature, and not least for its characterful and flavorful wines, which capture the beating heart and passion of Spain and Spanish culture. Castilla y Leon is essentially a vast plateau, and is extremely dry, with a poor soil structure which one might think would make viticulture difficult, if not impossible. However, Castilla y Leon has plenty of native grape varietals which are able to stretch their roots deep underground, to tap into the moisture and minerals which can be found there.
Some experts claim that centrally-located Ribera del Duero, Spain's fastest growing wine region, has the greatest potential for memorable red wines. These are largely inspired by the revered Vega Sicilia, an estate producer whose dark Tempranillo wines are balanced with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. For one hundred years Vega Sicilia has taken Spanish tradition to the extreme, growing highly concentrated grapes and aging wines ten years in cask and sometimes more in bottle before releasing exquisite, expensive wines that still benefit from cellar aging. Like slightly smaller versions of Vega Sicilia, other Ribera del Duero Tempranillos are tannic and long-lived, usually inky and massive, with complicated aromas of chocolate, plums and smoke. French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are joining the native varietals. White Ribera del Duero uses the indigenous varietal Albillo.
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.