Ultimate Guide to the Sherry Wine Region

Sherry Wine Region History and Culture

Andalucia contains Europe's oldest city, Cádiz, founded around 1100 B.C. by the Phoenecians. Subsequent colonists included the Celts and the Carthaginians before Rome took over, around 200 B.C. [source: Andalucia.com]

Under the Romans, the land was renamed Betis. Andalucia thrived as a Roman colony, exporting olive oil and wine and gaining a strong infrastructure of the straight, sound roads for which Rome is known -- along with Catholicism and the seeds of the Spanish language [source: Andalucia.com].

The collapse of the Roman Empire proved disastrous for Andalucia. The peninsula was vulnerable to attack from several directions. The Visigoths attacked from the north of Europe. And in A.D. 711, the Moors (Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East) invaded, permanently affecting Spanish language and culture [source: Andalucia.com].

The name Andalucia itself comes from the Moorish invasion. The Arabic name for the region was al-Andalus, a corruption of "Vandal" -- the Moors associated the Visigoths with the Vandal tribes. This was far from the only effect of the Moorish presence, which lasted for the next eight centuries. Mosques and mosque-inspired architecture are still visible throughout Spain, and words derived from Arabic distinguish Spanish from the other Romance languages [sources: Andalucia.com, Spanish Living].

Christian fervor seized Spain in the late Middle Ages, motivating the Reconquest, which ultimately led to the defeat of the Moors under the famed monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. At the insistence of the notoriously cruel Inquisitor Torquemada, the same movement prompted the expulsion of tens of thousands of resident Jews [source: Telushkin].

Torquemada's purge prompted the Jewish Andalucian Luis de Torres to join the sailing expedition of a man named Christopher Columbus. Torres became the first European to settle in the Americas [source: JAHF]. As Spain colonized the New World, the port city of Seville grew rich on imports. But this meant that the Andalucian economy soured dramatically when South American nations declared independence in the 1800s [sources: Andalusia Web, Andalucia.com].

In the 1900s, civil strife returned to Andalucia. Separatists wanted to secede, even as other Spanish citizens chafed under the rule of the monarchy. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War exploded. The brutal right-wing Nationalist general Francisco Franco took over, remaining dictator for life [source: Britannica]. Since his death in 1975, living conditions in Andalucia have dramatically improved [source: Andalucia.com].

Somehow, the Sherry producers -- bodegas -- managed to keep creating their wines throughout such turbulence. Find out how on the next page.