By Valerie Fortney

Did you know? When it comes to being a favourite of visitors, Spain comes second on the planet only to France. Here are five facts that you may not know about this beautiful wine-producing country.

1. Among Spain’s top attractions are Real Alcazar, the UNESCO-listed palace in Seville, the La Sagrada Familia church, an Antoni Gaudi design in L’Eixample and the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao. With its new Bodegas Montecillo’s visitor’s complex, the Osborne Group is among those attracting a growing number of wine lovers to the Rioja wine region, a less than two-hour drive from Bilbao in the country’s north. 

2. Wines from the Rioja region — mostly reds, but some whites — are great paired with everything from tapas to barbecued steaks. In 2017, they enjoyed a four per cent growth worldwide and a more than six per cent increase among Canadian consumers, thanks to a combination of affordability and less oaky, more fruit-driven nature. In Ireland, they love it so much, more than 3.6 million bottles were consumed from 2016 to 2017.

3. The Rioja region, between two mountain ranges and near the Ebro river, is an unusual land for vine growing. When Bordeaux vines were struck by phylloxera (a type of pest) in the 19th century, the vintners headed to Rioja, as it boasted similar climactic conditions to Bordeaux, along with a combination of calcareous and ferrous clay. “We learned a lot about winemaking from them,” says Osborne Group’s Rocio Osborne, “especially about aging the wine.” Later, the arrival of rail transportation opened the market for Rioja wine to be shipped to the UK and Africa; today, it’s enjoyed all over the world.

4. In 1956, the Osborne Group commissioned an ad agency to publicize its Veterano brand of brandy. Since then, the iconic Osborne bull — many made of sheet metal to withstand the elements — is now a familiar part of the Spanish landscape. Today, the company, which was founded in 1772, includes restaurants and Iberian ham products along with its wine, sherry, gin and other alcoholic beverage offerings. 

5. Bodega Montecillo’s original location, with its traditional stone masonry and ancient cellars, is located just a few minutes away from its current state-of-the-art facility. Today, though, the old meets the new as visitors to the site, after touring the new winery and the beautiful, flat-topped hills that are home to its vineyards, return to the historic, 150-year-old winery — home to wines more than a century old — for tastings of the great wine of Rioja. Its vineyards sit in Rioja Alta, the most prestigious of the three sub-regions of the area that sits more than 1,500 metres above sea level. 

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