What is the drinking culture in Spain like?

In Spain, the drinking culture is tied to the country’s historical production of wine, though this is no longer the only alcoholic beverage they produce. Knowing a little about Spanish drinking culture and customs is essential if you’re planning to visit the region or are generally curious.


The history of Spanish wine

Wine from Spain is not the most expensive, but it tends to be high quality and is a popular choice among wine aficionados. As a result, Spanish wines are now a popular choice for those looking to invest in wine.

Before reaching this point, Spain experienced many ups and downs in producing wine.

The earliest recording of wine dates back to around 1100 BC, with Phoenician trading in the Southwestern region of Cadiz. However, some archaeologists and historians estimate that grape cultivation likely started as early as 300 or 400 BC.

Wine exploded in the following years with the spread of Roman winemaking methods during the rapid conquest and expansion of the Empire. But this could not last forever.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Spain was conquered several more times. Notably, in winemaking history, the takeover by groups from the Arabian peninsula saw a ban on producing or drinking alcohol.

After falling almost entirely out of practice, winemaking in Spain experienced a revival as Catholicism gained prominence.

Wine in Spain experienced one more significant hit in the 19th Century when phylloxera, a Northern European vine louse, started decimating crops. Complete devastation was averted because winemakers discovered that American rootstock could be combined with European vines to create a more resistant plant.

Today, Spain is widely considered one of the world’s top wine-producing regions in terms of quality as well as quantity. In 2020, they produced approximately 40.1 million hectoliters of wine.

Within Spain, the Northern Rioja region is the most renowned. Rioja red wines are aged in oak and tend to be smooth and slightly sweet.


Spanish drinking culture

Some studies suggest that, on average, Spanish residents have their first drink at 16 (and 7 months). This is two years younger than the legal age required to buy alcohol in the country.

Though this might sound severe, the reality is that most people have their first drink surrounded by family. Spain does not have as big of a binge drinking culture as areas like the US or UK. The Spanish are exposed to casual drinking early on, and it is not unusual for people to try sips of their parents’ alcohol when they are young.

Perhaps surprisingly, despite being a major wine producer, Spain is behind many of its neighbours when it comes to wine consumption. This is likely in part because of the culture of wine drinking.


When do Spanish people drink?

People in Spain tend to eat and drink later in the day, often as late as 10 pm. The tendency is to drink wine slowly while enjoying food.

Despite the lower wine consumption rates, Spain is still known as the fiesta (party) capital of Europe.

In fact, Spain is also the country with the highest number of bars and restaurants per capita, 1 for every 175 inhabitants. Many of these bars and restaurants have stood for hundreds of years. There are even campaigns for UNESCO to recognise more of these establishments as World Heritage Sites.

With so many bars, restaurants, and clubs to enjoy, it isn’t shocking that Spain is a fiesta centre. Parties often don’t get going until midnight and will commonly last until the early morning hours, typically sometime between 4 and 7 am.


Wine and food

Spanish wines hold an enduring appeal within the country and across the world.

In Spain, wine is not usually drunk alone. Instead, it is paired with food. So, what Spanish wine and food pairing should you know (and try)?

White wine is best paired with dishes like paella. Traditionally, paella is served with shrimp and other seafood or chicken. Spain’s most well-known white wine is an aromatic and acidic blend called Albariño, a product of the Galician Rías Baixas region. Alternatively, paella could pair beautifully with a light and fruity Rosé.

Chorizo fans should try pairing their dish with a fruity red. The fruit notes complement and mellow the spice of the meat.

Lamb chops are ideal for those looking for the perfect meal to complement a bolder and more structured red. A mature red can help bring out the smokey flavours of the meat without overpowering the taste like a fruity wine might.


Spanish beer

Wine is not the only thing that Spain is famous for. They are now the third-largest beer producer in Europe.

While wine is still an essential part of Spanish culture, current trends show an increase in beer consumption. There is now even a growing craft beer movement as Spaniards increasingly explore and invest in beer.

The three top-selling beers in Spain currently are Mahou, Estrella Galicia Especial, and Cruzcampo. All of these popular choices are made within the country.


Spanish drinking customs

Drinking in Spain is primarily a casual affair. Many people enjoy a glass of wine with their meal, and it is relatively common to find people enjoying a drink during the day with their family or friends.

You should also know how to toast in Spain. ‘Salud’ is the most widely used toast. It means health and is typically said before anyone takes a sip of their drink.


What about Sangria?

You might be wondering, what about Sangria? There is a reason this fresh and fruity wine-based cocktail hasn’t been mentioned. Even though the drink is produced in Spain, it is not widely drunk by Spaniards themselves. Instead, Sangria remains a firm favourite of tourists.