Guide to Wine from Catalunya
In the language of wine, Catalunya stands for a vocation for quality with an innovative spirit. Catalan wine counts its wine tradition in thousands of years, yet it also points the way to the future. The region’s winemakers can justifiably boast of having always been at the vanguard of the country’s wine production.
At the end of the last century, Catalunya imported Champagne techniques for the production of sparkling wines and today, firms like Freixenet and Codorniu are selling tens of millions of bottles of cava all over the world.
Winemakers like Jean Leon and Miguel Torres were pioneers in adopting noble foreign vines.
Most of the region’s companies are building up wineries with a decidedly futuristic approach and some are applying techniques developed in Australia or California.
The 8 wine producing areas of Catalunya:
- Costers del Segre
- Ampurdan, Costa Brava
- Terra Alta
- Conca de Barbera
As well as the omnipresent Cava, sparkling wine made with the champagne method. This is a wine making region of Spain that is difficult to surpass.
Alella is one of the smallest designations of origin in Spain. As well as representing autochtonous interests in the form of the Pansa Blanca grape, Alella also offers a range of aromas and tastes through other typical varieties such as Macabeo and Parellada, and the useful Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc grapes.
It’s been clearly demonstrated that the local microclimate, located between the coastal sierra and the mists of the Mediterranean, together with the silica in the soil, favor the development of these French-origin grapes.
The simple mention of the word cava on a label automatically implies the origin of this typical sparkling wine and no further specific reference is necessary. The cava production area is made up of 159 municipalities across eight Spanish provinces.
In practice, 99% of cava is produced in Catalunya, chiefly in the area of Penedes. Using the authorised varieties and only first press musts, the base wine, white or rose virgin fermented. The whole cava production process, from harvest to final elimination of deposits, takes a minimum of nine months.
Costers del Segre
Costers del Segre was reborn as a wine-growing region thanks to a gamble taken by the Catalan company Raimat, which belongs to the powerful Codorniu group. The move has meant that wine buffs have had to sit up and take notice of an area which, up to a decade ago, didn’t swing any weight as a prestige wine-growing area.
Today, Costers del Segre is being viewed more and more as a vanguard region and a driving force behind the development of some foreign grape varieties.
On the other hand, the wines we could call “genuine” within the D.O. have little commercial presence, partly because they come from sub-zones where the producers only bottle small quantities, partly due to the facts that they are used as base wines for cava.
Rather than a rigid DO, Penedes is a geographical frame within which a good number of interesting wine producers move around fairly freely thanks to the prevailing liberal attitude and business flexibility.
The spectacular growth of quality sparkling wines in the Eighties created a golden age for the region, which was swift to take advantage of wine doctrine and modern techniques, totally transforming its previous offering of quiet wines.
There’s been nothing to hold back the amazing growth of Catalan red wines however. The wineries are unable to hide their glee when they see the foreign critics praise their areas as producing some of the finest Spanish red wines.
This is a small area sheltered by the natural barrier of the Montsant, with grapes like the Garnacha which give robust, deeply-colored wines with a high concentration of aromas and flavours and high alcohol content. The vineyards lie on slopes with slatey soil, amid scenery that’s comparable with the stony bed of the River Douro in Portugal. The exceptional climatic and soil conditions where the vines grow give rise to wines of tremendous character.
A lot of wine experts, both inside and outside Spain, are pinning their hopes on this tucked-away corner of Tarragona as a region for the future. Priorato is being used as a kind of experimental field by a small group of visionary wine-growers who are producing top grade reds in which the autochthonous and original varieties that have been carefully supported with other noble grapes such as Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.