The wine region of Catalonia, Spain, wines, Catalonia, Spain
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Wine in Spain - Catalonia  wine

Catalonia is one of Spain's prime motors in many ways. With its often buzzing economy, a long and fascinating history, its own cultural identity and language, this region is often a vital reference when wanting to know where this country is heading. Its role in wine is no less important. With its coasts facing the rest of the Mediterranean cultures, wine has been an inseparable part of its life ever since the first Greek settlers arrived. Traditionally many regions produced their own version of heavy-duty vinos rancios which were powerful, thick, 15%+ bombshells that so characterized much of Spanish wine for centuries.

   
They still exist, but their commercial appeal has dipped considerably. Catalonia’s viniculture reputation for many years also relied heavily on its production of sparkling wine known as Cava and its white wines from Penedès. But the revolution in Spanish wine has left irreversible effects. At the dawn of the 21st Century Catalonia continues to prove that it knows how to conserve its past as well as keep up with the times. In addition, it has used its commercial know-how to market its products abroad which is why they have a strong presence on the international scene.

 

Of Catalonia's eleven major regions, its most famous must be D.O. Cava. Cava is actually the Spanish version of Champagne, and though it uses a different name, the technique is exactly the same, with the biggest difference being the grapes employed – though that is a big difference, I have to admit.

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 In Spain, they include Xarel.lo (yes, that’s actually how it’s spelled), Parellada and Macabeo, though Chardonnay has grown in popularity. It reality, Cava is not exclusive a Catalonia. It can and is made in other parts of Spain like Rioja, but since 95% comes from the wineries there, Spaniards associate it with no other region. And with good reason. The best comes from there. Cava is currently second in the rankings of world sparkling wine production, behind Champagne, but one of its strongest points is its attractive price/quality ratio. Whereas some in the past felt these bubblies were a notch below the French in terms of sophistication, there is little question that they have reached heights of elegance worthy of the world’s greatest.

The rest of Catalonia's wine centres around still wine. Traditionally, the king of the land was D.O. Penedès. Many of the wineries here traditionally made white wine for the Cava producers, so Penedès has always been particularly strong in this area. Since as early as the 1960s, however, some of Spain's most revolutionary winemakers have earned their fame here, leading this country to its present-day new look. Now reds, using both domestic and foreign varieties have begun to take centre stage. Quality can be inconsistent, but at their best, they can be wonderful wines.

 

Another major figure from Catalonia is D.O.Ca. Priorat, in the province of Tarragona. This wine region nearly died twenty years ago because no one pictured a future for it. Now it stands above the rest of Spain as home to some of the world's classiest and most expensive reds. A true Cinderella story. They are full-bodied and rich wines with an mineral-like character that is hard to come by. This is due in part to the land’s unique slate enriched earth that anchors many of the decades old vines of Cariñena and Garnacha. While the sticker prices mean many consumers will have to put off buying one for a special occasion (many go for 30, 40, 50 and up to 350 euros!), the wineries have kindly begun to market more pocket-friendly bottles, no doubt a willingness to cater to us mortals!

 

Literally forming a ring around Priorat, we find a brand-new region called D.O. Montsant. Once a sub-zone of a wine region called Tarragona, Montsant has quickly attracted both winemakers and buyers alike as a another Priorat. Once again, red wine is the main fare. The wines are not exactly the same as Priorat say the experts, but they possess a lot of their thick and hearty nature. And the prices are a lot friendlier, so take advantage while the going is good.

That leaves us with a handful of other smaller regions which may not have acquired the fame of the former, but which have all proven themselves commendable producers of excellent wine. Many focus on reds, but before we get to them, let’s point out a tiny white wine region just north of Barcelona called D.O. Alella. It doesn't produce a lot, but the whites from these vineyards are refreshing and delicious. They are generally made with Pansa Blanca, though Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay have come on strong too.

Another fascinating wine region is D.O. Costers del Segre. Comprised of wineries scattered all over the province of Lleida, Costers del Segre offers a whole host of wines, many of which are both well-regarded and reasonably priced. Equally vast is the range of grape varieties employed. They have adapted well to the land and make for new surprises every year.

D.O. Tarragona used to be a region with a bright future until Montsant seceded. It will need time to recuperate, but there is still plenty of potential. D.O. Terra Alta, also in Tarragona, consistently contributes some of the most interesting wines in Catalonia, especially in both the red and white wine department. D.O. Conca de Barberá is a small nearly unknown wine region which ironically produces some of Catalonia's most highly acclaimed wines. As a rule though, it still needs time to grow. Another near anonymous region is D.O. Pla de Bages. Rarely found outside of Catalonia, it is coming up with some very good wines, both white and red. All the way up north, we encounter D.O. Empordá-Costa Brava, previously a massive producer of ordinary rosés that appealed to the unwary tourists, it is now earning recognition for its excellent modern-style reds.

 

On top of all this, mention must be given to the super wine region D.O. Catalunya, which freely includes wineries from all of the abovementioned regions in an apparent attempt by winemakers to simplify the somewhat dizzying number of wine regions that befuddle the customer. The number of members and the production have risen exponentially, and commercial success, at least, seems to be guaranteed.

Feature written by Brian Murdock, author of the book "
Let's Open a Bottle". You can contact Brian at murflo@eresmas.net.

 
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