3 Catalonian Wines We Love
If you were to ask most European travelers to name their favorite Spanish wine, they would probably mention Rioja. What is most surprising is many of them have never tasted this Tempranillo red. They talk about Rioja because it is the only Spanish wine they may have ever heard of.
Our Costa Brava trip boasts many enjoyable features that the Catalonian hills can offer: the quiet roads and circuitous routes though small villages; the isolated picnic in a Catalonian olive orchard. Another is the unique Ciclismo Classico approach in getting you familiar with some delicious wines you’ve never heard of…until now.
Ciclismo Classico is all about the wine and the food as well as the biking. We’ve been travelling to European springtime destinations like Sicily for thirty years. In presenting Sicily to the world in the 1990s, we uncovered many of the island’s wines well before they became popular amongst international connoisseurs. It’s what we do: a full cultural immersion by bike and by glass.
We don’t claim the “discovery” prize on these Spanish regions (you can thank the Greeks, Romans and indigenous people for that). Yet, we do help you “uncover” wines you may have not previously considered in your local wine shop. One look at the history of wine production in Catalonia and a trip in Costa Brava, and you’ll realize you may never say “Rioja” again.
A Brief History of Spanish Wine
Cadiz is in the southwestern corner of Andalucia, considered the oldest city in Spain. Originally a Phoenician town, the settlers founded the port for commercial trade. However, local scientists discovered the remains of vines 4,000 years old thanks to carbon dating, showing the practice of growing grapes in this region is older than the oldest Spanish town itself.
With the Romans, wine making became a serious industry. The two major regions under the Roman Empire producing quality wines were Hispania Baetica in the south (modern-day Andalucia, near Cadiz) and Hispanica Terraconnensis (just outside of Tarragona in Catalonia). The Romans knew a good thing when they found it.
And the local Catalonians are keeping it going.
The community of Emporda in the north of Catalonia, produces a wide variety of quality wine. Many reds have great body, are well structured and are deliciously paired with the local cuisine. It all comes from a careful harvesting and fermentation techniques passed along generations over hundreds of years.
Emporda wines have sharp and distinct characteristics, well defining their place on the world’s wine stage. They are complex, yet preserve subtle bouquets and small touches of spice while maintaining fruity notes. Sometimes they release hints of plants and wild grass. On the palate, their full rich expression of flavor is satisfying.
Spain didn’t see as much of the phylloxera damage seen in France during the 1800s. Although the region suffered its own losses, many indigenous vines (some hundreds of years old) are still producing fantastic fruit. The aging process in French oak creates beautifully structured Garnatxa Negra. Today, local producers are also making fresh, crisp whites, and noteworthy rosés with characteristic cherry hue.
Traditionally Catalonia received notoriety for its sweet wine made from Garnatxa Negra (Red Grenache). However many producers are offering full bodied reds with staggering reviews. Some of our favorites are Masia Carrera 2016 DO, XOT dels Aspres 2016 DO, and Finca Malaveida 2016. Be aware: with a 15% alcohol content, these are serious wines!
Priorat has won many accolades in the past decade. A very popular name, the wine comes from an old tradition of harvesting and fermenting Cariñena and Garnatxa varieties.
The Saracens occupied this territory in southern Catalonia until the 12th century. Even today the remains of one of the oldest mezquites of Catalonia can be visited in the small village of Siurana. The ground is rich in minerals, accentuated by its deep mining history, one of the most important of Spain in the past. Today, the soil maintains a coppery shade and is called lloricorlla : being rich in iron slate with very little organic material near the top. As a result, the vine roots drive deep under the topsoil in search for water and nutrients.
A Place for Meditation
After the Arab occupation, Carthusian monks from Provence in the late 13th C. came to found a priory. Upon arriving in Priorat – more precisely Monserrat – they discovered the area’s potential. They planted vines on specific slopes of the hillsides depending on the variety, to maximize the quality of the wine. It is this terrain, together with a specific microclimate, that give singularity and balance to one of the most popular Spanish wines in Spain.
The DOC area of Priorat is approximately equidistant from the sea and the mountains of the Monserrat Sierra. The mountains protect the fruit from cold northern winds. Vintners harvest the grapes along steep slopes, terraced over the years to improve the yield and assure safety.
Upon opening a bottle you’ll discover red fruit tones and darker notes along the finish. Typically, the more percentage of Cariñena in the bottle, the more bold the start. And you can expect plenty of minerality and a strong tannic quality depending on the grape variety.
For some tasty labels, check out Gratallops Partida Bellvisos 2012 DOC and Els Pics 2016 DOC. RAR 9 Vins Singulares 2015 is an excellent example of a Priorat white produced from Garnaxta Blanca and Chenin Blanc.
The production of cava has made Penedès a popular region (it was first produced here in 1872 by the Cordoníu winery). Although the territory may produce the best cava in the world, many of its non-sparkling wines are just as delicious.
In Penedès you find white wines which are light, crisp and aromatic. Recently some local vintners are producing rosé and a small amount of red vintages.
The soil is composed primarily of phosphorous deposits with a low amount of potassium. At the lower altitudes clay and sand predominate, so there are different soil types for different varietals.
And there are plenty of varietals.
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo are the more popular grapes. But there is also Xarel-lò: a native white variety. It is one of the most cultivated grapes in the Penedès DO region and boasts excellent adaptation to the climate and terrain of the area. It is very resistant to draught and excessive heat and maintains a consistent production and balanced quality year after year especially in the old vines (Viñas Viejas).
Xarel-lò remains consistent on the palate, with a warm, long mineral finish, which is a typical expression of this varietal. If you are in the market for a good label, we suggest Pairal 2014 and a hot summer day.
Join Ciclismo Classico on a bike tour of Spain, sip on some wine and make life-long friends!