Catalonia Wine Region
Apr 05,2023 | Magnum Opus Wines
Catalunya Wine Region
Along the Mediterranean coast, northeast of Spain, the city of Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the focal point of the Catalan wine industry.
Catalonia is Spain's second largest wine region, producing 550 million litres (14% of total), behind Castilla La Mancha, the largest wine producing region, producing 1,300 million litres, a third of Spanish wine output, in front of La Rioja, the third largest wine region, producing almost 500 million litres (13% of total).
Many grapes grow well in Catalunya because of the many unique microclimates from coast to inland hills. Along the coastline, Cava is the reigning queen and Spain’s answer to Champagne that incorporate indigenous grapes which make for sparkling wines with finesse.
The powerhouse red wine area is definitely Priorat. A once forgotten plot (decimated by Phylloxera), Priorat went on to become a red wine hotspot coveted by critics. Carignan and Garnacha hold the key to their fruity-yet-slatey reds.
The Empordà DOP is located in the far north-east of Catalonia, among the foothills of the Pyrenees which border the French province of Roussillon. The area has a similar Mediterranean climate to other Catalan wine regions, but is more heavily influenced by the strong northern winds of the Tramuntana that moderate the risk of frost and vine diseases.
While historically Empordà was known for producing rosé wines, the majority of the production today is red at 60%, white at 19%, and rosé at 17%. The remaining 4% are released as traditional dessert wine made from Grenache. The principal grapes of the region are Grenache and Carignan, along with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Sparkling wine production under DOP Cava has increased in recent years.
43 wineries operate 1,700 hectares for an annual production around 3.5 million litres.
Alella is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) (Denominació d'Origen in Catalan) for wines produced in Maresme county, 15 km to the north of the city of Barcelona.
It is one of the smallest DOs in Spain as the vineyards have been encroached upon by urban development. The vineyards grow on the Serra de Parpers foothills, from the coast up the slopes of the mountains. The Besòs river forms the western boundary.
The oldest vineyards, close to the coast at an altitude of between 60 – 90 m above sea level enjoy a Mediterranean climate (mild winters, hot summers), whereas the younger ones, located higher up in cooler areas have a more continental climate.
The area is known mainly for its white wine production which can range from oak aged sweet wine to cool fermented dry wines. The principal grape of the area is the Pansa blanca, a local name for the Xarel·lo grape.
8 wineries operate approximately 300 hectares for an annual production of 1 million litres.
The Penedès is the largest wine-making region in Catalonia. The area has a long winemaking tradition and was the birthplace of the sparkling wine Cava, invented in the early 1870s in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia by Josep Raventós of Codorniu Winery.
Wine production in the Penedès is dating back to the Phoenician in the 6th century BC. A large export market is known to have existed through Moorish occupation in the Middle Ages. 18th century Spanish expansion into South America generated an unprecedented demand for Penedès wines which has barely abated since.
The region did not escape the devastation of the phylloxera, one effect of which was a large-scale change in the predominant grape types from red to a majority of white (80%), which in turn led to the first Cava production in the 1870s.
The Penedès DOP (1932) is centred in the regional capital, Vilafranca del Penedès, with nearby Sant Sadurní d'Anoia the acknowledged centre of Cava production.
The Penedès region is wide and open, covering a long strip of land between the sea and the mountains, half-way between Barcelona and Tarragona. The 19,000 hectares wine-growing region is divided into 3 main subzones:
- Alt Penedès, the most inland and mountainous subzone, characterised by relatively low yield and high quality. The vineyards rank amongst the highest in Europe at up to 800 m above sea level, where the native Parellada is the dominant variety (23%).
- Penedès Central, situated to the southwest and responsible for the majority of the region's total production. On this higher inland terrain Spanish Xarel·lo (37%) and Macabeo grapes (24%) form the overwhelming majority.
- Baix Penedès, comprising mostly low-lying, hot and humid coastal areas where the black grapes Merlot (37%), Tempranillo (22%), Cabernet Sauvignon (22%), Garnacha and Cariñena, among others are found.
Since 2014, the best quality sparkling wines are given the brand name of Clàssic Penedès, and a new line of regulations is drawn up to better define the product. It stands out in 3 principal areas:
- 100% Organic, the DO Penedès became the first 100% organic sparkling wine appellation in the world.
- 100% Penedès, one of the key strengths of Clàssic Penedès is the territorial guarantee that comes with being part of the DO Penedès (vs multi regional Cava).
- 100% Reserva, strictly following the traditional and ancestral methods, our producers must hold Clàssic Penedès wines for at least 15 months in the cellar.
4) Pla de Bages
The Pla de Bages DOP is located northwest of Barcelona, growing many of the same varieties as the nearby Penedès region but with more emphasis on international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
It is one of the smallest DOPs in Spain, covering less than 500 hectares. It is also one of the newest having acquired its official status in 1997.
The vineyards are mainly located in the valleys of the River Llobregat and its tributaries, between 200m and 500m above sea level.
The first recorded evidence of grape growing and wine production dates from the 12th century, when the monks from the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei, founded in 1194, introduced the art of viticulture in the area. The prior of Scala Dei gave rise to the name Priorat.
At the end of the 19th century, the phylloxera pest devastated the vineyards causing economic ruin and large scale emigration of the population. It was not until the 1950s that replanting was undertaken. The DO Priorat was formally created in 1954.
Much of the development of Priorat wines to top class is credited to Carles Pastrana, René Barbier and Álvaro Palacios. In 1979, there were only 600 hectares of Priorat vineyards. In the 1980s, convinced of the region's potential, the group of winemakers planted new vineyards in suitable locations, all named Clos. For the first 3 vintages, 1989–1991, they pooled their grapes, shared a winery in Gratallops, and made one wine sold under five labels: Clos Mogador (Barbier), Clos Dofi (Palacios, later renamed to Finca Dofi), Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos de l'Obac. From 1992 these wines were made separately.
The vineyard surface of Priorat has been continuously expanding since. As of 2018, Priorat had 2,000 hectares of vineyards for a production around 1.4 million litres (93% red and 7% white). The trend among the red varieties is that Garnacha stays constant (41%), Cariñena (23%) decreases and the international grape varieties increase (Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Syrah 10%, Merlot 7%).
Priorat is one of only two wine regions in Spain to qualify as DOCa, the highest qualification level for a wine region, alongside Rioja. The Catalan authorities approved higher status in 2000, but national level confirmation from the Spanish Government in Madrid came only on 2009.
The area is characterised by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known as llicorella. Summers are long, hot and dry (35°) while winters are cold (-4 °C). The average annual rainfall is 400–600 mm. Yields are very low, due to the rocky nature of the soil that does not allow the accumulation of water. The area is also characterised by steep slopes (15-60%) on altitude ranging from 100-700m. This however means that the wines produced in this area have a very unique personality.
The DOQ is divided in 12 villages and comprises the valleys of the rivers Siurana and Montsant. The vineyards are planted on the slopes on terraces at altitudes of between 100 m and 700 m above sea level. Priorat is almost entirely surrounded by the DO Montsant, which makes wine in a similar style. Declared a nature park in 2002, the Montsant Natural Park is a veritable symbol of the Priorat and Catalonia.
The traditional reds from El Priorat are a single grape bottling of Grenache or Carignan, or a blend of these two grapes with other French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah. Vino de guarda is aged in oak barrels for 18 months followed by 6 months in the bottle, with the optimal time for consumption being 2 years later.
The Montsant DOP was formed in 2001 in the area around Falset, Tarragona to distinguish itself from the wines of the greater Tarragona DO.
Under the auspices of the DOP Montsant, the region has seen rapid growth, starting with 28 official cellars in 2002 which grew to 55 wineries currently.
This upland area is noted for its old Garnacha and Cariñena vines along steeply sloping vineyards, similar to Priorat, accounting for 94% of the 4.5 million litres produced today.
Montsant DOP 1,800 hectares almost completely surrounds the more famous Priorat (DOQ). The vineyards extend along the mountainsides among olive groves, forests and rocky outcrops. In total, 17 villages are included.
Vineyards range from 200 to 700 meters in elevation and sit on three main soil types: chalky clay, granitic sand, and slate. The climate is Mediterranean with continental influences. Summers are dry and annual rainfall is about 650 mm, falling mainly in autumn.
The Tarragona DOP is the Catalan wine region around the coastal city of Tarragona and has been a vital winemaking center of Catalan wines since the Roman times. For most of its history the region was known for its sweet fortified red wines made from very ripe Tempranillo grapes aged in oak casks for 5 to 12 years. In the 1960s, prior to earning DOP status in 1976, the area began to shift its focus to dry white wines and the production of red sacramental wine used by the Christian Church for Communion.
The vineyards are located along the coast and extend inland towards the border with the province of Lleida. There are 2 official sub-zones: Camp de Tarragona is the largest one containing 70% of the vines and extending around the north and east of Tarragona, at an altitude of 200 m above sea level. The second sub-zone, Ribera d’Ebre, is located to the south and west of Tarragona. The vines here are located on the banks of the River Ebro, where the soils are fertile and alluvial.
8) Costers del Segre
Costers del Segre is a Spanish Denominación de Origen Protegida (1988) for wines located in the province of Lleida along the Segre river basin.
The vineyard area is 4000 hectares for an annual production of 3 million litres.
There are 7 subzones: Artesa and Pallars, the northernmost, with vines of greater altitude and Pyrenean influence, Urgell is located between the 2. Raimat, to the far East, has a mild relief and continental climate. The subzone of the Segrià is characteristic of non-irrigated land in the Lleida plane. The Garrigues and the Riucorb valleys are arid lands.
In 1998 two other subzones were added: Pallars Jussà, next to the town of Tremp, 90 km north of Lleida and Segrià to the west and surrounded by the Raimat subzone.
The climate is continental, influenced by the proximity of the Pyrenees, though rainfall is sparse (400 mm). Average annual temperature is 15°C (max 35°C in summer, below 0°C in winter).
Most vineyards are planted on dark lime bearing soils, with a high lime content, low clay content and poor in organic matter, between 250 m and 700 m above sea level.
The authorised grape varieties are:
Red: Garnatxa Negra, Tempranillo, Trepat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Monastrell, Syrah, Mazuela / Samsó, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Garnatxa Tintorera, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
White: Macabeu, Xarel·lo, Parellada, Chardonnay, Garnatxa Blanca, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscatell d’Alexandria, Malvasia, Gewurztraminer, Albarinho, Chenin, Viognier, Verdejo, and Godello.
9) Terra Alta
Terra Alta is a Spanish Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) (Denominació d'Origen Protegida in Catalan) for Catalan wines, located in the west of the province of Tarragona and covers 12 inland municipalities. As the name indicates (Terra Alta = High Land) the area is in the mountains.
The mountains reach a height of 950 m above sea level, though the vineyards are lower down on the slopes, valleys and plateaus. The climate is mixture of Mediterranean and continental. The summers are long, hot and dry and the winters are very cold.
The soils are clayey, with a good lime content, poor in organic material, with a significant proportion of sizable elements which allows for good drainage.
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