An Introduction to Catalan Wine

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﹡Before beginning we should pause to observe the challenge imposed by the linguistic differences that separate Catalunya from Spain, as they tend to pop-up and add confusion when least expected. Catalan is a completely separate language from Spanish (or Castellano), so to keep things simple names will appear in Catalan, as this is what you’ll probably see on bottles and wine lists.

Wine has been produced in the region that encompasses modern day Catalunya for the past 2500 years, and was once quite popular in the ancient world. The Phoenicians introduced winemaking to the region between the 7th and 8th century B.C.E., and the Romans continued the practice in their first colony in the Iberian peninsula, Tarraco (modern day Tarragona). After succumbing to the vine killing aphid Phylloxera that destroyed large swathes of Europe’s vineyards at the end of the 19th century, the international role of Catalan wine briefly surged after significant replanting, before largely falling by the wayside during the Spanish Civil War and ensuing World War.

Today Catalunya is producing a great deal of unique, interesting natural wine that closely reflects the region’s varied climates. While the American market has long been inundated with cheap cava that exists solely to fill mimosa pitchers at brunch, the past few years have seen the emergence of a number of passionate natural winemakers, and just as importantly for us, importers willing to bring their wine to unfamiliar palates. To say that interesting, honestly made wine is a new arrival in Catalunya would be unfair, but it’s certainly new to the West Coast. Our September wine box is a great introduction to some of the best cava and natural wines coming out of Catalunya right now, but with ten different recognized regions, there’s an awful lot to taste.

Much like the French AOC classification system, Catalunya’s DO (Denominació d’Origen) categorizes wine by the specific region that it comes from, and dictates what types of grapes can be used. Despite having only ten DO’s, Catalunya’s vineyards manage to encompass an incredibly diverse array of landscapes and climates, covering coastal plains, mountains and river valleys. A good general rule is to divide the wine regions into two groups:

-The dry coastal plains and valleys, which see relatively little rain and higher temperatures

-The more humid mountains and high plains, which tend to see lower temperatures than the coast, with much more rain

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There are a number of grapes under cultivation in the region that are unique to Catalunya, as well as non-indigenous grapes that have taken on local names, like Garnatxa (Grenache). The French border is not terribly far from most parts of Catalunya, and the two regions share deep cultural and linguistic ties. It’s no surprise, then, that several french varietals make up a significant chunk of the local red wine production, among them Monastrell (Mourvèdre), the aforementioned Garnatxa, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Samsó (Carignan). White wine production is dominated by the three indigenous grapes commonly used for cava production, Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo, although they are by no means restricted to the production of this sparkling wine.

One of the more recognizable DO’s is Penedès, from where 95% of Catalunya’s cava originates, including everything from mass-produced industrial brands to small production natural and biodynamic producers. At the other end of the scale is Priorat, known for powerful reds, and confusing labelled alternatively as DOQ (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada) or DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada), depending on your use of Catalan or Spanish. This additional level of recognition is only afforded to two of Spain’s wine regions, Priorat and Rioja, and is a reflection of both the price these wines command and their general quality. Which of these two attributes is weighed more heavily is a matter of debate.

The best way to explore a region’s wines is to try as much as you can, red or white, from every type of soil you can. Given that this is a serious task for almost anyone interested in wine, casual or otherwise, a brief overview of the DO’s of Catalunya’s should be helpful. An excellent resource is the website of the governing body that oversees the DO designation for all of Catalunya:

http://www.do-catalunya.com/en/

Drinking wines from a lesser-known region can have its drawbacks, including being able to find a wide variety of producers. Luckily, we have the internet to help ensure that things that before would never have made their way into our glasses can be (relatively) accessible. As is often the case with areas that are mountainous and whose wines are not particularly popular outside of the region, there are numerous varietals that are planted in very small amounts or are simply dying out altogether in Catalunya (and may be extremely hard to find here in the U.S.). It’s a good start to simply get an idea of the common grapes associated with a wine growing region by tasting as much as you can, but don’t be intimidated by what’s unfamiliar! Becoming adventurous in your drinking can lead to interesting discoveries. Go open a nice cava from Penedès, or a dark and brooding Garnatxa from Priorat, and then start exploring.

September Wine Box: Under the Radar Catalan Wine

September is upon us, which means it’s time for a new wine box! This month we’re drinking some interesting things from Catalunya, a long-overlooked wine region in the Northeastern corner of Spain that’s best known for it’s Cava, and is finally getting the recognition it’s lesser known wines deserve. Some of these are familiar grapes, like Grenache (Garnatxa in Catalan), but others will probably be completely new to you (Trepat, anyone?). We’ve got two reds, a white and a very interesting Cava that provide a nice introduction to the natural wine being produced in this part of the world.

 

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2013 Mas Candí Cava Brut Nature
D.O. Penedès

The four farmers behind Mas Candí are producing some really interesting natural wine on the edge of a national park with vines taken from their grandparents holdings, including a few unique cavas. Their Cava Brut Nature is a mix of the traditional cava grapes (Macabeu, Xarel•lo and Parellada) with the unexpected addition of some Garnatxa Blanca, and is perfect as an apéritif for the beginning of San Francisco’s summer (September and October).

Co-fermentation of Macabeu (40%), Xarel•lo (30%), Parellada (15%), Garnatxa Blanca (15%)

2013 Celler Frisach Selecció Garnatxa Blanca
D.O. Terra Alta

Terra Alta means highlands in Catalan, and this white Grenache stays true to its namesake appellation, coming from vineyards perched in the hills nearly 1300 feet above sea level. Minerally and with subtle hints of peach, this is great for a big salad or just on it’s own.

100% Garnatxa Blanca from 20 year old vines in iron-rich calcareous clay

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2014 Succés Vinicola Cuca de Llum Trepat

D.O. Conca de Barberà

Trepat is a red grape that’s indigenous to Catalunya, and tastes like a combination of the better-known varietals Pinot Noir and Barbera. This wine manages to be soft and herby while also tasting of chalky minerals and soft fruit. Definitely nice with something from the grill, or a meatier fish like salmon.

20-47 year old vines in calcareous clay

2011 Bodegas Puiggròs Sentits Negres Garnatxa
D.O. Catalunya (Anoia)
The Puiggròs family has farmed the same vineyard since 1843, and this Garnatxa comes from 70-80 year old vines nestled 2250 feet above sea level. This is definitely heavier than the Trepat, with subtle minerality supporting a bouquet of herbs and earthy fruit.

The September box features four bottles for $88.  To order, buy directly from our online shop (don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list to receive 10% off!) or if you’re a returning customer or wine club member, simply email orders@winelandia.com