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

Wine 101: Sparkling Wine Terms

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As the fall & winter holidays approach, many wine consumers turn their sights away from rosé and towards sparkling wines. Champagne, crémant, pétillant naturel, frizzante, Cava, and Prosecco are all different types of sparkling wine, yet many people use the term “Champagne” to refer to any sparkling wine. This is a widely accepted, though incorrect use of the term. In this blog post, I will cover various types of bubbles and what the names actually mean.

Champagne: A variety of sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France. Only wines made according to the Champagne AOC rules may bear this term on the label (with a few exceptions). The grapes must be grown in Champagne, and the wine must be made using méthode champenoise (called méthode traditionnelle outside of Champagne). Champagne blends allow the use of chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier grapes. Pinot blanc is also sometimes allowed.
Buy Champagne from Winelandia.com

Crémant: A term used to describe sparkling wines from France made outside of Champagne. For example: Crémant de Limoux, Crémant du Jura, Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne – you get the picture. Crémant is made utilizing méthode traditionnelle, and can be made from a number of different grapes (depending on AOC rules). Not all sparkling wines made outside of Champagne are called crémant.
Buy Crémant du Jura from Winelandia.com

Cava: Sparkling wine from Catalonia (Spain) produced utilizing méthod traditionnelle. Cava blends typically contain the indigenous Spanish grape varieties macabeu, xarel-lo, and parellada.
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Prosecco: Italian sparkling wine from Veneto, produced using the charmat method. Prosecco must be made from the glera grape variety, though other varieties are sometimes blended in.

Frizzante: An Italian term for sparkling or semi-sparkling wine.
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Pétillant naturel: Also referred to as “pet-nat”, a French term used to describe wines produced utilizing méthode ancestrale. In this method, the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is complete. Primary fermentation completes in the bottle, adding a natural effervescence to the wine. Pétillant naturel wines are typically un-disgorged (meaning the lees is left in the bottle), though many commercial pet-nats are disgorged (lees removed) to be more appealing to a wider audience of wine consumers.
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Special Offer: Four Festive Wines for Thanksgiving Day

Wines for Thanksgiving Day

The holidays are fast approaching, and we’re here to help you select the perfect wines for Thanksgiving Day. We’ve put together a special Thanksgiving 4-pack to pair beautifully with your holiday creations. We’ve hand-picked each of these delicious, crowd-pleasing wines with food-friendliness in mind, and all of them are bound to impress your guests.

Each order includes all 4 wines listed below. Email orders@winelandia.com to reserve yours today!*

Price on 1: $107 ea. + tax & delivery
Buy 2 or more and save 10%!

*Available to California recipients only

The Wines:

2012 Champ Divin Zéro Dosage, Crémant du Jura
Type: Sparkling wine, Biodynamic farming
Country: France
Blend: Pinot Noir & Chardonnay
Course: Serve this fun sparkler when your guests arrive to get their appetites going and the conversation flowing.
Tasting Notes: Fresh and exuberant, with notes of apple cider and a touch of minerals.
Pairing: Perfect for any appetizer, but smoked trout canapés on thinly sliced apples will really make it shine.

2013 Celler Frisach “Vernatxa”, Terra Alta
Type: White wine, organically farmed
Country: Spain
Blend: 100% Grenache Blanc
Course: Serve with your first course of soup or salad, or with a cheese plate.
Tasting Notes: Texture! Minerals! Ripe meyer lemon!
Pairing: Winter squash bisque, cheese plates, hearty radicchio and arugula salad with roasted delicata squash, shaved fennel, and pomegranate seeds.

2013 Teutonic Pinot Meunier, Willamette Valley
Type: Red wine (light), sustainably farmed
Country: United States (OR)
Blend: 100% Pinot Meunier
Course: Serve this with your second or main course.
Tasting Notes: Succulent red fruit, sweet herbs, and delicate earth. Light-bodied yet lush, with super-soft tannins and juicy acidity.
Pairing: Herb-roasted birds, mushroom ragout, braised rabbit, ham

2013 Brea Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles
Type: Red wine (bold), sustainably farmed
Country: United States
Blend: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot
Course: Enjoy this bold red wine at the end of your meal, and continue to enjoy it after dinner in front of your fireplace.
Tasting Notes: Black currants, peppers, spice, and herbs. Beautifully structured and balanced.
Pairing: Braised beef cheeks, roasted rack of lamb, prime rib

Wine of the Week: Celler Frisach Vernatxa Blanca, Terra Alta

Like most wine geeks, I go through phases. Right now, that phase is white wines from Spain. As many of you know, we’re working with a new importer of Catalan wines (read all about him here) who’s focus is terroir-driven, full-flavored, natural wines grown at high elevations. He has a surprising number of incredible white wines from this region – something entirely new to me. I’m completely captivated by them – intensely mineral, textural, and unlike anything else. This week’s Wine of the Week is my favorite yet – Celler Frisach Vernatxa Blanca.

Celler Frisach is a very small, family-run operation out of Tarragona. It’s 100% Grenache Blanc, grown in soils that are essentially petrified sand dunes, at 1200′ elevation. Fermented on the skins for 14 days like a red wine, it’s technically an “orange” wine, but you’d never know it unless I told you. Pale in color, rich in texture, with incredible minerality that’s hard to find in wines at this price point. I imagine this wine on your fall dinner table, because it’s robust enough to pair with rich fall fare. Winter squash, roasted game birds, hearty salads, and cheese plates will all shine with this beauty of a wine.

Buy now on Winelandia.com!

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Blend: 100% Garnatxa Blanca
Region: Spain>Catalunya>Terra Alta
Vineyard: Organically farmed 24 year old vines in petrified sand dune at 1200′ elevation.
Tasting Notes: A captivating, intensely mineral, full-bodied white wine with superb balance. Textural and complex with flavors of citrus and a hint of summer fruit, with a persistent mineral backbone.
Food Pairing: Marcona almonds, hard Iberian cheeses, olives, tortilla española
Production Notes: Fermented with indigenous yeasts on the skins in stainless steel for 14 days until dry.  Aged 6 months in French oak. Bottled with minimal SO2. 
Winemaker: Francesc Ferre
Bio: Ferre’s family has been farming organic grapes in the region for 200 years, but only since 2009 has the family made wine, when 21 year old Francesc took over operations. Their high elevation and unique climate with warm days and cool nights is perfect for growing pretty, fresh garnatxa.

Buy now on Winelandia.com!

Fall sale this weekend! 10%-20% off select wines

Our Fall sale is happening this weekend, Thursday Oct. 16th through Sunday October 19th! Save 10%-20% on select red & orange wines, including several wines with no added sulfites.

Roark 2012 Malbec Santa Ynez Valley
Juicy, fresh, exuberant Malbec from the Central Coast.
Regular Price: $28.00
SALE PRICE: $23.80

Grosjean 2012 Pinot Noir, Vallee d’Aoste
Elegant, delicate, restrained Pinot Noir from northern Italy.
Regular Price: $28.00
SALE PRICE: $23.80

Rafa Bernabé 2011 “El Morron” Garnacha, Alicante
Light-bodied, with minerals and pretty fruit from southern Spain. No added sulfites.
Regular Price: $25.00
SALE PRICE: $21.25

Adega Vella 2011 Mencía, Ribeira Sacra
Soft, supple, and stony, with juicy red fruit from the western side of Spain.
Regular Price: $15.00
SALE PRICE: $13.50

Celler Acústic 2010 Red Blend
A bold, spicy blend of garnatxa (grenache) & samso (carignan) from Spain’s Montsant region.
Regular Price: $24.00
SALE PRICE: $19.20

Andréa Calek 2011 “Babiole” Red Blend, Ardèche
An intense, earthy, and bold red wine from France’s famed Rhone Valley. No added sulfites.
Regular Price: $28.00
SALE PRICE: $22.95

Château Tire Pé 2012 “Diem” Bordeaux
The purest expression of Merlot, aged in concrete tanks. Certified organic.
Regular Price: $15.00
SALE PRICE: $13.50

Rafa Bernabé 2012 “Benimaquia” Moscatel, Alicanté
An intensely floral, structured, and profound skin-fermented white (orange) wine from southern Spain, aged in amphora. No added sulfites.
Regular Price: $23
SALE PRICE: $19.55

Kick-Ass Organic Spanish Wines Taking San Francisco By Storm

Many wine consumers do not fully understand or appreciate the role of the importer when it comes to imported wine. Sure, you’ve all heard the name Kermit Lynch, or maybe even Louis/Dressner. Whomever is listed on the back of the bottle is the person or entity who went to the French countryside or coastal Catalan vineyard to find these incredible wines to share with American consumers. They are the taste-makers, the ones connecting with the farmers and winemakers, sampling each barrel, and grasping at handfuls of rocky soil to better understand the mysterious elixir inside of the bottle. These are the people and entities putting these wines into containers and on to a ship, directly from the wineries on the other side of the world. They then sell these wines to retailers, distributors, and in some cases, directly to the consumer.

I’ve run into San Francisco-based importer Andrew Yandell on several occasions over the past few months – a passionate, young importer of organic Spanish & Catalan wines. His friendly, dimpled smile makes him quite conspicuous. Yandell recently started his own import label, Trumpet Wine, and has been canvassing the local wine shops and restaurants to peddle his wares.

Yandell primarily imports wines from Catalonia, an autonomous community flanking the Mediterranean sea on the eastern border of Spain. Catalan culture is rich with wine-making history, including rare, indigenous grape varieties, and high elevation ocean-side vineyards. This seaside nation is most famous for Cava, a sparkling wine made from indigenous Spanish grape varieties such as Macabeu and Xarel-lo.

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So how did this local guy get into the business of importing Catalan wine? I had to know, and so I met with Andrew over coffee to hear his story.

Trumpet+Winelandia(left: me, right: Andrew Yandell)

When Yandell was 13 years old, his family lived in Barcelona for a year, where he began to develop a taste for local flavors. He spent the next decade going back in forth between SF and Barcelona, maintaining friendships, expanding his network, and exploring his palate. He studied art history abroad for a year at the Complutense de Madrid to nail his Spanish down, and decided that one day, he would import Spanish wine. Yandell spent summers cooking and learning in German wine country while he finished school, and wrote his thesis in finance on applying weather derivatives to protect Champagne growers from poor harvests. After a brief stint working for a high-profile dot-com straight out of school, he decided to listen to his heart and ended up at Bi-Rite Market selling wine. Nine months later, he left to start his import label, Trumpet Wine.

Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to taste through much of Yandell’s portfolio. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was doing something very special. Yandell’s selections showcase full-flavored, structured, balanced, clean, terroir-driven wines that are organically or Biodynamically farmed, with minimal intervention in the bodega. He feels that some natural wines can be too austere for a broad audience, and seeks out examples that are cleaner and more accessible. All of the love without any of the funk! Trumpet’s wines are an insane value, as well – wines of this quality from other parts of the world easily cost double what these do.

I picked up several of Trumpet’s wines, some of which can be found in the Winelandia online shop, and another that’s only available to the wine club. You can also find his wines at restaurants all over San Francisco.

oct-2

Celler Frisach 2013 “Selecció” Garnatxa Blanca, Terra Alta – $14
Remember when I said that Spanish wines were an incredible value? This high-altitude Garnatxa Blanca is a far cry from the bland, oily GBs we’re used to. Textural, fresh, structured, mineral, and elegant. I would easily pay $25 for this wine, so you all should buy it up at $14 before I drink it all.

oct-6

Mas Candí 2013 “Desig” Xarel-lo, Penedès – $18
Xarel-lo is one of the primary grapes used in Cava blends, but it lends itself very well to a varietal wine. It’s intensely mineral, with a stony quality that echoes the calcareous soil it’s grown in. A day on the skins lends the wine some elegant structure, and makes it an absolute pleasure to drink. I’ll take my Xarel-lo still, not sparkling, please!

oct-4

Succés Vinícola “Cuca de Llum” Trepat, Conca de Barberà – $18
Trep-what? Trepat. A red grape indigenous to Spain, traditionally used in Cava blends. The winemakers found that this misunderstood red grape makes a lovely, aromatic red wine, not just rosé. Yandell sees similarities between it and young Beaujolais, which I can totally appreciate. Fresh, bright, and floral, with a delicate herbal quality and just a little bit of baby fat.

In addition to these wines, I just ordered a case of Biodynamic Cava that’s going to retail for around $17 – keep an eye out for that! In the meantime, let’s all thank Trumpet Wine for bringing affordable, accessible, natural wine from Spain to our homes and tables.