Catalunya, tucked away in the North-East corner of Spain, has one of the most fascinating stories to tell. A proud, independent sea-faring nation with prominent ports and military significance, it still suffered various attacks over the centuries from the Greeks, Carathaginans, Romans and the Moors. A convoluted medieval history full of intrigue, betrayal, alliances and war followed and even a lost civil war and extreme dictatorship in the 20th century couldn't quell the local spirit here. Today the capital city of Barcelona is the single largest port in the country, an artistic and cultural wonderland as well as being home to some of the countries best chefs, restaurants and bars. It shouldn't then come as a surprise to learn that Catalan wine is also enthusiastically celebrated locally and increasingly so in international markets as well. 11 of Spain's 69 Denominación de Origen's (Individual, high quality wine regions) are located here, and 95% of the countries entire Cava production as well.
There's no better way to understand a region than to visit, drink the wine, eat the food and meet the people. It's also one of life's great pleasures and from the stunning coastal regions of the Costa Brava to the scorching mountains of Montsant and Priorat, there's something here for absolutely everyone in Catalunya. A lot of the best wines here are only just starting to be noticed on the international scene so there's still a lot to be discovered, and the local wine-makers are proud to share their own histories and philosophies with those willing to seek them out.
Here are three of the very best producers from three separate regions in Catalunya. Any one of them is worth a visit in their own right, but consider turning it into a day trip or even better, a weekend away!
Arguably the most important wine region in Catalunya and situated a short drive from the city of Barcelona, Penedes is home to a variety of different wines, styles and also around 90% of all Cava produced in the country! The best thing about it? It's absolutely beautiful, with a mixture of different climates all climbing away from the Mediterranean sea. As you climb higher, the fresher and more delicate the styles of wine become and the grape varieties change depending on the micro-climate of that particular level. The Penedes is one of the most organised regions for enotourism, so for more information check out Enoturisme Penedes
A hidden gem in Sant Sadurni d'Anoia and probably the single best producer of Cava in Spain. Recaredo is one of the most traditional Cava houses in the region, founded in 1924 and still ran by the descendants of Josep Mata Capellades, 4 brothers who share the responsibilities of the business between themselves. Visiting Recaredo is also a wonderful enotourism experience and not to be missed. For €15 a person, there is a 2 hour visit through the cellars of Recaredo where the philosophy, production and realities of their operation are clearly and thoughtfully explained, followed by a tasting of 3 wines. All their wines are Gran Reservas, all made from their own grapes grown biodynamically on 50 hectares of land and you may even get the opportunity to see a bottle of Cava manually disgorged; something they do with every single bottle of Cava produced! An exceptional winery that is still relatively off the beaten path. Still, save yourself the risk of missing a tour and contact them via Recaredo's website to be sure of your booking.
You could throw a dart at Recaredo's portfolio and walk away with a delicious bottle of wine. However, if you're visiting and want to come away with something truly indicative of the producer and a very special Cava indeed, I would say pick up a bottle of their Brut de Brut, Gran Reserva. An elegant, floral expression of Macabeo and Xarel.lo, and aged for around 7-8 years before release, this is a wine I often serve to showcase exactly how good Cava can be. The best part? At €26 a bottle, it's still less expensive than nearly all non-vintage Champagne. A remarkable wine.
The closest wine region to Barcelona. In fact, you can take the public bus here for €3 a person and it takes all of around 20 minutes to get there! DO Alella is also one of the smallest wine regions in Spain, with a grand total of 9 Bodegas making their home here. The town itself is a charming, quiet community overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The layers of limestone and cooling breezes from the sea mean that some really serious wine can be made here and the vast majority of everything produced is drank locally.
Of the 9 wineries in the region, Alta Alella is without a doubt the star of the show. Alella has traditionally been known for producing a small amount of Xarel.lo, known locally as 'Pansa Blanca', Cava and some delicious, rustic red wines. However, Alta Alella takes it to a whole new level with an ambitious project to produce a wide portfolio of delicious wines, often using international grape varieties. Not only that but the winery is actually the closest to Barcelona making it something of an 'urban vineyard', with a stunning natural valley leading down to the sea. Alta Alella are happy to accept visitors and have a well organised enotourism project, so whether you want to arrive by car, foot or even helicopter (yes, really!) there's something for everyone. Get more info on Alta Alella Wine Tours here.
Whilst there's a big portfolio to choose one, make sure you buy a bottle or two of Dolç Mataro, Alta Alella's iconic sweet wine. Mataro is a town a little further north than Alella and gives its name to the powerful, dark grape used to make this wine, although confusingly known as 'Monastrell' in most of Spain and 'Mourvedre' in France. The unusual thing about this wine is the incredibly long time it spends macerating in contact with the grape skins; 6 months! This gives the wine an incredibly vinous character and by that I mean, it behaves more like a red wine than a sweet wine. The sugar is balanced wonderfully against this rugged, tannic structure and it makes for a truly memorable experience (And some very purple teeth!)
Priorat is perhaps Spains most traditional and yet also, modern and exciting wine region in the entire country. This may sound like a contradiction but when you taste some of the village wines, where styles have barely changed over the last few hundred years, in comparison with the fresh, precise wines of the modern producers, you'll see what I mean! Located to the south of Barcelona, this is a mountainous region, home to the most famous red wines in the whole of Catalunya. Getting there is tricky but accomodation is affordable and well placed around the region, although it's recommended to supply your own transport as getting around by foot is quite arduous!
Ripoll Sans is a tiny producer located just outside the heartland of wine in Gratallops. Ran by Marc Ripoll Sans as a one-man band, they make 15-20,000 bottles a year; a small quantity even by Priorat's standards. A staunch supporter of the traditional, indigenous grapes of Priorat, Marc produces a small but wonderful selection of wines, including the only 100% Escanyavella white wine in the world. Organising a visit is as simple as giving Marc a call, or sending him an email and meeting him at the cellar door.
The jewel in the crown of Ripoll Sans isn't the small plot of Escanyavella, nor the excellent Garnacha that goes into his younger wines, but the concentration of old vine Carignan located on different plots around Gratallops. The very best of this, coming from vines that are over 100 years old, goes into produced 5 Partides, one of the best wines produced in the entire region. Smoky, dark, intense and just so... Priorat! This is a remarkable wine but only made in tiny productions and the best prices are directly from the cellar door, which let's be honest is just another excuse to pay Marc a visit!
Fintan Kerr is the owner and operator of Wine Cuentista. Based in Barcelona, Wine Cuentista offers high quality private wine tastings focusing on the treasure trove that is Spanish wine, as well as organising international wine tastings on a bi-monthly basis. To learn more, or to read more ramblings and ravings about the world of wine on their regularly updated blog, go to http://winecuentista.com/
Italy is a country of thousands of wineries large and small. If you are a wine lover planning a trip to visiting Italy, you are surely wondering which wineries are most worth visiting and which wine producers create wines most worth tasting and potentially purchasing to bring back home.
Slow Food International offers an English-language edition of its unique guide to Italian wines whose qualities extend well beyond the palate. Drawing upon visits to more than 300 cellars, the 2000 wine reviews in Slow Wine 2017 describe not only what's in the glass, but also what's behind it: the work, aims, and passion of producers; their bond with the land; and their choice of cultivation and cellar techniques--favoring the ones who implement ecologically sustainable wine-growing and winemaking practices. An essential guide for travelling oenophiles.
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.