A Local’s Guide to the Best of Catalonian Wine
By no doubt, Spain is one of the top world wine destinations.
The Romans started the art of wine-making in Catalonia thousand of years ago because of the exceptional Mediterranean climate conditions for wine production.
And today, Catalonia attracts 19 million of wine-lovers every year, and that’s for a simple reason: our wine is great.
In Catalonia, there are 12 different wine regions, each one with its specialty DOQ (Denomination of Qualified Origin) wine. With the help of local wine experts, we put together this article.
Discover the best wine that Barcelona and Catalonia have to offer and what you should drink on your next visit.
Catalonia, being a region with 12 DOs, has no lack of diversity in wines. And with so many options, finding the perfect pairing can feel like a daunting task. Here are our tips for pairing Catalan wines with Tapas.
Let’s first start with few key concepts to keep in mind when pairing foods and wine:
- Find the right balance ~ the food nor the wine should overpower each other. For example, if you are looking to pair Calçots with Romesco sauce, look for a wine that matches the strong flavor of the sauce instead of the mild calçot.
- Try and find balance by pairing mild food with mild wine and rich foods with rich wines.
- When eating seafood, the best pairing is a wine made from grapes that grow near the sea. The salinity of the wine will pair with the saltiness of the seafood.
- If you forgot the above, talk to the sommelier at the wine shop, they are a great source of information!.
Cava is not just for an aperitif
The traditional Spanish sparkling wine is present in every table in Catalonia. Young cavas are fresh and crispy, they are great as an aperitif and pair fantastically well with cheese. The bubbles and acidity of the Cava clean the palate and allow the complex flavors of cheese to evolve. Aged cavas, complex and elegant, are commonly paired with roasted meats with aromatic herbs; or with wild turbot and black butter.”
White wines go beyond the standard fish-white wine pairing
The proximity of Catalan vineyards to the Mediterranean sea makes them the perfect pair for seafood. As well, they pair very well with oily dishes such as fried squid, croquettes and the famous Spanish omelet, because they refresh the palate.
However, white wines grown at higher altitudes such as the ones produced in the DO Montsant, that are medium to full-bodied and quite mineral, are an ideal accompaniment to roast chicken and turkey, or smoked salmon.
Rosé wines are the perfect pair for the spirit of the Mediterranean life
From being purely a summer wine, now the wide range of rosés produced in Catalonia are for almost every type of food and occasion.
The most common food pairing for light rosé wines is done with tapas dominated by the use of tomato and paprika such as pan con tomate, patatas bravas, and Galician octopus. However, the more complex the wine is, you can play with heavier flavors that come from anchovy, olives, or garlic.
Catalan red wines are essentially food friendly
The diversity and variety of red wines in Catalonia make them going beyond the “red meat – red wine” concept. A young red wine from DO Penedes made of Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo) is the perfect pair for fat fish as it is for cured meats. While a more robust red wine from DO Montsant or Terra Alta will pair deliciously well with fattier meats like suckling pig or roasted lamb.
For heavier dishes, start thinking on Garnacha altitude-vines grown at the DOQ Priorat. Wines from this area withstand complex and heavy dishes, such as duck with cassis or grilled pigeon with truffle sauce.
In the 18th century, French vineyards were erased by the phylloxera. French winemakers asked for a hand to their Catalan peers so that they could meet the demand of their thirsty population.
Local wine-makers found out that the three Catalan native grapes were perfect to produce sparkling wine. Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Macabeu would become the mothers of cava.
Catalan winemakers adopted the French production method, the so-called Champenoise method to produce cava. The village of Sant Sant Sadurní d’Anoia became the epicenter of cava production. And nowadays is home to many of Catalonia’s largest production houses.
To date only wines produced under the Champenoise traditional method may be labeled as “cava”; those produced by other processes may only be called “sparkling wines”. These days about 95% of all cava production happens in the Penedès region in Catalonia.
Further south from the Penedes region, at the Priorat region, 5 pioneers started a revolutionary project around 30 years ago. This region, full of neglected Roman terraces, was seeing a steady loss of its population.
These 5 winemakers reclaimed century-old vineyards and started producing monovarietal wines. In a few years, they transformed the landscape into one of the most prominent wine regions in the world. Nowadays there are 1,900 hectares with vines and 103 wineries. Priorat wines gained the DOQ in 2009, being the first “other” Spanish wine to top the Rioja region.
There is one thing older than Catalan history, and that’s wine production. The Phoenicians and Romans more than 2000 years ago planted the first vines. Then Monks throughout centuries of Arab occupation maintained the wine tradition around Catalonia. Romans liked the wines produced around Alella and Tarragona, the Roman Capital of the Iberian Peninsula. They started exporting wine to their metropolis because of its quality.
Nowadays half of Catalonia’s wine production is exported all over the world (around 180,000 bottles, half of them are Cava).
The phylloxera attack to French and then Spaniard vineyards in the 18th century triggered the acquisition of new technologies and establishment of wine cooperatives. This increased the quality of wines in the end.
The cooperatives kept expanding at the end of the 19th century. During the Commonwealth it allowed the villages to establish wine cellars. This became a way of producing wine in Catalonia.
- Catalonia’s wine region started to gain its name around 1870 when Cava started to be produced in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, though winemaking dates back to Phoenician times who introduced vines hundred years before Romans arrived there.
- Catalonia wine region is one of the most renowned winemaking regions in the world, because of its innovative approach but it is also one of the smallest. There are 70,000 hectares, while Spain has 1,2 million ha in total.
- Additionally, Catalonia produces only 25% of Spanish wine and just 1% of the world’s total wine.
- Wineries and vineyards in Catalonia are rich with history and family traditions, most wineries in the region are family owned.
- 27% of vineyards in Catalonia produce organic wine.
- Cava is king in Catalonia wine region and accounts for 50 percent of the overall wine production in the region.
Catalonia’s 10 denominated wine regions base their production on the so-called Mediterranean grape varieties, Garnacha and Carignan (or Cariñena or Samsó in local language) for red grapes, and Garnacha Blanca and Xarel-lo for white grapes. It is quite common to find blends with international grapes for produced wines.
|Garnatxa (aka Garnacha or Grenache)
Ull de llebre (aka Tempranillo)
|Macabeu (aka Macabeo, or Viura in Rioja region)
Xarel·lo (aka Pansa blanca in Alella)
|Moscatell (aka Moscatel)
Other common grapes found in Catalonia: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc
The existence of wine Denominations of Origin (DO) areas is given by the type of soil, the climate, the relief, the vine varieties and the history of the area. Each Denomination of Origin expresses a feeling of ownership and identity. In Catalonia there are 12 DOs, each of them is independent, unique and singular.
The Catalan viticulture landscape, which is a small territory, is quite diverse. DOs on the coast are influenced by winds coming from the Mediterranean sea, such as Alella and Empordà DOs.
On the inner lands, vines need to be resistant to frost, therefore produce sugary grapes. This makes their wines more alcoholic, such as the ones produced in Costers del Segre.
Here below, let’s explore each DO in Catalonia.
The Ancient DO Alella
Alella has an ancient history since it dates back to the arrival of the Greeks, who started producing wines but were the Romans who appreciated their wines and started exporting them in amphorae.
Alella’s closeness to the Mediterranean sea and its unique soil, the sauló, favors the production of white, dry and semi-dry, fruity and aromatic wines, although it also produces good aging red wines with the Ull de Llebre variety.
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The innovative DO Catalunya
The DO Catalunya was created with the intention of accommodating wines that for various reasons wouldn’t have been included in other DO, it does not replace other DOs, simply overlaps them. Wines under this DO need to pass a series of tests to ensure their quality vis-a-vis the consumer.
The diversity of soils, microclimates and grape varieties allows the D.O. Catalonia being the one of the most innovative of all the DO in Spain, because it is possible to experiment between all these aspects (soil, climate, varieties) and in this way increases the possibilities of production of Catalan wines of varied and abundant quality.
The DO of Cava (Spain Sparkling Wine)
While Cava is highly associated both in terms of production and culturally to Catalonia, the Cava is a DO of state scope, although its origin and most of its surface and production belong to the Autonomous Community of Catalonia (around 90%). It is also the only DO whose name does not refer to a geographical area but adopted a particular concept of the place of production.
Cava in the Catalan language means “Cellar or Cave”. Caves were used in the early days of cava production for its preservation. Since 1970 Catalan Winemakers officially adopted the term to distinguish their product from the French Champagne.
Cava, is the most prominent Spanish Sparkling wine and it is the only one in the world that is produced following the same method French produces champagne. Like its older sister champagne, cava is produced in varying levels of sweetness, ranging from the dryest, brut nature, through extra brut, brut, extra seco, seco, semiseco and dulce (sweet). As well cava ages from 9 to 15 months (cava), 15 to 30 months (cava reserva), and 30+ months (cava gran reserva).
If you love white wine check DO Conca del Barbera
Conca del Barbera is a DO that has a Mediterranean climate with continental influences, with a mild summer and winter, abundant precipitations and soft soils. Wine production was established by the Romans and kept since the 12th century at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet. It became known because it is an area of passage, the old Via Aurèlia passes by.
This DO is known for white wine production, since more than half of the wine area of the Conca de Barberà region is planted with white varieties out of which 70% goes to the elaboration of cavas, while the production of red varieties and a small part of the white ones remain for actual wine. The freshness is the most important quality of the wines of the Conca de Barberà and the singularity is given by its autochthonous viticultural variety, the Trepat. Most of the D.O. it’s controlled by the cooperatives of the region, which includes all the peasants of the municipalities included in the D.O.
The Diverse DO Costers del Segre
This is the most diverse DO in the whole of Catalonia as it is divided into 7 areas that border Aragon and the Pyrenees. Due to its geographical isolation, wine production was never promoted but the Monasteries played a significant role in keeping it active during Medieval days. These days visitors enjoy the charming atmosphere of Medieval times when visiting the Costers del Segre DO.
The main wine production of DO Costers del Segre is powerful, balanced and structured red wines since most of the wine obtained by the white varieties are destined for the production of cavas. Rosé wines are also produced and have a fresher and fruity aroma.
The DO next to France: DO Emporda
DO Emporda, located close to the border with France and the first place where vines were introduced in Catalonia. It has a Mediterranean climate influenced by the sea and the “Tramuntana” (north wind) and it is a fantastic area to enjoy Mediterranean Wine Tourism.
Regarding red varieties, Cariñena or Samsó is the basis of the Empordà viticulture together with Garnacha Tinta. These traditional varieties are complemented by new varieties that have been introduced, such as Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The dominant white wine varieties are Grenache, white and red, and Macabeo. In much smaller proportions are the Moscatel, the traditional Xarel-lo and, of new implantation, the Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Gewurztraminer.
A unique grape variety of the area is the Garnatxa de l’Empordà, which is used to produce an exceptional natural sweet wine of the same name.
Good wines for excellent prices at DO Montsant
Surrounding the Priorat DO, the Montsant DO, lesser-known offers equally good wines for excellent prices. This is a largely Mediterranean-influenced region where the main grapes used to produce wines are: Garnacha, Carignan, Syrah, and Garnacha Blanca.
Montsant Wines are high in alcohol and powerful and are based mainly from Garnacha, Carignan, and Syrah, for reds; and concentrated, alcoholic and Mediterranean for the whites which use mainly white Garnacha. As the vines grow at elevations close to 600 meters in high-mineral, schist-based soils expect refined, alluring and mineral wines.
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The biggest: DO Penedes
The DO Penedès is the most important in Catalonia in terms of size and production, and it is located in six regions forming a continuous area of vineyards that are located by the coast (Penedès Marítim), plains (Penedès Central), and mountains ( Penedès Superior).
The main white grape varieties that give recognition to the DO Penedès wines are Xarel·lo, Macabeu, and Parellada, which give unique aromas, tastes, and quality. Most Penedès white wines are drunk young, no more than a year after bottling.
While the red grape varieties planted in the Penedes region such as Ull de Llebre, Garnatxa, and Monastrell among many others, give birth to refined and serious red wines in the middle of the Cava producing region of the world.
The DO where wines ages amazingly: Pla de Bages
The DO Pla de Bages is located in a territory with harsh climatic conditions for vines, and the few that make it produce exquisite wines that age very well. The Monastery Sant Benet del Bages kept wine production established by the Romans and supplied the villages that lacked access to the main cities.
The main native grape variety of this region is Picapoll, which gives a fruity white wine, with a fresh aroma, splendid texture and personality. As well, the native varieties Picapoll Negre, Sumoll and Mandó are the ones used for the production of unique red wines.
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If you love strong red wines go for DOQ Priorat
Priorat wines are unique because vines are grown in a soil that is rare in the Iberian Peninsula, with a hard appearance and formed by small and thin sheets of slate, which is known as Llicorella; as well they are 360 degrees exposed, a particularity that most vineyards in the world don’t have.
The Priorat area produces strong red wines with varieties such as Cariñena (Carinyena), Mazuelo and Garnatxa (Garnacha), in fact, Garnacha is the main variety of this area. These grapes are often combined with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
If you love Vermut: DO Tarragona
Tarragona is the former capital of the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula. Their arrival, dated in the year 218 a.C. brought the cultivation of vines, and the excellent weather conditions allowed a rapid development. Poets and Nobles praised the great wines produced in “Tarrakon”, which soon started to be exported to the metropolis.
Nowadays the DO Tarragona focuses on a varied production of wines that include: whites, reds, rosés, sweet and liqueur wines. Particular attention is given by locals to “Vermut” which is produced in the town named Reus, as it is a Catalan drink that is traditionally drunk before lunch, so in case someone says let’s go to “fer vermut”, expect to sipe this fortified wine along with olives and chips ~ delicious!.
The DO 400m above sea level: Terra Alta
The DO Terra Alta is located in the southwest of Catalonia at a plateau of around 400 meters above sea level, favored by a continental Mediterranean climate. It has a spectacular landscape formed by the depression of the Ebro river plus small hills and an abrupt and arid relief. Vines are cultivated since 1185 when an order was issued by the Barcelona Count Ramon Berenguer IV to produce wine for inner regions.
This region produces red, white and rosé, rancid and liquor wines. Red wines are intense, structured, fruity and full-bodied, while white wines have been characteristic of the region and have a fine palate, are very intense and are high in alcohol graduation.
Priorat with its lush full-bodied nature demands high prices, but there are other great Catalan wines for much less. In Catalonia there are excellent value wines that you can find in wine shops, here are our suggestions:
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Petit Bernat – Oller del Mas (DO Pla de Bages). Elegant red wine, with clean and intense notes of fresh red fruits on a background of spicy and toasted, with sweet tannins and well integrated alcoholic graduation.
Cava Berdie Rupestre (DO Cava). One of Barcelona locals’ favorite cava, it is made of traditional grape varieties: Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada. Sparkling, intense, slightly acidic and fruity.
Alta Alella Lanius (DO Alella). Organic white wine, steely mineral Chardonnay with a wonderful balance.
Castillo Perelada, Finca Espolla (DO Emporda). An spicy red wine made of a blend of Monastrell and Syrah grape varieties with notes of red plum and berries, vanilla, and cedar.
Garnatxa de l’Empordà. 12 anys (DO Empordà). Sweet wine aged for more than twelve years in soleras. Perfect to pair desserts, it has generosity on the mouth and the taste reminds candied fruit, nuts, and spices.
Rojalet Blanc – Celler Masroig (DO Montsant). An elegant white wine that outstands its red competitors in an area where mostly red wines are produced. Quite mineral, pleasant and refreshing. Round on palate.
Ritme – Acustic Celler (DO Priorat). Excellent value for a red wine from Priorat, you’ll taste an explosion of red fruits with deep rich undertones and some nice oak.
Clos Pons 2010 Roc Nu (DO Costers del Segre). A complex red wine that is elaborated through a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo that bring out spicy flavors of black fruits and earthy aromas.
Nus del Terrer Blanc 2015 – Vinyes del Terrer (DO Tarragona). A nice choice to feel the freshness and complexity of the Mediterranean coast. This is a white wine with “Crianza” in oak barrels, which gives body and special character.
Leopardi Gran Reserva Vintage 2012 – Cavas Llopart (DO Cava). This cava is made from a special coupage with 4 monovarietal wines, which are elegant and evolutive, and that provide a soft bubble and a pale gold color. Production is limited and is not an easy bottle to find, but in case you do, you’ll remember the moment.
Augustus Chardonnay 2016 – Augustus Forum (DO Penedes). White wine fermented in French oak barrels from Nevers at a controlled temperature where the malolactic fermentation is later performed and an aging process of 4 and a half months is given, therefore its elegant touch and silkiness.
Il·lustríssim Trepat Reserva 2013 – Celler Molí dels Capellans (DO Conca de Barbera). Made from a native grape, Trepat, this red wine is powerful and was aged for 24 months in French oak barrels.
Finca La Terrenal 2015 – Edetària (DO Terra Alta). Complex and bodied white wine, made from Garnacha which gives a salty touch to a wine that needs to be chewed with great pleasure.
La Freixeneda (DO Catalunya). From the famous Freixenet house, this red wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha age for 20 months in Croatian oak barrels which consolidate a fresh and harmonious Mediterranean wine with a taste of wild berries.
St. Antoni D’Scala Dei (DO Priorat). This is a 100% red wine made from Grenache grown on clay soil from a single vineyard. It is made in a natural way (Oak barrels aren’t used), so it showcases the pure character of the terroir and the region.
I hope you enjoyed this wine-guide to Catalonia, and that now you have some ideas for you next wine-travel!
To have more insights into Catalonia’s wine areas, don’t forget to download our descriptive and visual infographic, where you’ll also find the grape varieties of each DO and our personal insider tips to discover and taste their best wines!