Catalan wine

Catalan wine

Catalan wine is wine made in the Spanish wine region of Catalonia. The term may also be used to refer to some French wines made in the Catalan influenced region of Roussillon. The city of Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the focal point of the Catalan wine industry, serving as its primary consumer market, an exporting coastal port and source of financial investment and resources. 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 José Raventos of Codorníu Winery. At the turn of the 20th century, the Catalan wine industry was at the forefront of Spain's emergence as a world leader in quality wine production, being the first Spanish wine region to adopt the use of stainless steel fermentation tanks. The area is also an important cork production region, with output aimed primarily at the region's Cava houses. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 143-144 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]


Archaeological evidence suggests that the Phoenicians introduced winemaking to the region several hundred years before the Romans arrived there. Recovered pieces of amphora indicate that the Phoenicians traded ancient Catalan wines with the Egyptians. The Romans had a major influence in the development of Catalan wine-growing, particularly around Tarragona, the Roman capital of occupied Spain. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD and subsequent Moorish rule, Catalan wine production was severely curtailed. It was several hundred years before wine production began again in earnest. [ [ A History of wine in Catalonia ] ]

In the 14th century, the Franciscan writer Francesc Eiximenis described Catalan wines as strong, dense, highly alcoholic wines which, although high quality, sometimes needed to be diluted with water. H. Johnson "Vintage: The Story of Wine" pg 128 Simon and Schuster 1989 ISBN 0671687026 ] A turning point for the Catalan wine industry occurred in the 19th century with the outbreak of the phylloxera epidemic that ravaged the French vineyards to the north. Along with wines from the Rioja region, Catalan wines became a welcome import for French consumers suffering a severe shortage of domestic produce.

In 1872, the sparkling wine Cava was invented in the Penedès region and eventually became an internationally recognized wine style. When phylloxera hit the region towards the end of the 19th century, Catalonia's vineyards comprised over 80% red wine grapes. The growing Cava industry encouraged planting of more white wine grapes, in place of the diseased red rootstock, where they now make up nearly 70% of the region's vineyards.

During the 20th century, the Catalan wine industry became one of the leaders of the innovation behind the Spanish wine revolution, embracing modern winemaking techniques and increasing the plantings of international grape varietals. The region received international attention in 1979 when a bottle of Torres 1970 Gran Coronas Black Label (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Monastrell) was secretly entered into the "classified Bordeaux wine" category of the Gault Millau Wine Olympics and ended up winning that category. K. MacNeil "The Wine Bible" pg 454-460 Workman Publishing 2001 ISBN 1563054345 ]

Climate and geography

The Catalan wine region is located along the Mediterranean coast in northeastern Spain and is strongly influenced by its Mediterranean climate. Along the coast temperatures are warm with moderate rainfall but conditions become progressively more arid further inland. The majority of Catalan "denominaciones" lie to the south of the distinctive peaks of the Montserrat Massif, while smaller plantations lie to the north of Barcelona and south of the French border at the Pyrenees. The region is marked by warm climates along the coast and cooler temperatures through the foothills up to plateaus of more than convert|2000|ft|m|abbr=on above sea level. The area has a diversity of soil types, mostly calcareous sediments mixed with alluvium and clay. Some of the most acclaimed vineyards in the region are found on some of the scatter limestone deposits in the area.

Grapes and wine

The wines of the Catalan wine region include sparkling Cava, dry white wines and powerful reds, known as "black" wine or "vi negre" in Catalan, due to the colour of the grape. The grapes of the region include the Cava and white wine grapes of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo and the red wine grapes of Garnacha, Monestrell and Tempranillo. The production of sparkling white wine is the largest contributor to the Catalan wine industry, followed by production of still whites and then red wine. While the majority of the region's wines are blends, some varietal versions are also produced.


A Spanish sparkling wine was first made as early as 1851, T. Stevenson "The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia" pg 318 Dorling Kindersley 2005 ISBN 0756613248 ] although the true roots of the Cava wine industry can be traced back to José Raventos' travels through Europe in the 1860s, where he was promoting the still wines of his Codorníu winery. His visits to the Champagne region sparked an interest in the potential of a Spanish version of the sparkling wine, using the same production methods. The local Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes were well suited to this wine style, and whereas early versions were called "champán" or "xampany" after Champagne, Catalan winemakers wanted to distinguish their wines from the French counterpart. They adopted the name "Cava" after the Catalan word for cave, where the wines were traditionally stored.

According to Spanish wine laws, Cava can be produced in six wine regions (such as Aranda de Duero, Navarra and Rioja) but 95% of Spanish Cava production takes place in the Penedès region. In order for the wines to be called "Cava" they must be made in the traditional "méthode champenoise". Wines made via the low-cost "Charmat process" may only be called "Spanish sparkling wine". A rosé style of Cava is also produced in small quantities by adding still red wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha or Monastrell to the wine. The first Cava to use the Chardonnay grape was produced in 1981. Catalan Cava producers pioneered a significant technological development in the sparkling wine production with the invention of the gyropallet, a large mechanized device that replaced hand riddling, in which the lees are consolidated in the neck of the bottle prior to disgorgement and corking. H. Johnson & J. Robinson "The World Atlas of Wine" pg 196-198 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 2005 ISBN 1840003324 ]

Wine regions

The Catalan wine region includes 9 "Denominació d'Origen" or "Denominación de Origen" (DO) and 1 "Denominació d'Origen Qualificada" (DOQ) region – the Priorat. The Catalunya DO is a generic appellation that covers the entire region for wines that do not fall under any other DO designation.

AlellaThe Alella DO is located near the city of Barcelona and was awarded DO status in 1956. The area is known mainly for its white wine production which can range from oak aged sweet wine to cool fermented dry wines. The principle grape of the area is the Pansa Blanca, a local name for the Xarel·lo grape. There are some plantings of the international varieties Chardonnay and Chenin blanc, used in both still wine and Cava production. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 11 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

Conca de BarberàThe Conca de Barberà DO is located between the Costers del Segre, Penedès and Tarragona DOs with vineyards at elevations of around 1,600 ft (500 m) above sea level. The climate of the region is marked by hot summer days, cool nights chilled by the nearby ocean breeze, and cold winters. The limestone based soils are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot noir, which are used to make still wines as well as contribute to some Cava production. Rosé wines are produced from the local Trepat grape. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 191 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

Costers del Segre The Costers del Segre DO is located near the city of Lleida along the Segre River. The landscape here is very arid with less than 15 inches (400 mm) of rainfall a year. There are extreme temperature variations throughout the year, with freezing cold winters and summertime highs in excess of 95 °F (35 °C). The river Ebro provides the irrigation vital to the viticulture of the area, which includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Macabeo, Merlot, Parellada, Pinot noir and Tempranillo plantations. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 205 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

EmpordàThe Empordà DO 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 winds off the Mediterranean that moderate the risk of frost and vine diseases. It was not enough to prevent the outbreak of the phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century, which nearly destroyed the entire Empordà wine industry, with many vineyards only being replanted s recently as the latter half of the 20th century. The principle grapes of the region are Garnatxa (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignane), which are primarily used for rosé wines. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 252 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

MontsantThe Montsant DO was formed in 2001 in the area around Falset, Tarragona to distinguish itself from the wines of the greater Tarragona DO. This upland area is noted for its old Garnacha and Cariñena vines along steeply sloping vineyards. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 453 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

Pla de BagesThe Pla de Bages DO 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. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 532 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

TarragonaThe Tarragona DO 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 in a style similar to Port. In the 1960s, prior to winning DO 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. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 680 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]

Terra AltaThe Terra Alta DO is Catalunya's southernmost wine region and one of the most mountainous – "terra alta" literally translates as "highlands". It is located to the to the south of the Priorat DO and shares a similar winemaking history. Today the area is known for its Garnacha Blanca wines and its growing red wine production. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 693 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]


The Penedès is the largest and most productive wine region of Catalona and is considered the birthplace of Cava. The region has a long winemaking history and due to its close proximately to Barcelona has always enjoyed a strong export market. In the 19th century it was one of the first Spanish wine regions to involve itself with large-scale commercial production of wine, mainly for export to post-phylloxera France. In the 1960s & 1970s, the Penedès region led the way in the Spanish wine industry's technological revolution, being the first wine region to adopt the use of temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks. The region also began to import more international varieties and better clonal vine selections of grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot noir, Riesling and Sauvignon blanc. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 510 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ]
The region is divided into three zones – the lowland Baix Penedès, the Penedès central which lies between coastal and inland mountain ranges, and the upland Penedès Superior or "Alt Penedès". The warmer Baix Penedès, centered around the town of El Vendrell and extending to the Costa Daurada coastline, has long been known for its fortified wines made from Malvasia and Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria), but has a growing reputation for non-fortified reds made from Cariñena, Garnacha and Monastrell.
The Central Penedès is located in a broad valley about 1,600 ft (500 m) above sea level and centered around the regional capital of Vilafranca del Penedès, the largest winery there being Bodegas Torres. The nearby town of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia provides another focal point for the area, being the acknowledged center of Spanish Cava production. Traditionally made from the area's Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes, the increased use of Chardonnay and Pinot noir in Cava blends has seen a corresponding expansion in areas of the region dedicated to those grapes. The Central Penedès has also been increasing its red wine production based on Cabernet Sauvignon and the local strain of Tempranillo known as Ull de Llebre.
The Penedès Superior is located in the foothills of the mountains enclosing the Central Depression and is the coolest part of the region, used almost exclusively for white wine production.


The Priorat DOQ has been producing wine since the 12th century when Carthusian monks planted a vineyard and established a priory from which the region took its name. The area is known for its Cariñena and Garnacha based wines made from old, low yield vines that average 0.3 tons an acre (5 hl/ha). The area has a very hot mediterranean climate that allows the grape to ripen fully and produce wines with very high alcohol levels of up to 18%. The local "Llicorella" soil is of particularly poor quality, composed of quartz and slate, which also helps to limit yields. Vineyards are situated on steep terraces, largely unsuitable for mechanical harvesting. The Priorat still has marked monastic influences, with many top estates prefixing their vineyards with "Clos" in recognition of the region's early winemaking history, similar to the naming of many of Burgundy's grand crus. J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 548 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906 ] Despite the annual rainfall of the area being less than 16 inches (400 mm), irrigation is not widely used due to the cool, damp nature of the Llicorella soil. Grapevine roots are able to tunnel through faults in the slate to find underground water reserves.
The region is one of only two Spanish "Denominaciones de Origen Calificadas"(DOC, or DOQ in Catalan), in recognition of outstanding consitency of quality, the other being the well-known Rioja.

External links

* [ Pyrenees Guide to Catalan wines]
* [ Map of Catalan wine regions]


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