Catalonia comprises a wealth of different landscapes and climates, from the Mediterranean coastal hills to the Pyrenees, including the inland plains. Soils are similarly varied. This means that very diverse conditions for vine growing are available. Paired with the many different grape types used we find as a result a huge assortment of wines: white, rosé, red, sparkling, sweet, fortified.
Regarding grapes, local, indigenous varieties are on the rise after many years of neglect when it was fashionable to plant the ubiquitous Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah. Now there is a quest for local character, and many wineries are looking back to traditional grapes like Garnatxa (Grenache) in its many forms, Carinyena (Carignan), Monastrell/Mataró, Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo) for reds, and Xarel·lo, Macabeu, Parellada, Garnatxa Blanca, Moscatell (Muscat) for whites. Fortunately, lots of old vines (over 50 years old) have survived to yield excellent, if scarce, grapes used to generate many of the best and more personal wines.
Wine regions are organized as DOs (Denominació d’Origen, Appellation of Origin). There are 12 of them:
- Cava, for sparkling wine produced following the traditional method used for Champagne, with land scattered all over Catalonia and usually overlapping other DOs
- Catalunya, blanket DO covering the whole country except Priorat
- Conca de Barberà
- Costers del Segre
- Pla de Bages
- Priorat, a DOQ (Qualified DO), with more stringent quality rules
- Terra Alta
Catalan people personality is usually defined as a balance between seny (Catalan for common sense, reliability, dependability) and rauxa (craziness, originality, creativity), which can tilt either way (you may remember Antoni Gaudí or Salvador Dalí for instance; more solid, conventional Catalans are obviously less well-known). Catalan wines also show this duality: it is every wine lover’s choice to tend to favour one or the other, perhaps each at different moments.