Empordà: wind, wine and genius

The DO Empordà is included in the wider Empordà district, tucked away in the northeast corner. Apart from its wines it is a fascinating area, with the incredible rocky coastal scenery of the Costa Brava (the real stuff, not Lloret) and the lower Pyrenees as they get close to the sea. As the legend goes, Empordà is the place where a mountain shepherd and a mermaid met and lived forever. Not less interesting are its monuments and museums, from menhirs to surrealist art.

This diversity is shown on its cuisine, with a defined personality and a vast choice of quality products from sea and land, further enhanced by the creativity generated by the Tramuntana, the North wind that is reputedly the cause of a degree of healthy madness (or genius) present in illustrious empordanencs like Salvador Dalí. Even El Bulli’s chef, Ferrán Adrià, born close to Barcelona, may owe part of his sparkling inspiration to living and working in Empordà.

Phoenician and Greek settlers in Rhode (now Roses) and Emporion (Empùries, hence Empordà) introduced winemaking 2600 years ago; and monk Ramon Pere de Noves from Sant Pere de Rodes abbey wrote a treatise on winemaking in the 11th century. Wine is certainly not a newcomer to these lands.

The DO is divided in two separate zones. The Alt (high) Empordà is at the extreme corner (in the precipitous and rocky Creus Cape part of the movie The Light at the Edge of the World was shot) of Catalonia; the Baix (low) Empordà is a smaller plain around Palafrugell limited by coastal hills.

Soils are poor, acidic and sandy, with some slatey mountain slopes. The frequent Tramuntana, that can be quite strong with gusts over 100 km/h, is very good for the vines health as it keeps them dry. Sea breezes help to soothe the heat in the summer months.

Empordà produces white wines with Garnatxa blanca, Macabeu and Moscatell as main varieties. The also local Xarel•lo, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and some other foreign grapes are used but less frequent. Whites tend to be fresh, light and aromatic, to be drunk young as a general rule.

Rosé wines are usually made from Garnatxa and Carinyena. These two grapes, very often from vines 30+ years old, are the basis of the reds as well. More recent Cabernet Sauvignon, Ull de Llebre (aka Tempranillo), Merlot, Monastrell and Syrah also find their way into the bottles. Reds can be dark, complex, with big structure and good aging potential.

Very remarkable are the natural sweet wines, mainly coming from Garnatxa grapes.

Castillo de Perelada (not the lower, mass produced range), Empordàlia, Espelt, la Vinyeta, Martí Fabra, Masia Serra, Oliver Conti, Pere Guardiola, Vinyes d’Olivardots, and Vinyes dels Aspres are for me the most interesting wineries of a zone that is steadily reaching a high level in most of the very diverse wine types it offers.

A visit to any of the wineries followed by a taste of its wines is a great addition to a stay in these crazy, wonderful lands and an opportunity to meet the progeny of the mermaid and the shepherd.


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