Alella: vines vs. houses

Alella is the smallest DO in Catalonia, and also the closest to Barcelona. Indeed, the vineyards start some 10 km away from Barcelona’s centre. Eighteen villages are included, and they are placed at both sides of the coastal hills that run parallel to the Mediterranean.

This area attracted formerly holiday second homes from wealthy Barcelonese, and now is increasingly filling with permanent residents, seduced by the cool climate and the easy access to beaches. The building fever of the last twenty years has not been able to drive away the last winegrowers, heirs to a winemaking tradition that spans millennia. In fact, in the heart of the DO lands there is a Roman winemaking facility, Cella Vinaria, active from the 1st century B.C. till the 5th century A.D. The wines of this zone (laietanian wines) are mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Martial. Wine production continued successfully through the Middle Ages and beyond, to this day.

Alella DO villages

The DO has ca. 600 hectares of vineyard, with soils generally sandy (sauló) in the plots facing the sea, and with more clay in those facing the inland. Climate is Mediterranean, with hot summers and cool winters. Rain is relatively scarce (600 mm/year) and concentrated in spring and autumn. There are no important rivers, so humidity coming from the sea plays an important role. The hilly countryside gives plenty of opportunities for fulfilling the microclimate requirements of the different grape varieties.

Which are they? For whites, there are two recommended grapes: Garnatxa blanca and Pansa blanca (aka Xarel.lo). Other accepted: Chardonnay, Chenin blanc, Macabeu, Malvasia, Moscatell de gra petit, Parellada, Picapoll blanc and Sauvignon blanc. Red varieties: Garnatxa negra (recommended), Cabernet Sauvignon, Carinyena, Garnatxa peluda (hairy) Merlot, Monastrell, Pinot noir, Sumoll negre, Syrah and Ull de Llebre. Many vines of the local varieties are over 50 years old, and grown as bushes. International varieties are younger and usually trellised.

With this range Alella winemakers (7 in total) elaborate an assortment which is surprisingly wide for a zone of this size: whites of all kinds, rosè, reds, sweets, and, as other Catalan DOs, Cava in its full choice.

The most well known type is the white made from Pansa blanca, the local name of Xarel.lo. It can be young or with oak aging. Chardonnay is the second most important white grape, and the others are usually complements in the blends, with the odd monovarietal. Excellent sweets, both red and white, and some outstanding soleras.

Alella wines, with their mild climate, tend to be lighter and more elegant than wines from other Catalan DOs with harsher climatic conditions.

My favourite wineries: this is difficult. Quality is generally high and with only seven winemakers…Anyway:
  • Alta Alella, with organic production 
  • Marqués de Alella, mainly whites 
  • Alella Vinícola (Marfil), attention to the soleras
Let us hope that these seven stubborn, resilient groups will resist the alluring offers for their land and continue to produce these wines, with a very defined personality within the Catalan wine world.

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