The world of Spanish wines

Catalonia DOs (Part I)

Spanish Wine - Catalonia

Catalonia (Cataluña in Spanish) has a very historic wine making tradition. At the moment the wine sector in Catalonia occupies the 4th place in the food industry of this region and produces approximately 25% of the total wine production in Spain. Half of Catalonia's wine production is in fact cava (sparkling wine).

Catalonia lies at the northeast of Spain, bordering with the Pyrenees and France in the north, the Mediterranean Sea in the east, Comunidad Valenciana in the south and Aragon in the west. It's a land of wide bio climatic varieties: Mountains (the Pyrenees), plains and valleys (like the Ebro Valley) and coast (the Catalan shoreline). This wide climatic variety is why Catalonia is such a popular tourist destination. You can choose between spending your days in Barcelona, exploring the Pyrenees or going to the beach.

After the phylloxera plague of the 19th century, Catalonia replanted the vines and added a lot of white variety grapes to the existing ones, which resulted in an increment of the production of cava. During the I World War the exportation of Catalan wine rose like never before, and Catalonia enjoyed a time of great profit. However, trade weakened with the Spanish Civil War and the II World War, and Catalan wines wouldn't recover their glory until the 1960s.

DOs (designations of origin) of Catalonia

Vineyards in Catalonia take up around 175.000 sq. acres that supply 10 different designations of origin. These are all unified under the common name of DO Catalunya. The climate is mostly Mediterranean, though it varies slightly in places due to the diverse bio climates of the region. Some of the areas closer to the mountains are commonly filled with campers trying to escape from the heat.

DO Catalunya

Spanish Wine - Catalunya

DO Catalunya was established in 1999 as a way of grouping all the Catalan wines from the different designations of origin under a common name, even though they each keep the name of their own DO. This is why it allows the use of all the permitted grapes under the rest of the DOs that produce Catalan wines.

The production area in Catalonia can be divided in two main parts: The humid part, which spans the mountainous and higher places, has frequent rains and lower temperatures; and the dry part, which spans the coast and the internal area of the valleys, has less frequent rains and higher temperatures.

DO Catalunya accepts all the Catalan wines under the red, white, rosé, liquor and sparkling categories. The "calm wines" (those with no bubbles) can be crianza, reserva and gran reserva if they meet the specifications of their own designation of origin. The "novel" wines can be marketed after the 11th of November of the harvest year, and the "young" wines after the 20th of December of the harvest year. In both cases, the harvest year should appear on the label. The alcohol contents for the Catalan wines are as follows:

  • White: Minimum 10% of alcohol content.
  • Rosé: Minimum 10.5% of alcohol content
  • Red: Minimum 11.5% of alcohol content
  • Sparkling: Minimum 10.5% of alcohol content
  • Liquor: Minimum 15% of alcohol content

DO Alella

Spanish Wine - Alella

The vineyards of DO Alella, established in the 1950s, can be found in the Maresme region of Catalonia, right by the coast. These Catalan wines are often called "Urban wines" for two reasons: First, because due to the ever growing urban areas, these vineyards wage a constant war against the city invasion of the rural areas; second, because the wines have mostly been consumed in the urban areas next to the wineries. They were specially coveted during the Middle Ages, and since then they've been exported to all parts of the world and contributed to spread Spanish wine.

White wines are the star of this DO, and the most common grape varieties are the Xarel·lo and the Garnacha Blanca. For their delicate rosés they use Garnacha and Merlot, while for their fruity reds the preferred variety is the Tempranillo. The alcohol content in the DO Alella wines is between 11.5% and 13.5% for the three types.

DO Empordà-Costa Brava

Spanish Wine - Empordà-Costa Brava

The Empordà region is in the northeast of Catalonia, where the Pyrenees in the north and the Mediterranean on the east form natural borders. This area is highly influenced by the Tramontana winds, strong northern winds that blow in gust of up to 74 miles per hour and which are highly beneficial for the health of the vines. This area enjoys a good climate for vine growing, with mild winters and hot summers, tempered by cool Mediterranean breezes.

Most of the vines in this DO are older than 30 years, which account for the quality of their wines. In later years they have introduced new varieties and made important renewals in the vines to adequate their product to the changing market and to more modern tastes. The main grape varieties used are Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo and Moscatel of d'Alexandria for the whites; Samsó and Garnacha Tinta for the reds. The alcohol content in these wines is as follows:

  • White: Between 11% and 15% of alcohol content.
  • Rosé: Between 11.5% and 15% of alcohol content
  • Red: Minimum 11.5% of alcohol content

DO Conca de Barberà

Spanish Wine - Conca de Barberà

The DO Conca de Barberá is at the north of the Tarragona province. This region's wine production is tightly intertwined with the economic and cultural evolution of the area through times. Although wine was being produced here from the Romans (as in most of the Peninsula), their takeoff didn't come until the arrival of the Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages and the founding of the Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet, which is a total must-see if you're ever in the region and want to learn Spanish history. During the phylloxera plague of the 19th century the wine makers of this region teamed up to find ways to repel the plague and save Catalan wines, and thus the Barberá de la Conca Cooperative was founded, the first wine cooperative in Spain. The DO was established in 1989.

The Conca del Barberá vineyards are found in a depression made by the erosion of the Francolí river and bordered with mountains. The plantations are between the 1150 and 1900 feet of altitude and are affected mostly by a Mediterranean climate, although it gets closer to the continental climate as your approach Lérida. This transition results in very hot summer and very cold winters.

Most of the Catalan wines of Conca del Barberá are either white or rosé wines, produced with the Macabeo and Parellada varieties. Reds are less common but still produced, mostly with the Garnacha Tinta and Tempranillo varieties, although other international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot are also allowed. The alcohol content of the wines of DO Conca de Barberà are:

  • White Parellada: 100% Parellada variety, alcohol content between 10% and 11%.
  • White: Alcohol content between 10% and 12%
  • Rosé: Alcohol content between 10% and 12%
  • Red: Alcohol content between 10.5% and 13%
  • Sparkling: Alcohol content between 10.8% and 12.8%

There are 7 other designations of origin in Catalonia: DO Costers del Segre, DO Montsant, DO Penedès, DO Pla de Bages, DOCa Priorat, DO Tarragona and DO Terra Alta.

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