Maisie Lyman

Learn About Catalonia’s Wines & Wine Regions

Or, as it is more commonly referred to in English, Catalonia. A region often considered a country within a country, any casual stroll through Barcelona glints at an air of distinct separation. From the coastal Mediterranean warmth along the hills towards the alpine foothills, the culinary and enological possibilities are endless.

The Catalunya D.O. (Denominacio d’Origen or Designation of Origen) grows a dizzying array of grapes. Wines are made with Chardonnay, Grenache Blanca, Macabeo, Muscat, Parellada, Sauvignon Blanc, Xarel-lo, Malvasia, Pedro Ximenez, and that’s just the white grapes.

Tempranillo, Spain’s great red grape, gets the local moniker Ull de llebre. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grow alongside Garnacha (hairy Grenache is an intriguing cultivar, related to the better-known Garnacha Negra). Pinot Noir, Carignan, Trepat, Merlot, Monastrell, the list is as international as the local cuisine.

Dry white wines flourish here, as do powerfully structured red wines. The proximity of Barcelona offers a ready market for the wide-ranging diversity of wines. But there’s more finesse to the market and the wines than can be seen at first blush. Swirl, see, sip, and enjoy.

Catalunya History, Grape Varieties, Regions and Wine Styles | Winetraveler.com
Looking out over the landscape of Catalonia with a glass of local wine from Priorat. March, 2019. Image credit Greig Santos-Buch / Rossella del Gaudio.

The History of Catalunya

Anchored to the Mediterranean at Barcelona, Catalonia (we’re sticking with the English spelling for the sake of continuity) joins France and Spain while denying them both. Locals are often fiercely loyal to a Catalan first identity, and the region bears the historical scars of turmoil to back it up.

RELATED: The Difference Between Spain’s Wine Region Designations, DO, DOCa & DOQ

The first fight for independence was from Aragon, the next from Castilla, and then from Madrid. In 1977, Catalonia was granted a place among Spain’s autonomous regions. Infighting aside, Catalonia sports its own local language, Catalan, and the region is effectively and legally bilingual. The Catalan culture and language crosses the French border into Roussillon, but French Catalonia is a subject for another time.

Barcelona wins two trophies as both the Catalan capital and the second largest city in Spain. It’s an industrious place, forgoing the traditional siesta and bringing technological revival and market share to the regional wines. Stainless steel made its first foray into winemaking in Catalonia, as did traditional method sparkling wine.

And while Catalonia is indeed a D.O., there are 9 officially recognized regions within it, some of which warrant very close looks…and lingering sips.

Catalonia wine region map | Winetraveler.com

Catalonia’s Wine Regions

Most of Catalonia’s wine reaches run along the Mediterranean Sea. Barcelona marks the eastern edge and vines cascade across the rolling countryside east and ever so slightly south. The region, like its politics, borders on mildly complicated as smatters and patches of it reach farther inland to the north and east. But the bottles making waves are currently coming the breezy keep along the sea.

Cava’s fame and fortune rises from this land. Almost 95% of Spain’s answer to champagne is made in Catalonia. The grapes may be wildly different from those of its French mentor, but the style is deliciously familiar. The fertile plateau hosts the fierce competition between two giants of the sparkling wine world: Cordoniu and Freixnet. Classic method sparkling wines made from Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parelleda join plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot for the increasingly popular rose style Cava. But it’s red wines which now travel the path paved by Cava’s road to the world’s glasses.

RELATED: Learn About The Penedès Wine Region of Spain – The Home of Spanish Cava

Were you to take a leisurely road trip from Barcelona through the surrounding regions, Penedés marks your first stop. As the closest region to Barcelona, this area rises like the low-lying steps entering a luxury resort, with a bottle of sparkling wine in hand to greet you. This is Cava country. The ready market in Barcelona gave this region the financial stability to pioneer the introduction of international vine varieties to the Catalonian landscape, making one of the region’s most diverse productions. Tarragona is next, offering a flourishing array of crisp white wines. The red wines here are made in the style Priorat (but hang on a sec, we’re getting there), but much of their claim was annexed by the separate Montsant D.O. in 2001.

RELATED: The Perfect Itinerary For Visiting Priorat Spain

Head north from Tarragona and you’ll find yourself in Conca del Barberá among its chalky limestone hills which produce robust red wines from local grapes. You may meander into the Costers del Segre if you keep driving, but the region ranges across half a dozen scattered areas with vineyards cropping up as bush trained Macabeo and Garnacha hunkering down under the warm sun.

Head further south and east if your glass calls for the hearty, heady red wines of Montsant and Priorat. The two paragons of robust Catalonian red have taken the global wine stage with gusto.

Montsant and its rugged gradient wraps itself around Priorat’s schist peaks in a protective embrace. One starts their trek up a hilly climb, and as the terrain rises, the soil changes from limestone and granite in Montsant to distinctly schist in Priorat. Olive groves, bare mountain peaks, and ancient vines grown low to the ground make for spectacular views along a one-horse road leading up the sunny mountainsides through Montsant towards the upper reaches of Priorat. 

The predominantly Garnacha wines here can be laced with Cariñena (Carignan). Savvy producers recognized the potential of these rugged slopes early and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and some Pinot Noir. Structured with velvety tannin, Priorat’s wines have an age-worthy excitement that runs through the undercurrent of low yielding, ancient vines planted alongside younger international varieties.

Under the Catalan sun, deep garnet and nearly black gems glisten along the vines. And in the glass, it swirls a nearly purple heaven of bramble fruits, spice, and leather. Makes for a lovely capstone to any road trip, especially through this secret garden style region.


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Maisie Lyman
Winemaker & WSET III at Fruition Sciences
Wanderlust lured Maisie from a comfortable career in commercial land developement in 2008. She jumped corporate ship and started studying one of makind's largest and most ancient fascinations: wine growing.

She's WSET III certified and splits her time between technical writing for Fruition Sciences (dirt and vines) and flavorful writing for Good Company Wines (globe trotting by the glassful). Her studies at UC Davis, the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and elsewhere ensure that what she doesn't know, she will soon find out.

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