Catalunya

I keep coming back to Catalunya in these classes. I think in a lot of ways this place captures what’s exciting about wine today, and a lot of the dynamics that are shaping the emergence and re-emergence of great wines from local grape varieties and surprising corners of the world.

You have, in Terra Alta, an obscure, out-of-the-way patch of land largely devoted to a single grape (it has most of Spain’s acreage of the gris version of garnatxa!), where almost all of the farmers sell to the local co-op, and Francesc Frere’s work as an independent grower (to say nothing of farming without chemicals and making wine with minimal intervention) makes him virtually a solo act.

In Montsant and Priorat: regions with long winemaking history and seriously complicated terroir that were transformed by international fame and dragged, in the 90s, into an extracted, modernist vein (widespread terracing via bulldozer to allow for mechanization literally terraformed Priorat, with environmental impacts that persist today). Dominik Hubert’s Terroir al Limit was the beginning of a growing number of producers finding freshness (and leaning on carignan and grenache and concrete, instead of cabernet and barrique) in Priorat’s crushed blue slate.

Finaly, in Penedès, Catalunya’s largest winegrowing region, held hostage for decades by an over-centralized cava machine that prioritized production over terroir and idiosyncrasy (the Big Three control about 80% of production, and include the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world), a new generation has begun bottling their own wines and experimenting with form instead of selling their grapes to the factory.

Thirty years ago, the word here was: point-chasing, ‘important’ purple Priorat bankrolled by outside money, cheap cava on supermarket shelves bulked out by chardonnay, and co-op juice from further inland nobody outside the country ever saw. (I’m painting with a broad brush!)

Sixty years ago, Spain was isolated from the world and in its third decade of a right-wing dictatorship that really hated Catalunya for being the center of Republican resistance during the Civil War, for its independent streak, and for a native language that’s closer to Occitan than Castilian.

And today? Just look at all those first vintages below! 2001, 2006, 2009 — I could add, just cherry-picking some other favorites: Escoda Sanahuja (1997); Els Jelipins (2003); Enric Soler (2004); Partida Creus (2007); Sicus (2009); Succés Vinicola (2011); Clos Lentiscus and Julía Bernet (both 2013). Out here in the export market, the landscape of Catalán wine looks totally different than when I started in the industry, and the dynamism on the ground is wild.

Class was Thursday, February 4. These were the wines:

How you’d see it on a wine list
Mas Candí, xarello, “Desig”, Penedès, Catalunya, Spain 2019

Who made it? Ramón Jané, Mercé Cuscó, Toni Carbó (first vintage 2006, previously Ramón had always sold their grapes to large cava producers)
Out of what? 56 year-old biodynamically farmed xarello on a limestone ridge overlooking Saint Sadurní d’Anoia (Alt Penedès).
Made how? Pressed and left on the skins for 24 hours before fermenting in steel tank, moved to a different steel tank to age for 6 months, bottled without filtration and with minimal sulfur.

How you’d see it on a wine list
Frisach, garnatxa blanca, “Foradada”, Terra Alta, Catalunya, Spain 2018

Who made it? Francesc Ferre, who started bottling the grapes his family had been farming in 2009, when he was just 21. 
Out of what? Organically farmed, young-vine garnatxa blanca on the ferrous clay-limestone soils of a high inland mountain valley in Terra Alta.
Made how? Fermented on the skins for two weeks, moved to steel tank and left there without stirring for almost a year, bottled without filtration and zero added sulfur. 

How you’d see it on a wine list
Terroir Sens Fronteres, grenache / carignan, “Negre”, Montsant, Catalunya, Spain 2018

Who made it? Dominik Huber (Bavarian-born founder of Terroir al Limit, which started in 2001, his Priorat project initially with Eben Sadie), Tatjana Peceric, and a full-time team of at least 10 behind them.
Out of what? Young vines, various parcels: 3/4 garnacha on sand over clay-limestone soils (‘panal’), 1/4 carignan from ferrous clay-limestone. Organically farmed, combination of estate fruit and fruit purchased from a local grower.
Made how? Fermented whole-cluster with native yeasts in steel for just 6 days, pressed before it completes fermentation into more steel, aged six months before bottling.

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