Catalonia is one of 15 regions in mainland Spain, although it is economically about 20% of the country. It occupies a triangle in the North East corner bordered on the North by France, on the South-East by the Mediterranean, and to the West by Aragon. Each of these borders is some 200k long. The Catalan people and the Catalan language spread over the border into Roussillon up to, and past, Perpignan.

Catalonia produces just about 10% of Spain’s wine, and – not surprisingly given its economic power and fierce independence – has developed and modernised rather like a small separate country. In fact it has about the same production volumes, at better quality levels, as Greece or Bulgaria.

Catalonia is famously associated with Cava. It produces about 95% of all Cava. In all Catalonian wine is – very roughly – equal thirds of Cava, Red and White.

As well as the general Denominación de Origen (DO) for both Cava and Catalunya, there are 9 other DO areas in Catalonia. Going roughly North to South these are: Empordà-Costa Brava; Pla de Bages; Alella ; Penedès; Tarragona; Conca de Barberà; Montsant; Terra Alta; and inland Costers del Segre, composed of 4 or 5 separate enclaves in the Lleida province.

In addition there is one, very highly prized, DOCa (Denominación de  Origen Calificada): Priorat – in the South surrounded by Montsant. Both these areas centre on old vine Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan). Priorat wines were unknown 30 years ago, but revived by growers like Palacios, Gil and Barbier became a big hit with influential critics.

You can see a map of all the Catalan areas at: http://www.wineandvinesearch.com/spain/catalonia/catalonia_do.php 

Well over 80% of Catalonian wine is DO or better, compared to under 40% for Spain as a whole.

Not all these DOs are significant to the UK drinker. New developments are seeing some good wines from Conca de Barberà; Terra Alta; and Costers del Segre – but otherwise the main areas we see are: Cava; Priorat / Montsant; and Penedès.

As to grape production: over 20 varieties are grown, but the top 9 make up over 86% of production. Led by the Cava grapes: Macabeu (which makes up nearly 1/4 of all Catalonian grapes); Parellada and Xarel-lo; the rest of the top 9 are Tempranillo; Cabernet Sauvignon; Samso; Grenache; Merlot and Chardonnay.

One of the most significant wine areas is DO Penedès, along the coast South-West of Barcelona. This is famous for Cava and the Torres house. Torres has been highly influential in the modernisation and internationalisation of Spanish wine after the dark days of Franco. And although it produces a lot of wine including some international styles it hasn’t completely forsaken its family-run, terroir-driven ethos.

Torres is based in Vilafranca del Penedès, but makes wine throughout Catalonia, including Priorat and Conca de Barberà. They also have holdings in Ribero del Duero and Rioja (well to the West) as well as in Chile and California. It also produces one of the few palatable low-alcohol labels: Natureo.

Torres makes 17 DO Catalunya wines; 10 DO Penedès, 2 DOC Priorat, 2 Conca de Barberà; and 1 each from Ribero and Rioja.

The Catalunya wines include some very recognizable names: Viña Sol and (the very good) Viña Esmerelda among the whites and Sagre de Toro  and Gran Sagre de Toro. The last two wines are based on Grenache and Carignan – with the Gran version supplemented (characteristically of Torres) by Syrah! Another example of their approach is Coronas a Tempranillo with a touch (5%) of Cabernet Sauvignon.

In Penedès the wines include Gran Coronas – a Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch (this time 15%) of Tempranillo and aged to Reserva level (aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak). They also produce some great, and expensive, single Estate wines here: the Cabernet Mas La Plana and the Pinot Mas Borràs. Another great single Estate wine is produced from old indigenous grape varieties in Conca de Barberà – the great wine Grans Muralles, but… £90 for a good vintage!!!

In contrast to the Tempranillo / Cabernet balancing act in Penedès, Torres also produces wines from the, Grenache and Carignan (Garnacha & Cariñena) dominated, area of Priorat: Perpetual and Salmos. Salmos has a small percentage of Syrah.

There is more to Catalonia than Torres and Cava of course, but the claims of the Torres house to combine modern international wine making with the traditions and (in many cases) the grapes of the region are reasonable. Furthermore, except for the highly prized – and highly priced – offerings from Priorat, small artisan growers are hard to find from the region.

So does Torres deliver on its own PR?

The notes of wines in this tasting will be posted in 3 or 4 days.

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