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Chapter 2: Cataluña

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When I first took on this project, I thought it was my duty as a writer to give you all that juicy information that lies within each chapter, but what’s the point of my writing you exactly what’s in the book if you can just read it and get the same information yourself. Right?! Why not give you those great Cliff notes we so relied on throughout High School, hoping that we got just enough information to pass the test, but not so much that our reading time would cut into our invaluable telephone time. Unfortunately, as I move from one position, great teacher of all things English for 5-year olds to full-time Catavino co-owner/writer/editor/taster/continual student/fly by night vidblogger, I’ve been pressed for time. So with that said, I’ve decided to press onward and upwards to the important parts of Chapter 2 – now that I have a few minutes to spare, and chat a bit about Julian’s description of Cataluña.

Julian from this point on in his book, The Wines of Spain, breaks each Chapter down into a general description of the region; followed by more detailed information of each DO within the region. The DO section is further subdivided into geography, climate, soils, grapes, planting, vineyard area, authorized yield, wines, production vintages, a brief personal account of the region, and finally the most recognized bodegas. As a general format, it’s clear, concise and to the point. As a reader, I appreciate the user-friendly style allowing me to use it more as a reference tool than anything I would sit down with a cup of coffee and read like “Love by the Glass”. To be honest, if it wasn’t for his personal account and the fact that he gives some interesting tidbits about each bodega he highlights, I would most likely never pick up this book unless I had to find a specific fact, and even there I would most likely cross check it with another reference as a research habit. Fortunately, his personal accounts are quite interesting and I have market many of his suggestions as future places I would like to visit.

What has struck me the most about this chapter on Cataluña (to see a map of the region, click here) is how descriptive Julian is about Bodega Torres. We have written several posts on Torres, but never have I come across such intriguing information about their history. The family began making wines back in 1628 in the Penedés. Later in 1855, Jaime Torres emigrated to Cuba where he made his fortune in the shipping and petroleum industries, returning back to Spain in 1870 to join his brother Miguel in founding Bodega Torres. This part of the history I was familiar with. What I didn’t know was as a result of Jaime’s creativity and ability to think larger than life; he commissioned the largest wine vat in the world. Able to hold 600,000 liters, it was bigger than the famous Heidelberg tun that could only hold 220,000 liters. To give you a bit of perspective on the size, in 1904, King Alonso of Spain had lunch inside the vat. Why? I have no idea other than historically, royalty has been known to do some pretty odd things as a result of both having excessive wealth and time on their hands. After both Julian’s and his brother’s death, Miguel claimed ownership of the Bodega in 1932 at the green age of 23. Unfortunately, the Civil War erupted in 1936, allowing the bodega to be taken over by the Republican Workers’ Committee. Here’s the saddest part of the story, as if it isn’t horrific enough to have your home and business confiscated, in 1939, the bodega was “accidentally” bombed mistaken for the train station next door! But being a Torres man, wild and persistent, Miguel came home with a hammer and some nails to rebuild what was destroyed in 1940. He also came home with a firm decision made; he would only sell his wine in bottle, leaving bulk wine sales to other wineries. But like all great stories, there was more turmoil and drama in Miguel’s path. In order for him to capitalize on Hitler’s invasion of France, ceasing all exportation of French wine, Miguel set upon crossing the Atlantic with his wife during a highly dangerous period of history. Successfully landing on US soil, they hauled their bags full of wine from restaurant to restaurant spreading the good news of great wine.

The fifth generation, Miguel Torres has been written extensively about, and Julian’s account of how Bodega Torres became the powerhouse it is now, albeit interesting is nothing that couldn’t be found in other books. However, I will highlight the fact that Julian highlights to major changes in Spanish oenology as a result of Miguel Torres: controlled temperature fermentation and aging wine in small oak casks for a set period of time. Both of these developments were major leaps in Cataluña’s viticulture practices if we consider the how varied the temperatures are in this region along with the enormous barrels previously used before Torres’s contribution.

Julian covers DO Penedés, DO Costers del Segre rather extensively with interesting stories and perspectives, leaving DO Alella, DO Barberá de la Conca and DO Ampurdan-Costa Brava rather slim in intrigue. Although maybe I’m being a bit harsh considering that I had no idea Alella was completely destroyed during the Civil War, resulting in relatively new and modern vineyards. He feels that their wines are “Spain’s best and need a year in bottle before they show to full advantage”. I haven’t had many wines from Alella to be honest, but even if I did, I doubt I would ever use the phrase “show to full advantage” to describe the potential of a wine. It may be a very typical wine term, but to a non-wine geek like myself, I find it sort of wordy an odd. Sorry, I digress from my jargon soapbox. Despite the positive attention given by Julian for Allela’s wines, he goes on to tell us that the majority of vineyards are owned by people who want a hobby farm, making it easy to sell off to developers interested in capitalizing on Barcelona’s urban sprawl. Coming from the US, I am intimately familiar with this practice and it’s one that I had hoped I wouldn’t see in Europe. However, capitalism exists throughout the world, and Spain has gained an enormous amount of wealth, attention from international industries, and an enormous influx of immigration making sprawl inevitable. Add this to Barcelona continually being rated as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and you have a recipe for randomly placed row-house hell, rather than rolling vineyards of Garnacha Blanca and Cariñena.

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DO Barberá de la Conca, named after its district, is primarily known for one thing: Chardonnay. Double-vintaging their vines, evidently a rather innovative technique, grapes are picked early for their high acidity for their joven wines, and reused a second time for their main harvest. Economically, this is a stunning idea because you’re actually using the vines to their full-potential, while just being practical. Far be it for me to know whether this is a common practice or not among wineries, but if not, I would suggest that it is. Could there be disadvantages to doing this? If anyone knows, please chime in!

Unbeknownst to me, DO Costers del Segre gained its international reputation for making great quality as a result of Raïmat, the smallest of the six vineyards within the DO. Although I am very familiar with Raïmat, and its founder, Manuel Raventós, I wasn’t aware of its history. As the story is told by Julian, Manuel Raventós Doménech had the ingenious idea of taking an irrigation canal that had been cut off in 1910, reconnecting it, and using it to irrigate the once dry and arid land. With a plan and some funds in his back pocket, he bought the estate in 1914 consisting of 3,200 hectares, a castle, and one tree. Not two trees, or no trees, but just one, single, solitary tree standing on 3,200 hectares. Kind of puts the word “desert” in perspective. Ah, but we lack a name for our fabulous single tree estate. Manuel was inspired by the coat of arms on his newly bought castle of a bunch of grapes called, raïm in Catalan, and a hand called, mat.

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Then like Julian Torres, rather than doing the next obvious step after you found a bodega like focusing on the vines, he gets a little eccentric and builds an entire village for his workers, a train station and a school. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for eccentrics like Manuel Raventós and the entire Torres clan, continually pushing the limits of what the imagination can create, wine would still be made as it was hundreds of years ago.

One side note to this DO before I move on to DO Pla de Bages is that Julian appears to give full recognition to Raïmat for making this area what it is today, and although historically that is true, I think the winery Castell del Remei needs to be given its full credit as well for producing some incredible wines in this region. From my experience with this bodega and from the raving reviews I’ve read from wine critics, their red wines are outstanding and have increased the reputation and recognition to the region as a whole.

DO Pla de Pages was evidently formed in 1995 and I really have nothing else to say about it. Julian’s description of the DO is really quite boring being that the DO was formed not 12 years ago, and lacks anything really significant to highlight. I will say that I’ve tried at least one wine from Abadal Masies D’Avinyó, but I honestly don’t recall whether I enjoyed it or not. I suppose this should call my attention to actually purchase a bottle and try it again.

As for DO Priorato, there is nothing that I can tell in Julain’s account of the DO that either interested me or gave me pause of something I should share with you. Although well-written and detailed as to the grape varietals and geography, this area has been so thoroughly praised as a world-class wine region that I feel as if I would be beating a dead horse to further tout its quality and international prestige. This DO produces fantastic, albeit incredibly expensive, wine, and I can only assume its dutifully earned reputation will continue to grow.

The first time I heard of DO Tarragona, I thought it was a joke. I actually thought it was a mistype when I read it on someone’s blog post because it was the first time in two years that I had ever heard of the DO while living in Spain, maybe exemplifying its lack of international, or national for that matter, appeal. Therefore, it was fun to come across a little history provided by Julian as to why the DO has been living under a rock for so long. In the 1800′s, Tarragona wines were sold as “Tarragona Port”, more commonly known as “poor man’s port” or “red biddy”, and had a reputation as being cheap table wines in the UK. Historically, the wines were also made for the church or were sold in bulk to France to provide a base for apértifs and for strengthening weak wines. Now, Tarragona wines are being sold under their DO title, slowly gaining a decent reputation for itself. To be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of Tarragona wines being sold in the wine stores around me, nor have I seen them listed on several wine menus. Although Ryan would be a better judge than I as to their popularity, it appears that their recognition has a long ways to go before they reach the status of their Priorato neighbor to the west.

DO Terra Alta appears to be more known for its incredible scenery and art nouveau architecture than it does for its wines. Julian provides a few lines dedicated to the potential of their lighter wines primarily made by cooperatives, but nothing of any significance. So I sort walked way from this DO convinced that it would be worth renting a car and taking day trip to see the sites, while drinking a nice light table wine with my menu of the day lunch. Not a bad incentive for a weekend getaway!

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Considering that I actually have first hand experience visiting Bodega Ficariavins in DO Montsant, I can tell you that the region is beyond beautiful with incredible wines. How is that for selling this region! Julian backs up my ever so humble opinion by saying “it is a notably beautiful place…it is undoubtedly a very serious wine-growing area with wines sometimes approaching the quality of Priorato, but not yet the price.” I highly suggest looking out for wines in this area and although Julian doesn’t provide me with much background information on the region, I may be able to dig something up in my future research.

In 1999, DO Catalunya was formed as a “catch-all” DO, including all the DOs I’ve described previously in addition to another 4,000 hectares of land outside of them. Evidently, it was created in order to regulate the traditional Catalan practice of moving grapes from one district to another under the guise of, “hey, all of these grapes are from Catalunya, so why not blend them as we see fit?” Being a cultural norm, and one that will most likely not change, it was decided to allow growers the ability to use the DO so that they are protected legally.

Whew, that seems like several hours of work for one chapter, but well worth my time and effort. It seems that a good story sucks me in, and if it has a little history to pump up the story, all the better. It actually makes me a little giddy to start Chapter 3!

Yet, I still feel like I am lacking some interaction here. If anyone would be willing to challenge my learning a bit and throw out some questions, I would be happy to field them. Are you interested in more information on regions such as DO Tarragona or DO Barberá de la Conca for example? Would anyone like some info about varietals, soil or geography? Or, tell me if you’ve visited Catalunya and what interested you?

Hopefully we’ll chat soon in the forum!

Cheers,
Gabriella

  • RichardA

    Gabriella: Thanks for the interesting post. You obviously put a lot of time and effort into it. I did use this book to garner more info about some of the wineries I will be visiting in the fall. In the Cataluna area, I will be visiting 4 wineries. These include two in Penedes: Albet i Noya and Pares Balta. And two in Priorato: Mas d’en Gil and Costers del Siurana. Could you offer me any additional information about these wineries, that is not in Jeffs book, or on their websites? Thanks.

  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    Gabriella:
    Thanks for the interesting post. You obviously put a lot of time and effort into it. I did use this book to garner more info about some of the wineries I will be visiting in the fall. In the Cataluna area, I will be visiting 4 wineries. These include two in Penedes: Albet i Noya and
    Pares Balta. And two in Priorato: Mas d’en Gil and Costers del Siurana.

    Could you offer me any additional information about these wineries, that is not in Jeffs book, or on their websites?

    Thanks.

  • Gabriella Opaz

    I can happily offer more information Richard, but I would prefer to go straight to the Bodegas themselves and see if I can't get them to participate and give us some firsthand info. I sent out an email today and if I don't hear back from them by the end of the week, I will do my own research for you and see what I can dig up.

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella Opaz

    I can happily offer more information Richard, but I would prefer to go straight to the Bodegas themselves and see if I can’t get them to participate and give us some firsthand info. I sent out an email today and if I don’t hear back from them by the end of the week, I will do my own research for you and see what I can dig up.

  • trevor

    Good stuff, but I wonder whether you don't mean the Serra d'Obac ;-)

  • http://oreneta.com/kalebeul trevor

    Good stuff, but I wonder whether you don’t mean the Serra d’Obac ;-)

  • Gabriella

    Ha! How fabulous that it's taken this long for someone to point out this flaw on my part. Thanks so much for not only giving your "thumbs-up" to the article, but also for chiming in with my fantastic Spanish Learner's Error – the one where we love to drop any article or preposition that we find irrelevant or unnecessary ;-)

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Ha! How fabulous that it’s taken this long for someone to point out this flaw on my part. Thanks so much for not only giving your “thumbs-up” to the article, but also for chiming in with my fantastic Spanish Learner’s Error – the one where we love to drop any article or preposition that we find irrelevant or unnecessary ;-)

  • Pepino

    Hi Gabriella, Nice write-up! I'm going to have to do a spot of background wine-beginners research in order to keep up though I think. I don't even know fully what a DO is, although it's fast becoming apparent through context alone that it's some kind of legal quality mark based on the producing region. Leave that one to me to read about, but one thing that you can help me on, is this business of "double vintage". If the grapes are picked and used in a joven wine, how do they get re-used in a later wine? Maybe the answer is so obvious I can't see it, but it just confused me a smidge. Also, can I slip in a possible mistake..? The Torres brothers were Jaime and Miguel, yes? But you say that "Julian" commisioned the big wine vat. Did you mean Jaime, or is there a third Torres brother with the same name as the author of the book? Not a big deal, as it's the wine we're interested in, not the brother's names, but figured I'd ask. :-) Great to see you cracking on with the book, by the way! And I love your pic staring over the pile of books! Very "school ma'am"!! jejejeje Catch ya Dave x

  • http://pepino-bcn.blogspot.com/ Pepino

    Hi Gabriella,

    Nice write-up! I’m going to have to do a spot of background wine-beginners research in order to keep up though I think. I don’t even know fully what a DO is, although it’s fast becoming apparent through context alone that it’s some kind of legal quality mark based on the producing region.

    Leave that one to me to read about, but one thing that you can help me on, is this business of “double vintage”. If the grapes are picked and used in a joven wine, how do they get re-used in a later wine? Maybe the answer is so obvious I can’t see it, but it just confused me a smidge.

    Also, can I slip in a possible mistake..? The Torres brothers were Jaime and Miguel, yes? But you say that “Julian” commisioned the big wine vat. Did you mean Jaime, or is there a third Torres brother with the same name as the author of the book? Not a big deal, as it’s the wine we’re interested in, not the brother’s names, but figured I’d ask. :-)

    Great to see you cracking on with the book, by the way! And I love your pic staring over the pile of books! Very “school ma’am”!! jejejeje

    Catch ya
    Dave
    x

  • Gabriella

    Hah hah. See that's what I get for talking about the author too much. You are absolutely correct that Jaime was the man with the plan. Thanks for the correction! We hope to see you over tapas soon so that I can give you a quiz on the material! I assume you've been studying?!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Hah hah. See that’s what I get for talking about the author too much. You are absolutely correct that Jaime was the man with the plan. Thanks for the correction! We hope to see you over tapas soon so that I can give you a quiz on the material! I assume you’ve been studying?!

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