Terra Alta, meaning high ground, is a Spanish wine region situated in the south-western tip of Catalonia, where low mountains and valleys extend south to the border with the Teruel province. This is a geographically diverse region, but with two very prominent features: the eastern end of the province, which is layered with craggy mountainous terrain highlighted with peaks of mountain ranges rising between 600 and 1200 meters. The western side shows its rich rolling valleys filled with olive, almond and hazelnut orchards intermixed among expansive vineyards.
Additionally worth noting is that the western end of Terra Alta is the precursor to the Ebre Depression. I trust you have no idea what the Ebre Depression is? No worries, nor did I before this article. The Ebre Depression is an orographic barrier which acts as a solid wall, forbidding the Mediterranean air to flow through. The benefit of this natural barricade for vines is that it creates extreme climate conditions in both the summer and winter; in addition to a lack of rain. Limestone and clay, low in organic matter, allow for good aeration and drainage.
Historically, the road from Zaragoza to Totosa meandered its way directly through this region during Roman Times allowing for settlements, which in turn, let to the first planting of vineyards. Later, in the medieval times, it is suspected that the Knights of Templar also grew vines in Terra Alta, but as result of the long distance between the vines and local markets and the sea, they were most replaced with olive trees. However, in the 19th century, this upcoming wine region had gained fame for its ‘amber blanc’ oxidised wines, that was until phylloxera wiped them out, as it did the majority of vines throughout Europe. It wasn’t until the 1920’s through the 50’s when vines were replanted, and later exploited positively by cooperatives, many of which only began bottling in the last few decades. Consequently, it hasn’t been until last few years, that Terra Alta has slowly begun to obtain a name for itself as a high quality wine producing area, despite its natural predisposition to craft incredible wine.
Although not the first Terra Alta we’ve fallen in love with, the Mudèfer 2004 from Sat la Botera Vins was an great recommendation from our friend Juan Manuel at Neyras Vins. Located in the town of Batea, located approximately 50 km northwest of Tortosa, the winery grows Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah, among their indigenous varietals Samso, Garntaxa Blanca and Negra an Macabeu. The Mudèfer, however, is crafted only with 25-30 years old vines of Syrah, Samso and Garnatxa Negra, fermented at 20 degrees with continual remontage and aged for 20 months in both French and American oak, followed by an additional 4 to 6 months in barrel.
The wine itself was a breath of fresh air. Dark burgundy red in color with a brilliant light purple sheen, this wine bursts with dark cherry and boysenberry on the nose, supported by perfectly integrated notes of dark chocolate, eucalyptus and slate. The aroma was so tantalizing that I found myself tasting the wine before I even drew the glass to my lips. The intense flavors immediately awoke my senses, followed by a gentle wash of silky fine tannins and layers of rich black cherry, under a veil of green earth embodied in a medium long finish. This is a big wine, but a perfectly elegant wine, with great balance and structure.