Chapter 2 – Spain and Catalonia
Spain is a land of breathtaking landscapes, colorful history and a deep, complex culture in which wine has long played an important role. The Catalonia region with its capital Barcelona is with no doubts one of the most interesting destinations in Europe.
I have been to Barcelona many times and I can say that it is one of my favourite cities in the world. They have a huge culture and history, amazing landscapes throughout the city, delicious food and lovely wines.
You can understand why I keep visiting and visiting there whenever I get the chance.
Their wine making tradition goes far back in time, it has been discovered that Phoenician traders brought this skill into the Iberian Peninsula around 1000 B.C. Spain is the third country in Europe, after Italy and France for national wine output.
All seventeen of Spain’s administrative regions (communidades autónomas) produce wine to some extent, including the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands. The greatest concentration of vineyards is in Castilla-La Mancha, but the finest and most famous wines come from Galicia, Rias Baixas, Catalonia, Cava and Priorat, Andalucia, Sherry, Castilla y Leon Rueda, Toro and Ribera del Duero and of course, Rioja.
Spanish landscape is very diverse. The country spans seven degrees of latitude (36°N to 43°N), leaving 800 kilometers (500mi) between its Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Between these two very different coastlines are various mountain ranges, each of which has its own particular effect on the local landscape and climate.
As climate, geology and topography vary around Spain, so do the wine styles. The cool vineyards of the far north and northwest create light, crisp, white wines, exemplified by Rias Baixas and particularly Txakoli. Those in warmer, drier regions further inland tend towards mid-bodied, fruit-driven reds such as Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Bierzo. Those close to the Mediterranean produce heavier, more powerful reds (Jumilla), except in higher-altitude districts, where reduced heat and humidity allow the production of lighter reds and notably sparkling white Cava. Sherry is not so easily grouped, however, as its distinctive style is the product of human influences (winemaking techniques) rather than climatic factors.
Spain’s wine grape varieties are less numerous than their European counterparts. They also receive far less fanfare as the Spanish wine industry has only recently begun to show any interest in varietal-led winemaking and marketing. Several hundred varieties are used in Spanish vineyards to some extent, but the vast majority of Spanish wine is made from just a small number of these.
Key red varieties: Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha and Monastrell.
Key white varieties: Airen, Macabeo, Palomino and Albarino.
‘International’ varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are becoming more and more popular in Spain, and their plantings are rising in various Spanish regions.
Spain’s position in the wine world is changing. Many producers are adapting to the demands of the international wine market, showing innovation and offering both consumer favorites and relative value for money. The export market is now of prime importance, not least because the domestic market is shrinking as Spain’s wine consumption per capita continues to fall year on year. Strong global demand for premium red wines shows promise for the likes of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat.
As we are exploring Catalonia today with Carlotta’s recipe and I travelled virtually to my past trips to Barcelona (from when we were still free to travel) I have decided to pick a wine from the Penedés region, one of the most important wine regions of this area.
It’s worldwide renowned for its Cava wines, the Spanish sparkling made with Champenoise method, but not so many people know their fantastic white wines.
The white wines are made from the same varieties otherwise used for Cava: Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello and Chardonnay.
The wine that I decided to pair with Carlotta’s recipe is a 100% Xarello (or pansa blanca): La Bella from Oriol Artigas.
The climate of Penedés region is mostly Mediterranean climate, but due to the complex topography of the coastal hills, there is a notable climatic variation between different areas that allows winemakers to produce a relatively wide range of wine styles.
International critics are much interested in wines from the closer Priorat region, so Penedés remains nowadays a bit in the shadow of other Spanish wine regions. However, more and more producers are converting to a more respectful and artisanal approach to winemaking that makes this region extremely interesting for all natural wine lovers.
Oriol is a young producer from Catalonia, around 15km away from Barcelona. He grows around 7,5 hectares of vineyards that can count on a strong Mediterranean influence. He is a purist artisan and natural winemaker: his wines are non filtered and non clarified, with no sulfites added. He grows different varieties such as garnacha blanca, merlot, syrah, pansa blanca, all with organic methods. The total production is around 25 thousands bottles, all with the same purpose: respect for the territory and for mother nature, very low or non intervention in the vineyards and in the cellar, but especially bring back to the scenes some old style varieties and wines of this coastline area.
“La Bella” Penedes DO 2019
This 100% Pansa Blanca (Xarello) comes from 70 years old vines. The fermentation happens with skin contact, which lasts for 11 days. After the fermentation the wine stays in stainless steel vats on its lees for at least 9 months. I found some information online about a part of this wine being aged in oak but cannot find more precise information. During the tasting I did not feel any oak presence so I would say that the wine does not age in oak or it is extremely well integrated.
This wine is a pure expression of a fresh, crisp and savoury Mediterranean wine. In the nose as white flowers and ripe stone fruit, but also Mediterranean herbs and bush and even hints of iodine, overall a very nice and inviting nose.
In the mouth it has the good structure to stand with the food. The juiciness and savouriness are mixed with a medium body and a crisp acidity. The minerality is very much present also in the taste and the finish is quite long.
The savouriness of the wine pairs perfectly with the delicious Tapas that Carlotta made for us today. Let’s discover her food story
Tapas Recipe from @lapanzapiena
Welcome to Spain, Catalonia to be exact. A region rich in geographic diversity, all within a relatively small area, spanning from the high peaks of the Pyrennees to the rugged coasts, passing stretches of hills dotted with olive groves and Medieval hamlets. At the centre of it all, Barcelona. A vibrant and young city dotted with bars, restaurants, museums, beautiful parks and art deco buildings. Catalonia is an autonomous region with its own language, Catalan, which shares many traits with neighbouring languages such as French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Sardinian.
Catalonia means the “land of castles”, which developed from the Medieval term used to describe rulers of castles: castellan.
Alongside a rich geographical biodiversity, the region boasts a prosperous gastronomic and oenologic tradition. Similar to other Mediterranean traditional cuisines, Catalonia’s gastronomy is focused around fish, olive oil, bread and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and garlic. Tapas are probably the most popular type of food consumed in Barcelona, with dishes ranging from pa amb tomàquet (pan con tomate in Spanish), patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo (prawns cooked in olive oil and garlic) and aioli sauce. One of the most globally renowned desserts produced in Catalonia, from which the dish derives its name, is Crema Catalana, custard cream topped with a layer of sugar which is browned with a blowtorch just before serving.
The region also has plenty of PDO “Denominacions d’Origen” wines in the region’s many vineyards: Priorat, Montsant, Empodrà and Penedès are a few of the grape varieties produced. I’ll leave Manu to speak about the wines more extensively and eloquently.
The two recipes I chose for this week’s virtual wine and food trip are my favorite, go-to tapas whenever I have the chance of visiting Spain. Pan con tomate, or pa amb tomàquet, to honour the Catalan origins of the dish, is one of the simplest yet most delicious flavour combinations. I love topping the dish with a few slices of greasy and salty Jamon Iberico, my all time favorite Spanish ingredient. The saltiness of the cured meat contrasts wonderfully with the light acidity of the tomato, and the warm bread brings the dish together. The pa amb tomàquet I’m sharing today is by Angel Zapata Martin, head chef of Barrafina, the one Michelin star Spanish restaurant in London, which just happens to be my favorite restaurant!