During a visit to Catalonia there is a great chance you might be completely blown away. Warm Mediterranean climate, famous beaches of Spain’s golden coast, creative masterpieces of Gaudi, Picasso, Dali, and of course free-spirited Barcelona as a top tourist destination. Much more is associated with the area of “paella” and constant “fiesta” – bright local life full of sun, events, and good food. But what still often stays in shade is wine.
To discover the area through its wines was the purpose of my return to Catalonian for a few months in 2021. What it had to offer appeared a great surprise! Perhaps shaded by the loud names of neighboring Rioja and France, the region is not the first that comes to one’s mind when talking about wine. However, it appears that Catalonia has a huge kaleidoscope of various wine styles. In addition, it is world famous for local full bodied Priorat reds, able to compete with finest Bordeaux, and Penedes Cava – Spain’s strong analogue to Champagne.
Naturally, you want to start your acquaintance with the region from the “stars” of the industry: big, well-established wineries owned by generations of powerful families. There, you are usually welcomed to enter polished facilities, looking like the museums and follow the professional guided tour. But soon, although everything looked perfect and the wine was served into the shining glass at the fancy terrace with a magnificent view, one ingredient every true traveler is searching for felt lost – authenticity.
In search of this important component, my journey led me to smaller local wineries which were offering less services and products but more of “what can’t be bought”: wine served by the rough hands of the winemaker, who has just finished work in the field before meeting his visitors; degustation at the four centuries old family stone house; fresh cheese from the neighbors; personal stories and lots of genuine smiles and hospitality. In the end it’s never only about the wine but about the experiences one can live “through” it. Here to name my most memorable ones:
Sipping wines on a tiny boat cruise
As morning started, time came to discover Catalonia’s hidden pearl – delta of river D’Ebro. Approaching the water, our group saw a traditional wooden boat waiting. As the autumn sun brightly shined, we were cruising the turquoise waters of the river, while going through the tasting from local producers of the area. Yet, it wasn’t just a typical tasting. A two-hour cruise appears to be a chance for deep conversations, building connections and learning about the region through personal stories of the winemakers. That day wine was “paired” with the birdwatching cruising the natural park, visiting the stone-cobbled streets of Asco village and new gastronomic insights from fresh oyster farms located nearby.
Porrera Wine cellars hopping
As November brought colors to the picturesque vineyards, with a group of friends we hit the road to Priorat. After visiting the magnificent monastery Scala Dei, the historical pillar of the region’s wine production and prestigious Perinet Winery, our journey ended in the most authentic part – small Porrera village. As winemakers greeted us at the main squire, we got our wine glass and were divided into smaller groups. In the next two hours we would go up and down the steep streets of the village and hop into its tiny wine cellars. Each had its particular wine style, its story, its vision. Walking the medieval streets of the village, while spinning wine in the glass and sharing impressions with friends; ending the day with a panoramic view at the terrace of the last cellar, while the lights in the village houses start to turn on. Building connections with local winemakers showed everyone of them has such a great passion for land and their mission. It sounds like something hard to forget, right?
A glass of fresh white after rowing the Kayak
Around a month of my journey passed in the tiny historical village of Ginestar. Probably, the most interesting discovery here was the “Wine plus Kayak” experience, meaning the start of the day with the kayak ride along the fairy-tale like Miravet castle and ending up at the Suner winery with a relaxing degustation. But the visit here was not only the opportunity to enjoy the wines: afternoon shade at the terrace, surrounded by the gardens and vineyards; local cheese, organic tomatoes and figs just plucked from the tree at the yard to complement the tasting, and the friendly winemaker Josep helping us to discover the property and winemaking traditions of the area with a great sense of humor. Right after, his mother made for us a wonderful mini excursion at their historical family hotel with the terrace view all over the village. She mentioned additional activities offered such as a beautifully served dinner at the chic dining room, a cooking master class and a bike tour in the vineyards, which should be added to everyone’s “to do list”.
Once you arrive, you will probably hear a lot of the famous local traditional winemakers’ breakfast. The history goes centuries back explaining that the winemakers used to wake up before sunrise and go harvest. By 10 am they would have already worked intensively in the vineyards for a few hours so their meal break would be much richer in calories than usual breakfast and accompanied by wine. Wine for breakfast – sounds good, right? As my local friend invited me to Ampolla village for this morning experience, there was a chance to live the tradition. At a small cozy restaurant by the sea, everything classically started with coffee and small snacks, but very soon more “serious” dishes such as local fried sardines and appetizers arrived, accompanied by red wine. While being amazed with more plates full of local delicacies arriving, I was having a fun conversation with my neighbor Bernard. At the age of 89, an energetic senior, who had spent all life working in the vineyards and agriculture, was now writing the book about his childhood memories of the Spanish Civil war, one of the main battles of which had happened here, at the river Ebro. “In the end, all our life is a battle, I fought mine well”, said he cheerfully while making sure my glass was never empty.
Making my cheese while drinking my wine
Searching for additional activities, yet never could I have imagined there was an option to produce our own kind of local cheese! Biopaumera winery, specialized in organic agriculture, offered not only the tasting, but a complete tour to the vineyards and production facilities, to introduce all the stages and the secrets of winemaking. Their bottle of “Esther” particularly stood out, a great example of local Mediterranean style wines. In addition, they also suggested a visit to their neighbors’ cheese farm, where one can sign up for a masterclass!
Spring has come! Almond trees blossom through the wine glass!
As February came, it was time to head to “Moli de Rue” winery, offering the “almond tree road”, which means an easy hiking among the almond trees in blossom followed by the wine tasting. Spring, wine and flowers! The property, located less than an hour from the ancient Roman town Tarragona, was worth visiting. The winery had several interesting items produced at the phylloxera free plots of clay soil. Besides that, you should try “Sol y Sirena”, their signature liquor wine, made from sun dried raisins of famous local Macabeo grape variety. It was really good for drinking during still chilly evenings at home, by dipping traditional almond biscuits into it.
Secret mountain gathering with a glass of 15 years old red
One Sunday morning with a group of friends we were driving to the direction of the mountains, invited to the cellar “Mas Del Boto”. Located on the border with Priorat, this winery has everything that Priorat is known for – outstanding landscape, licorella soil and vines able to produce powerful wines with great aging capacity. Yet, being a few steps away from “mainstream” Priorat the winery managed to keep its pure authenticity. As the clouds came down turning into fog and it was drizzling, sitting at a small tasting room under the roof full of antique things created an even more picturesque atmosphere. Big wooden table, beautiful porcelain plates with fresh cheese and bakery, warm hospitality in the air. Josep, the owner and the winemaker was serving us his “Ganagot”, a wonderful example of equilibrium between freshness and complexity of the wine bottled in 2007! This turned out to be a good idea for a present. It is not easy to surprise a sophisticated French consumer. But Ganagot would complete this mission!
Wine pairing even with onions?
The arrival of Catalonian Spring is well marked with Calcotada Feast: basically local barbecue of onions. The tradition of grilling and eating long onions started in the 19th century in the nearby little village called Valls. Today it is much more than just the barbecue – it’s the time of warm gatherings of friends and families, sharing memories together and enjoying the sun rays outdoors. It was great to be invited to experience the right Calcotada by Mane, the owner of the Apotecari family cellar. Young wines were served to start from. Together with his friends, Mane was working on setting the fire, while we were preparing all kinds of meat and vegetables for the grill and of course cleaning the calcots onions ready to be grilled. As hedonism lasts the whole day, we are meeting the sunset by the fire, drinking lemon and coffee liquors produced by Mane. Friendship, smiles, stories. They say wine unites. Well, it seems here onions unite as well 😊
How about hunting? But hunting for wine!
Another weekend, another winery. This was the time to go wine hunting. Our treasure hunt started at spring vineyards of celler Estol-Verd. We quickly downloaded the app with the map, attached portable glasses with a trinket to our belts and set for the “journey”. As the hiking trail took us through green forest parts and gardens in blossom, we found our first wine bottle. Hidden in a small cave hanging in the leather bag, it awaited us together with some biscuits and dried almonds. It sounds like aperitivo – opening the wine bottle, tasting, describing and comparing our answers with the App. Although sometimes the App is not the most reliable source of information. Few more turns and we spotted another bottle in the forest. Finally, the road led us to the vineyard. This was quite a quest to solve as we didn’t see the bottle anywhere. Finally, the garden hoe was spotted. We started to dig. Deeper, deeper, careful! Here was our bottle of rose from under the soil!
Do I hear music in my glass?
We all have different sources of inspiration. Music became the inspiration for Cellar Jane Ventura. As his bottles of Cava get the names inspired by music, he has also partnered with Pablo Casals Museum to introduce his wines at their restaurant. Within one hour drive from Barcelona, the museum best talks about the life of Catalonia’s most famous cellist of all times. After the fulfilling visit, we proceeded to Villa Casals restaurant. At a sunny terrace with the shining Mediterranean, it is time for a glass of Ventura’s Cava named “Do “and related to solfege. Do I hear music in my sparkling glass or is it my heart singing?
Although my purpose to visit Catalonia was related to the search for wine, it’s never about the wine alone. Wine often becomes a universal conductor to the world of local culture, history, traditions, gastronomy, arts, music and of course opens doors to meeting the most interesting people – from creative individuals to winemakers in 5th generation often heroically working on their land. But what is most important is that it allows us to experience unique moments. After all, with time we might forget how exactly a particular wine glass tasted, but we will never forget the experience we had while drinking it.
Author: Darya Boronilo