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What is Catalonia?

Catalonia is one of 19 autonomous regions of Spain with the regional capital of Barcelona. The region is divided into 4 provinces: Barcelona,Tarragona, Girona and Lleida.


Trade has been active along the coast since Greek and Roman times. The history of medieval Catalonia is that of the counts of Barcelona, who merged (9th cent) as the chief lords in the Spanish March founded by Charlemagne. United 1137 with Aragón through marriage, Catalonia nevertheless preserved its own laws, cortes (or corts), and language. Catalan art and literature flourished in the middle Ages. In the cities notably Barcelona, the burgher and merchant classes grew very powerful.

Catalan traders rivalled those of Genoa and Venice, and their maritime code was widely used in the 14th cent. They, and adventurers like Roger de Flor, were largely responsible for the expansion in the Mediterranean of the house of Aragón (see Aragón, house of). Catalonia failed in its rebellion (1461–72) against John II of Aragón, and after the union (1479) of Aragón and Castile, Catalonia declined. The centralizing policy of the Spanish kings, the shifting of trade routes with the consequent loss of commercial income, pirate attacks, and recurring plagues and famines were all major factors.

The first independent political party, Lliga de Catalunya, was created in 1887 and the hostility against the central power continued. After the military coup of Franco against the government and the autonomous states Catalonia lost all they had achieved. Now the Catalan language was again prohibited. During the 60 and 70´s both industry and tourism evolved. 1975 Franco died and Spain was again a democracy and monarchy and since 1979 Catalonia is governed by a regional government.

In Catalonia wine has been produced since 2000 years. From the time of the Romans, to a temporary decline during the Arab invasion in the 8th century, to the grow again during the Middle age, grapes have been cultivated until the modern time.

The wine districts

Spain has the biggest area of wine cultivations in the world and is on third place when it comes to produce wine. The country has about 65 quality controlled wine districts, so called D.O. or Denominaciones de Orígen, of which the most internationally famous is Rioja. Each district has its own rules for how to produce the wine, which grapes to include and which alcohol range that is allowed. In Catalonia there are 11 wine districts and the most known is Penedes.

The wine districts of Catalonia:

  • D.O. Alella
  • D.O. Empordà
  • D.O. Catalunya
  • D.O. Conca de Barberá
  • D.O. Costers del Segre
  • D.O. Montsant
  • D.O. Penedes
  • D.O. Pla de Bages
  • D.O.Q Priorat
  • D.O. Tarragona
  • D.O. Terra Alta

Worth mentioning is that a wine producer can choose to produce wine without the quality control. You are then not allowed to label your wines with D.O. but you have the freedom to choose any grape varieties for your wine.

The climate

The Catalan grapes are generally grown in a Mediterranean climate which means mild winters and hot summers and which together with the influence of the sea gives the wine a special character. But also within Catalonia the cultivation conditions can vary. The grapes are cultivated in different ways in the different provinces; north of Barcelona growing on hills on sandy soil, so called ”sauló”, while the grapes in the mountainous inland of Tarragona grow on terraced slate, so called “licorella”. The inland with the more continental climate has more severe winters and cold northern winds affecting the grapes and in the end the wine. Many wineries have a combined climate a so called micro climate, specific for the area or sometimes even for a single wine yard, which results in unique notes in the wine. Regardless of the type of soil the Catalan producers always respect the traditional way of producing the wine but using new technology.

The harvest

The Catalan wine harvest is always done manually and starts in August and ends in October depending on when the grape is ripe.

The wine production

If the grapes are picked manually, which is the common practice in Catalonia, the first step is to separate the grapes from the branch. This is done in a special machine.

The next step is to press the grapes gently. The aim is to get out as much must as possible without crushing the seeds. The pressing results in a mix of must, seeds and fruit pulp.

The fermentation transforms the sugar in the must into alcohol with carbon dioxide and heat as bi products. If the yeast gets unlimited access to oxygen it reproduces fast. When the amount of yeast is enough, the process is therefore stopped and the must is transferred to a fermentation vessel where the carbon dioxide forces away all oxygen. The must has now been turned into wine.

Red wine gets its colour from the skin of the grapes. The fruit pulp and the must are colourless. The must therefore has to ferment together with the skin, from where the wine also gets many aromas.

The fermentation goes on until all sugar in the must has been transformed into alcohol; red wines are in general dry. Some winemakers let the wine macerate the remaining substances and aromas of the skins even after the fermentation is done.

Now it is time to separate the liquid wine off the dry contents, like the skin etc. The winemaker then transfers the wine into a vessel or into a wood barrel. The vessel itself does not add characteristics to the wine; it is used for storage and “harmonization”. Harmonization means that the substances within the wine with interact and “soften” the wine. The wood barrel will actively exchange substances with the wine, the so called ageing process. In Catalonia it is most common to use French and American wood barrels.

If the wine is being aged in wood barrels it is done under special air- and temperature conditioned rooms, often under ground where it is cooler. To ensure the quality of the wine, the local wine district organizes periodical controls where the alcohol and the acidity of the wine is measured. The last step is the wine tasting to do a sensorial approval of the quality of the wine.

The remaining mix of peels can be pressed once more and this so called “press wine” is astringent and darker than the self drained wine. This wine can be mixed with the self drained wine to add taste and astringency. The wine maker now has different steel containers or wood barrels with wine from different fermentations of grapes grown in different places. He can now mix different wines to do a so called “coupaje” or to do a single grape wine, so called “monovarietal”.

The mix and the fermentation are the most important factors in the quality of the wine. Most of the Catalan wines are blends. They often contain more than one type of grape, included in the allowance list for each district.

What kind of wine is produced in Catalonia?

There is a broad offer of different types of wine, from white, rosé and red, both young red and aged in barrels. The red wine is the main character on the Catalan wine market. Here they also produce 95% of the Spanish cava, the sparkling wine.

Among the white wines you will find wines made of the local Xarello grape, one of the three grapes of the cava, and that has a higher acidity and alcohol content than other varieties. Further there are wines made of the sweeter Moscatell grape as well as on the famous French Chardonnay grape.

Among the red wines you will discover a broad variety of grapes that are allowed within each district. The most common grapes are; grenache, carignan, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo (here called Ull de Lebre), merlot and syrah.

How does the wine taste?

D.O. Alella, north of Barcelona produces mostly fresh, dry and aromatic white wines, often with hints of tropical fruits.

D.O. Penedes, south of Barcelona, produces cava but also fresh, light white wines, often with hints of apple, citrus and almonds.

D.O. Montsant and D.O Priorat produce half to full bodied, powerful, spicy and tasteful red quality wines that are often aged in barrel and with typical taste of plum, blueberry and dark chocolate.

Rules for ageing

Ageing is the time that the wine is stored under certain conditions before it is set on the market and includes the time it is kept in a vessel, a wood barrel and in the bottle before it reaches the market.

The Spanish wine laws are set in a way that terms like Crianza and Reserva have the same minimum standard in the different wine districts. Wood aged wine has to mature in barrels of less than 1000 liters, but in practice all producers today are using barrels of 225 liters, mainly made of French or American wood.

Vino joven (young wine).
This wine is made for drinking in a young state. It is also known as Vino del Año. The National Institute of Denominations of Origin (INDO), try to promote the use of the term “Joven” to replace “Sin crianza”, which means wines that are not aged in barrels or that have been aged less than the time set by the law for crianza wines. However, you can find “Sin crianza” wines that have been aged in a vessel one year and then in the bottle for 6 months. This type of wine has not been in contact with wood but it is not either young wine (Joven). There is an ongoing discussion on how to name these types of wines.

Crianza – minimum 2 years of ageing
Wines aged at least 24 months, of which at least 6 months in wood barrels. (some regions – especially Rioja – demand at least 12 months of wood ageing for crianza wines).

Reserva – minimum 3 years of ageing>
Red wines should be aged at least 36 months, of which at least 12 months in wood barrels. White wines and rosé wines should be aged at least 24 months, of which at least 6 months in wood barrels.

Gran Reserva– minimum 5 years of ageing
This term is used for red wines aged in barrels at least 24 months and then 36 months in the bottle. White wines and rosé wines should be aged at least 48 months, of which at least 6 months in wood barrels. For cavas the rule is at least 30 months of ageing in bottle.

Other activities

Watch the Catalan human towers

Festivals Place Date
Festa major de Gavà Gava (Barcelona region) 30/06/2015
Diada d’estiu dels Castellers de Sants a Barcelona Barcelona 11/07/2015
Festa major de Vic Vic 12/07/2015
Diada de la Mare de Déu del Carme al Serrallo (Tarragona) Tarragona 18/07/2015
Festa Catalana a Barcelona Barcelona 18/07/2015
Festa major de Calafell Calafell (Barcelona region) 19/07/2015
Aniversari dels Castellers del Poble Sec a Barcelona Barcelona 19/07/2015
Diada “Tarragona, ciutat de castells” a Tarragona Tarragona 22/07/2015
Diada d’estiu a Altafulla Altafulla (Tarragona region) 25/07/2015
Diada de Sant Cugat a Sant Cugat del Vallès Sant Cugat a Sant Cugat del Vallès (Barcelona region) 25/07/2015
Diada de Santa Anna a Reus Reus 25/07/2015
Festa major de Sant Vicenç de Calders (el Vendrell) El Vendrell (Tarragona region) 31/07/2015
Diada de Firagost a Valls Valls (Tarragona region) 05/08/2015
Nits Daurades a Salou Salou (Tarragona region) 08/08/2015
Festa major de Castelldefels Casteldefells (Barcelona región) 16/08/2015
Festa major de Gràcia (Barcelona) Barcelona 16/08/2015
Diada de Sant Magí a Tarragona Tarragona 19/08/2015
Festa major de Sant Bartomeu a Sitges Sitges 29/08/2015
Vigília de festa major a Vilafranca del Penedès Vilafranca del Penedes 29/08/2015