Designation of Origin (DO) wine regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rioja are household words in today’s wine world. Now, Spain’s Catalonia region hopes to swirl into the wine lexicon through a series of nationwide seminars and wine tastings.
I recently had the privilege of attending a seminar and wine tasting hosted by Catalan Wines USA in Austin, Texas. It was organized by Acció, a Barcelona-based agency set up by the Catalonian government to make the region’s enterprise more competitive globally; Catalan Wines USA was created by Acció’s trade and investment unit.
“This is our third time in Texas. We chose Austin because we’ve heard that it is becoming much more international, so we were very excited about coming here,” Marcos Gonzalez, Acció’s international trade consultant, told a crowd of some 50 attendees representing wine importers, distributors, and a few Spanish wine and tapas bars.
Catalonia, situated in northeastern Spain, is already well-known for its fine wines from Penedés and Priorat appellations. In fact, the Cava DO is world-famous for its exceptional Champagne-style sparkling wine, cava.
But CWU’s goal is to heighten global awareness of all 11 of Catalonia’s designation of origin regions, rather than promote one single wine region, through a nationwide marketing campaign it kicked off in 2010.
At this seminar and wine tasting, Alella, Catalunya, Conca de Barberá, Costers del Segre, Empordá, Montsant, Pla de Bages, Tarragona, and Terra Alta were showcased. Wines from the Penedés, Priorat, and Cava, more familiar to many wine lovers, were also highlighted.
“Rioja is one single wine region, which promotes itself. But Catalonia has 11 Designation of Origin regions. That’s the big difference, so we wanted to promote all the different and diverse wine regions we have,” Gonzalez added.
To that end, CWU enlisted the services of Texas sommelier and wine buyer Sam Hovland as guest speaker. Hovland pointed out the size of Catalonia and told the crowd about some of the factors that make Catalan wines unique.
“It’s a very complex region; it’s a region of seven million people. Catalonia is the size of Maryland. Cava is the big driver in the area, but they have lots of reputable wine regions. Roughly a third of the wine gets exported. But with a 350-mile coastline, there are big temperature shifts,” said Hovland, a buyer for Austin-based East End Wines.
Hovland, who earned a sommelier degree from the International Sommelier Guild in 2005, talked about how the region’s diverse climate and soil determine the makeup of the various wines, whether they are red or white wines.
“There are 12 designations of origin, so people are able to choose different styles based on soil types and intense flavors. But in terms of red wine, grenache is a big deal. So Priorat is certainly going to be a darling of Parker,” Hovland said of wine guru Robert Parker.
Although I’m not a sommelier, I’m a true wine lover who discovered wine on my first trip to Spain. But aside from Penedés, Priorat, and Cava, I had never heard of any of the eight Catalan wine regions featured at this event.
So of course, I was anxious to savor the wines following the hour-long seminar. Thankfully, the organizers paired more than 20 Catalan wines, including a few bottles of captivating cava, with authentic Spanish tapas.
Catered by Barlata, a local Spanish wine bar, the tapas consisted mainly of an array of Spanish ham and chorizo, the quintessential Spanish tortilla, Manchego cheese, Spanish olives, croissant sandwiches, and almonds.
Wine stands set up in Austin’s Waller Ballroom were manned by the winery owners, winemakers, or the winery’s designated representative. One winemaker from Penedès, representing Sonat de L’Ala, Ferré I Catasús 2012, said the prices per bottle range from $18 to $22. But most prices depend on several factors.
Wine representatives said the purpose of the wine seminar and tasting was to attract Texas importers and distributors, but Oscar Ruiz of Cellers Unió in the Montsant DO said his wines can already be bought here.
“Our wines are already available here in Texas. This one is a blend of 40 percent grenache, 40 percent carignan, and 20 percent syrah. We’ve aged it in oak for only five months to keep its freshness and aroma,” Ruiz said, as I began my Catalan wine sojourn sipping a Perlat 2013 vintage.
After he poured the purplish-red wine, I lifted my wine glass and whiffed the intense aroma of nutmeg, tobacco, and other spicy notes. On my palate, it felt silky and elegant. Later, I found out that in 2013 this modern wine won a silver medal in Vienna and a gold medal in Berlin in 2009.
Serendipitously, most of the wines showcased were gold, silver, and bronze medal winners globally. Furthermore, the Cava selections had earned high marks in the form of prestigious points, from 88 to 100, from Robert Parker’s Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, and Spirits magazines.
Some of the wines sported whimsical labels, such as the one on the white wine Somiatruites Ferré i Catasús 2013, which shows a woman donned in a wide skirt wearing a crown and fruit. Lo Petit de la Casa 2011 from Priorat boasts stick figure drawings of four children. The labels are sure to trigger memories of this wine seminar and tasting.
Even so, it was difficult to choose a favorite among so many. That’s why I’ve highlighted just four wines below that I’ll be looking for at local liquor stores and wine-friendly Texas grocery stores.
By the way, other states will soon learn about Catalan wines as well when the group heads to Chicago this fall, Washington, D.C., in the winter of 2016, and Denver in spring 2016 Lo Petit de la Casa 2011 vintage from Trossos del Priorat is 80 percent grenache and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Aged 12 months in French and American oak, this medium red Priorat wine is a cherry red of medium intensity. It has a clean aroma and notes of ripe black fruit and wild herbs. It has ripe tannins and a long, elegant finish. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent.
Ferre i Catasús 2013 vintage from Somiatruites is a white wine blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and xarel-lo grapes. This young wine from Penedès is straw-colored with green tones. It has an aromatic intensity with tropical, citrus, and floral notes. It tastes smooth and silky, which accounts for a lingering acidity, giving it freshness and length. Alcohol content is 12 percent.
Joana 2013 vintage from Cellers Sant Rafel is as bright red as the flowers on the label. It is 85 percent red grenache and 15 percent merlot. The youthful aromatic wine is from Monsant and has no aging. The lively red is an explosion of fresh flowers on the palate. Think peaches and cantaloupe. It inspires more than just one tasting. Alcohol content is 14 percent.
Dionysus Brut Nature Organic 2012 vintage from Canals & Munné is a blend of 60 percent xarel-lo, 30 percent chardonnay, and 10 percent macabeu. It’s a citric and floral sparkling wine that’s fruity on the palate. It has a medium to long finish. Those watching their sugar intake should rejoice, this dry wine has no sugar added. Alcohol content is 11 percent.
For information on Catalan Wines USA, contact www.catalanwinesusa.com For more information on Catalonia, go to: www.catalonia.com. Acció’s United States office is based in Miami, and can be reached at (305) 442-4018.