Wine with Leslie Williams

Spanish Wine Week is just finished but I couldn’t help giving over another column to the region’s wines, although this week I’m hoping to appease those from Catalonia who sometimes take to Twitter to tell me that the Cava or Priorat I’ve mentioned is not actually from Spain but Catalunya.

From all the protests in recent years it is easy to imagine Catalonia is huge but in fact it is just 32,000 sq km or so while Spain is over 500,000 sq km.

There are 10 wine regions if we include Cava, almost all of which is made in this region and a general Catalunya DO covers the full territory — wines can be made from grapes grown in any of the other regions from the Mediterranean coast to the cool high hilltops of the interior.

Penedès is the leading DO for still wines (cf. Torres) but the most revered (and most expensive) wine region here is Priorat, a region that really only gained international fame since the 1990s thanks to René Barbier’s Clos Mogador and a few other pioneers.

The region had flourished in earlier times but the arrival of the phylloxera louse in the early 20th century almost wiped it out — even today you can stand on any of any of the steep outcrops and see the outline of abandoned vineyards scarred into the hills.

The region has low rainfall, scarily steep slopes and slate soils — the vines burrow in between the slates to access water and produce low yields of hugely concentrated grapes. I’ve recommended a couple of inexpensive Priorat below to give you an idea of the region but they only hint at the complexity of the best Priorat from the likes of Mas Doix or the top wines of Alvaro Palacios.

Surrounding Priorat is the larger region of Montsant, one of my favourite value regions in Catalonia and I also recommend the wines of Tarragona and Costers del Segre which is actually seven dispersed sub-regions. Conca de Barberá has one of Spain’s best white wines — Milmanda Chardonnay made by Torres and Empordá and Terra Alta are also worth investigating.

Wine selections this week are all from Catalonia plus one rogue bottle from Beaujolais which I’m mentioning purely because it will be out of stock soon.

For the Diary: May 23 — Lanson Champagne Dinner at Hayfield Manor. Price: €129 per person and available from O’Briens Douglas.

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