Emporda winesThe Empordà is a pleasure to look at, and its grapes make tasty wine
A few years ago, people were talking about Empordà wines as a local secret, poised to become a revelation among wine lovers everywhere. They were not disappointed—the market has grown considerably, and the likes of Castillo Perelada Reserva or Vinyes dels Aspres can be found not just in the region’s growing number of restaurants but on dinner tables across Europe and Asia, such has been its growth in popularity in recent years.
A favourable climate—abundant sunshine, ample rainfall in winter and the fierce northerly Tramuntana wind—keeps vines disease-free. The region’s soil is composed mostly of sand and clay, which is perfect for grapevines. All of these factors combine to favour healthy wine production at an affordable cost.
Last year was particularly good for the region’s producers. Castillo de Perelada is the region’s biggest player despite local consensus 10 years ago that they were crazy to plant syrah grapes in the region. Sales were up 30 percent in 2006, which was put down to an excellent quality-price ratio (many of their wines cost under €10 a bottle). They are now exporting to Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, Britain and also Japan.
Delfi Sanahuja, who has been Castillo de Perelada’s winemaker since 1998, said that whilst this year’s lack of rainfall during spring and summer may have an adverse affect on a number of the region’s industries, it has had the opposite effect for wine production.
“It meant that many of the vines remained disease-free. During harvesting, grapes were at their most healthy. The oldest and irrigated vines matured magnificently, and so did the younger vines without irrigation. It has turned out to be an excellent year.”
The region of Empordà—with its northern border at Rousillon in France and southern boundary the Baix Empordà—is no stranger to wine production. Its origins began with the Greeks and were expanded by the wine-loving Romans. Local wines were eagerly consumed well into the 19th century, when it reached its peak. Consumption was also boosted after neighbouring French vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera plague. The Empordà region then fell victim to the disease early in the 20th century, a time when it also suffered economically from the two World Wars.
Spanish wine expert Peter Richards says that it is really only in the last 10 to 15 years which has seen a resurgence in Empordà wine production. “It would be good to see these wines growing in popularity, although given the nature of production in this part of the world it will never be a mass-market appeal. This is a good thing—Empordà should stick to its strengths, which means making small-production wines of character and charm that speak of this beautiful engaging region.”
Traditionally, the focus has been on sweet natural wines using the garnacha and carinena grape varieties, rosés and also vinos rancios (rancid wines). The Empordà-Costa Brava DO (Denominacion de Orígen) was formed in 1975 when growers began to change their facilities and practices—vines were planted in rows and harvesting took place at night. Stricter controls were also introduced for raw materials and fermentation processes.
Today, bodegas are winning recognition for modern young reds, using cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot grapes as well as experimental ones such as the local xarel.lo using modern stainless steel technology. As this is very much cava country, local Catalan white grapes (macabeo and garnatxa blanca) are also found in most vineyards. Wine drinkers are spoilt for choice.
Here are five fine wines to sample from the Empordà:
Castillo Perelada Tinto Crianza
2003 - €4,45
Muscat Oliver Blanc
2005 - €5,78
Castell de Biart Sauvignon
2003 - €11,43€
Oliver Conti Negre
2000 - €17,34
2004 - €38,91
First published January 2007. Prices may have changed.