1 of 2
2 of 2
After seven years of living in Catalunya, exploring the wine regions and drinking gallons of the stuff, it still amazes me that good wine can be made so close to some of the metropolitan areas. The DO Alella on the Costa Maresme is a point in case: it’s just 20 minutes away from the thriving city of Barcelona. Turn inland, drive another 15 minutes, and there is another wine region, that of the Parque Natural del Montseny.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. After all, the natural park has altitude, hot days producing ripe, rich fruit and nights cooled by Mediterranean breezes. It doesn’t have humidity, but its terroir—the unique taste and substance that distinguishes it from any other—combines with the other factors to make for good-to-great wine. The thing is, nobody did make it until Josep Trallero Casañas bought a dilapidated masia (Catalan farmhouse) in the mid-Eighties and turned his hand to a little maverick winemaking under the label Serrat de Montsoriu. With just nine hectares, he churns out a surprising variety: Albariño, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Mencía and Merlot, and more recently Syrah, Petit Syrah and Petit Verdot. He doesn’t have a DO, and doesn’t particularly want one. He just wants to make the best wine he can, in a place that he loves.
I first came across his wines at Mam i Teca, a slow-food certified, Catalan tapas bar and bistro in Barcelona’s Raval district. It is run by Alfons Bach, another maverick obsessed with sourcing local products with which to delight his dining public. Specifically, I was intrigued by one of Trallero’s whites that blends seven different varieties of grape in one bottle. It quickly became a favourite, lending itself remarkably well to most dishes. It was also a source of great amusement for keeping friends guessing on what they were drinking. Interestingly, many thought it was a fino or manzanilla (both crisp, dry, white sherries from Jerez).
Eventually, after a year of talking about it, Alfons Bach and I found the time to take a trip to look at what Trallero was up to. As hoped, he was pottering about his vines examining his handiwork and fingering the dirt just as farmers should. The bodega is a little ramshackle and unkempt, boxes stacked up in corners and glasses dotted about the place, just as you imagine bodegas to be when you read books about the ‘real and forgotten Spain’.
Poke your head into the cellar itself and things are as modern as can be, albeit on a small scale. The maceration tanks are stainless steel, the barrels are on racks, the bottling is systematic and careful.
And so when we taste the 2007 vintage it comes as no surprise to see a progression from previous years—more elegance and sophistication in the wines. “These are my flagship grapes,” declared Trallero proudly, and rightly so. We try three, blindly (unlabelled as yet, and with their grape variety undisclosed).
The first was predominantly albariño, showing a nice structure and good acidity with prolonged gooseberry and a touch of lime at the finish. You know it’s going to go well with seafood. The second has all the assets of good Chardonnay: pale gold, with the lush tropical flavours of lychee and a creaminess in the mouth that smoothes out into something more refreshing. For lovers of this variety, it will be one to look out for.
The third is a Trallero special, his unique blend of multiple grapes creating a complex wine that is sweetish in the mouth with a fine acidity and a slightly musky finish. It’s a winner—perfect with cloïsses (clams) and navajas (razor clams)—but I’d also show it off with juicy roast chicken, or even a steak. Trallero’s wines, after all, are all about breaking the rules.
Drinking local—a guide to Catalan wines
If you live in the Costa Brava, wines from the Empordà region are the nearest local variety. But if you’re interested in wine, or even just expanding your repertoire, Catalunya is full of fabulous wine areas to explore.
DO Alella Best for light, fruity and refreshing whites that work well with tapas, rice and fish dishes. Try Marqués de Alella clásico, made with local white variety Pansa Blanca (otherwise known as Xarel·lo).
DO Catalunya The largest of the Catalan wine regions, this area effectively covers any wine that doesn’t fall into the rest. As such it tends more towards blends and cost-effective table wines.
DO Cava Famous for its sparkling wines mainly from the Penedès, DO Cava also covers fizz from further afield. For a really good, celebratory glass pick up a bottle of Llopart Brut Nature, and for something pretty, Can Rafols’s fabulous Pinot Noir Rose.
DO Conca de Barberà Famous for its route of the Cistercians and monasteries, critics are calling the region’s new varieties, like Trepat, some of the best in Catalunya. Try the aromatic rosés for summer.
DO Costers del Segre A reliable small-scale region making extremely drinkable, fruity reds and crowd-pleasing whites. The biggest producers are Raïmat and Castell de Remei, but it’s worth seeking out l’Olivera for unusual whites.
DO Empordà A region on the verge of greatness, Empordà or Costa Brava wines, reflect their environment. There is a certain wildness to them that means they are not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a great choice for anyone looking for something different.
DO Montsant The donut-shaped region that rings the Priorat is sometimes referred to as its poorer cousin. That description isn’t quite fair. While the wines are certainly cheaper, the quality is high, and for spicy, powerful reds Montsant offers unbeatable value.
DO Penedès The Penedès has transformed recently with the boutique wineries like Albet i Noya, Can Rafols and Jean Leon keeping standards high and vintages interesting. Power players like Torres keep the Catalan flag flying worldwide.
DO Pla de Bages A favourite for soft, fruity wines with plenty of character, the region best known for the Picapoll variety (white) is slowly being discovered. Bodega Masies d’Avinyó, which makes Abadal wines, are leading the race.
DO Priorat Priorat soared to international stardom in the mid-Nineties and has showed no signs of slowing since. Many of the country’s top winemakers create their best wines here ranging from Miguel Torres to Alvaro Palacios. If beefy reds aren’t your bag, the region’s complex, meaty whites are also worth a swirl.
DO Tarragona Famous since Roman times for their stickies (sweet wines) and generosos (fortified wines) this is a good bet for sweet tooths. Mistela, Moscatell, Garnatxa and the Vi Ranci are all worth looking out for to pair with pud.
DO Terra Alta And finally the region that everyone, including international wine guru Robert Parker, is talking about. These wines are brimming with personality, reflective of the elaborate Modernisme bodegas that make them. Pinell del Brai i Gandesa is as good a place to start as any.