Region At a Glance: Cataluña

August 31st, 2010 by jolan in wine varieties and styles

Cataluña is a region in northeastern Spain, nestled on the Mediterranean coast and stretching into southeastern France. Cataluña is populated by proud, independent people who consider themselves neither Spanish nor French but first and foremost Catalan. The majority of Cataluña’s populace is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and Catalan (Cataluña is “Catalunya” in Catalan). Barcelona, the artfully picturesque Mediterranean port city, is Spain’s second largest and the capital of Cataluña.

Cataluña’s sense of strong independence is exemplified by its wine making history. In the early 1870s, Catalan José Raventos was the first in Spain to make sparkling wine in the traditional, Champagne-style method (aka méthode champenoise). Thus Cava, Spanish sparkling wine, was born.

Today, Cataluña produces 95 percent of Spanish Cava. Cava is traditionally made with Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes, though the ubiquitous Chardonnay is becoming more and more apparent in Cava. The exotic-sounding Xarel-lo is a grape indigenous to Spain, and lends Cava its characteristic earthy aromas. Cava, like other sparkling wines, ranges from brutally dry to what the Catalans call “dolsec”, very sweet.

Beyond Cava, Cataluña produces a diverse range of wines, from dry, crisp whites to deeply powerful reds. The triad of Cava grapes is also used to produce Cataluña’s cool-fermented, still white wines in addition to sparkling wine; on the red side of things, Tempranillo, Garnacha and Monastrell make traditional, full-bodied wines. Priorat, a region within greater Cataluña, produces some truly delicious reds from Garnacha and Cariñena.

Cava, though, is what summer seriously calls for, especially as we enjoy the last few weeks of generous sun. Cava is delicious on its own, but you might like to try it with a few Catalan-inspired foods like pa amb tomàquet (bread smeared with olive oil and fresh tomatoes) or calçots (grilled green onions). If the Catalan names are too big of a mouthful, feel free to wash them down with a big gulp of Spanish Cava.

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