It was long considered that the Garnacha grape in northern Spain produced powerful, full-bodied red (or negre, meaning black) wines, but which were short-lived and not capable of maturing to achieve balance, finesse and complexity. However, modern technology and international techniques and know-how have striven to turn that idea on its head. Foreign wine competitions, journalists and importers have all helped in spreading the word to a thirsty and demanding public that Catalan wines are worthy of gracing the finest tables. As its fame spread at the turn of this century, the whole Catalan wine industry benefited from this upsurge of interest to produce cleaner, fresher and altogether better wines.
But red wine is not the only story. The indigenous white grapes, Macabeu, Xarel.lo and Parellada form the original trio for the production of Cava. Inspired by Champagne, the traditional method of making sparkling wines was introduced to Catalonia in the middle of the nineteenth century, and most Cava houses are now concentrated around the town of San Sadurni d’Anoia. As we shall taste, still white wines from the Penedès and Alta Alella are usually fresh, floral and quaffable, whereas white or grey Garnacha from the Empordà or the Priorat is unctuous and more serious.
After two nights in the centre of vibrant, sophisticated Barcelona, the mood becomes more tempered and rural for the rest of the tour. We pass through villages that time seems to have forgotten, some set in soft and gently undulating countryside; others at altitude surrounded by a dramatic landscape of vertiginous vineyards. From rustic farm buildings to grand and spanking-new constructions, the wineries we visit reflect the remarkable variety of geography and climate, which brings such individuality to the wines. And as characterful as the wines are the producers themselves, who exude passion and pride.
Barcelona. Fly at c. 10.45am from London Heathrow to Barcelona (British Airways), arriving in time to settle in and for a lecture and wine tasting before dinner. First of two nights in Barcelona.
Alella, Peralada. To Alta Alella just beyond the outskirts of Barcelona. Perched at the top of a steep hill with views across the Mediterranean, the organic winery has been producing wine since the beginning of this century, although wine was made in the region from Roman times to the arrival of phylloxera in the late 19th cent. Taste principally white wine, with some red. Drive by coach to the Empordà and the substantial and influential winery, Castell de Peralada. While its Cava is renowned, in more recent years single-vineyard wines which are expressive of the slate soil and Mediterranean climate have increased its prestigious profile both at home and abroad. Lunch, winery visit and tasting.
Barcelona, Falset. Free morning in Barcelona. Drive to Falset in the heart of the Priorat and Montsant in time for a lecture and tasting at the hotel. Dinner in a nearby restaurant. First of three nights in Falset.
Poboleda, Porrera. Drive to the most northerly of the sub-zones of the Priorat to Mas Doix, a small, family-run winery whose acclaimed wines are made from the nearby 100 year-old vines. Vineyard visit and tasting. Lunch in the village before visiting the recently-constructed winery Ferrer-Bobet on the outskirts of Porrera. Tour of the modern facilities and tasting. Return to Falset for a free evening.
Gratallops, Falset, Bellmunt. Visit the traditional installations of Clos Mogador, one of the pioneering wineries in bringing the DOQ Priorat to the attention of the world. Drive to the vineyards and finish with a tasting. The next generation of two of the pioneering families, Pérez and Barbier, is based at Venus in humble, but innovative surroundings on the outskirts of Falset in the Montsant. Late afternoon visit and light evening meal at the large, biodynamic estate of Mas d’en Gil on the edge of Bellmunt.
San Sadurni d’Anoia and homeward journey. The prestigious Cava house Gramona is also a biodynamic estate carefully combining tradition with modernity. Coach transfer to Barcelona. Return to London Heathrow by c. 7.45pm.
This gives a fair picture of the tour, but there may be substitutes for some places mentioned and the order of the visits will possibly differ.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,610 or £2,350 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,870 or £2,610 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) from London to Barcelona with British Airways (Airbus A320); transport by private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 dinners (one of which is light) and 4 lunches with wine, beer, water, soft drinks and coffee; wine at 2 general tastings; all visits; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides.
Hotel Condes de Barcelona: 4-star hotel, very well placed for buildings by Gaudí; rooms are modern and comfortable. Hostal Sport, Falset a welcoming, family-run, rustic but comfortable hotel in the town centre.
Both hotels are rated 4 star, although the Falset hotel is probably more like a 3 star, with few modern amenities in the rooms. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
Although the itinerary is designed to give some free time and breaks between visits, some days may prove quite taxing when there is walking in vineyards which are often on steep slopes, as well as time spent standing in what can be cool and damp cellars. The drives are not usually very long, but access to some wineries is over rough terrain. The tour should not be undertaken by anyone who has the slightest problem with everyday walking and stair-climbing and is not sure-footed. Average distance by coach per day: 73 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.