Wines from Terra Alta boast a unique character. This is down to numerous factors, including the region's unique wine culture, the location of the vineyards in the inland Mediterranean, and the abundance of native varieties including the Garnacha Blanca, whose white wines perhaps best express the unique character of the terroir. It is for this reason that these wines hold their own distinctive classification of “Terra Alta Garnacha Blanca”.
Viticulture in Terra Alta dates back thousands of years, when the Orden del Templo (Knights Templar) recorded vine cultivation and wine production in the region by means of legal documents, ‘Costumbres de Orta’ in 1296, and ‘Costumbres de Miravet’ in 1319. Despite the importance and quality of red wines, the most significant evidence of this culture can only be found in white wine. This is also highlighted in historical documents from 1647 that record a Vernatxa plantation, possibly white, by Mossén Onofre Catalán in the municipality of Gandesa.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the celebrated writer Joan Perucho, and even Pablo Picasso, spent long summers in the area, and knew that the white wines of Terra Alta could be distinguished between ‘virgin’ and ‘brisados’. The latter is obtained through fermentation of whole, crushed white grapes. The strong link in origin between the names of each municipality and wine production is also quite remarkable. In fact, throughout history, wines known as "de Gandesa" or "de Batea" were very popular, especially white, but also red wines, which were consumed and sold in bulk in many bars in Barcelona. The professionalization of the wine sector, as well as the progressive incorporation of modern oenology in some wineries and the desire to develop more modern and quality wines, led to the launch of theDO Terra Alta in 1985.
The DO Terra Alta is situated in the north east of Spain, to the south of Catalonia, between the River Ebro and the borders of Matarraña (Aragón), and spans the 12 municipalities of Polillas, Batea, Bot, Caseres, Corbera de Ebro, La Fatarella, Gandesa, Horta, El Pinell de Brai, La Pobla de Massaluca, Prat de Comte and Vilalba dels Arcs. Currently the DO Terra Alta is home to 5500 hectares of vineyards, with 1,600 winemakers and 45 wineries. Here the pre-coastal limestone mountain ranges of Pàndols, Cavalls and Puertos preside over a spectacular Mediterranean landscape, highlighting the plain, the high plateau and the valleys, with viticulture developed on often natural terraces, with multiple slopes and plots. The vineyards are especially concentrated in the central third of the production area, between 350 and 550 metres above sea level. Terraces are the most commonly used method of cultivation, due to the interaction between the land and the varied orography. This can be seen in the different slopes and orientations, normally, between dry stone walls and riverbanks covered with vegetation, which both serve to avoid the loss of cultivatable soil through erosion. The most traditional locations for these terraces are on the plains and slopes, differentiated by gradients above and below 10%, respectively. The rest of the vineyards can be found on terraces made in the slopes and in the valleys, the latter of which naturally benefit from more rainwater due to their location.
Climate, Soils and Varieties.
The region is home to a dry Mediterranean climate, highlighting a strong continental influence which is usually only felt outside the vegetative period of the vines. Rainfall is moderate, ranging between 350 and 500 metres depending on proximity to Los Puertos. Two dominating winds, el Cierzo (NW) and la Garbinada (sea winds from the south), play an important role, promoting optimal conditions for the perfect development of the vineyards and the production of grapes with great concentration and quality. The cultivated soil is generally of medium texture, with good drainage, varying depths, rich in limestone and very poor in organic material.
The predominance of traditional grape varieties is another important characteristic of viticulture in the DO Terra Alta, and Garnacha is the most prominent variety. The Garnatxa Blanca, Garnatxa Negra and Garnatxa Peluda are the predominant varieties, which along with Macabeu, Parellada and Samsó account for over 75% of the vineyards in the region. It should be noted that agriculturally, the Garnacha and Samsó varieties are perfectly suited to traditional plantations, and the classification of these as recommended by the Regulatory Council of the DO Terra Alta demonstrates the development of these plantations. Interestingly, 80% of the world’s Garnacha Blanca is grown in the Terra Alta, and the rest of the vineyards are occupied by international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, among others. The existence of older plantations of the red grape variety known locally as Morenillo is also remarkable, and it is currently in the process of being officially recognised and classified, although some wineries have already started using it.
Wines and wineries from the DO Terra Alta.
Numerous styles of wines are produced in the DO Terra Alta including white wines, rosés, reds and sparkling wines, as well as 4 different types of “vinos de licor” (mistela blanca, mistela negra, long-established (rancio) and naturally sweet wines). Despite this diversity, the importance of the Garnacha Blanca in DO Terra Alta wine and the specific culture of understanding its production, means that white wines produced with this grape have the distinctive specific guarantee of “Terra Alta Garnacha Blanca”. In addition, the cooperatives of Gandesa, Bot, Corbera, Batea, San Salvador de Horta, La Pobla de Massaluca etc. are the backbone of the Terra Alta where the majority of the grapes are produced, but with more dignity than in many other regions in Catalonia. We should note that Gandesa, after a strong period on the Catalan market, is in a period of change that seems a little risky. Bot, however, is focusing on the quality of the wines and seems to have laid the foundations for some promising future projects. Corbera is developing very positively, beginning to move past the spirit of producing just a ‘good’ wine in order to become something more. Finally, Batea’s path is based on a large selection of host grapes, with ranges of good quality wines.
Edetària.To speak of Edetària is to speak of the Llebería family. The winery uses only their own vines, since the vineyard is the most important part of their project. The winery is currently home to 38 hectares, 24 of which are vineyards; a large number of these are old vines, over 50 years old, and the rest are middle-aged, between 20 and 25 years old. Edetària arises from a combination of the region’s traditional grape varieties on vines aged almost 60 years old, and foreign varieties which were planted around 25 years ago, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the first of their variety in the DO and some of the first in Catalonia. The range of wines produced by the winery includes Vía Edetana Blanc, made with Garnacha Blanca (70%). The grapes are taken from vines over 40 years old, which are planted in calcareous clay soils (known as “panal” in the region), and clay (known as “tapàs”) and 30% Viognier. Half of the wine is aged for 4 months in 300 litre French oak barrels. The winery also produces Edetària Selecció Blanc, made exclusively with the Garnacha Blanca grape from old vines on low yield and fossil dune soils. This wine is aged for 8 months in 300 litre new French oak barrels. It offers mineral and floral aromas, is potent in the mouth, and balanced with a good and well integrated acidity, which gives it a long life. La Terrenal is another wine made exclusively with the Garnacha Blanca variety, taken from old vines and planted on sunny slopes on clay soils. It is in this type of soil that the Garnacha Blanca is expressed in fullness, with character and power. The winery also produces red wines, such as La Pedrissa, made exclusively with the Cariñena variety, taken from a single estate located on a quarry and aged for 12 months in 300 litre barrels. Another red wine made by the winery is La Personal, a single variety Garnacha Peluda, grown on old vines on a single estate. It is a wine that conveys the uniqueness of a variety with only 50 hectares worldwide, of which Edetària has 7 hectares. This wine is aged for 12 months in 300 litre French oak barrels. Finally there is La Genuïna, made exclusively with the Garnacha variety from a selection of the finest vineyards planted on the “tapàs” soils, a composite of different layers of marl formerly accumulated under the sea. This wine is notable for its complexity and fully expresses the Mediterranean character.
Celler Vinos Piñol.Although the winery was founded back in 1945 in Bateu, the Piñol family’s passion for wine dates back four generations. The winery took 50 years to market its first bottle, L’Avi Arrufi 1995, but then again, the exceptional is not improvised. The wine was a rousing success, picking up a silver medal at its first international competition at the prestigious Sélections Mondiales de Montréal (Canada), among 1700 different wines from around the world. Among others, the winery sells their wines under the labels: L’Avi Arrufi, Raig de Raïm, the sweet wine Josefina Piñol, and their signature star wine, el Mather Teresina, a ‘vino de autor’ (signature) wine often mentioned in the most prestigious specialised guides. Their latest and perhaps most striking new feature is the red wine Finca Morenillo, made exclusively with the Morenillo variety, from century old wines native to the region. It is aged for 15 months in 500 litre new French oak barrels. This is a wine with elegant aromas; floral, balsamic and liquorice notes, combined with notes of oak (roasted, vanilla, cocoa...); and in the mouth, the wine maintains these balsamic, spicy, fine and elegant notes.
Celler Bàrbara Forés.The origins of this winery date back to 1889. The winery cultivates around 22 hectares of vineyards, situated in La Cometa and El Grau, some with over 40 year old Garnacha Blanca vines. One of their most notable wines is the Bàbara Forés Blanco, a young white wine made with Garnacha Blanca and Viognier. It is fresh, aromatic and tasty which has helped it reach its level of popularity. Their other, more opulent white wine is El Quintà, made with 100% Garnacha Blanca from the property’s oldest vineyards, and fermented in barrels. It is both elegant and statuesque, with a remarkable strength and personality. El Coma d’en Pou is one of their red wines with a varietal mix of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. The winery also produces a very personal and substantial rosé, a blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Cariñena, as well as a sweet white wine of Garnacha Blanca, a typical wine of this region. Their latest innovation is the El Templari Bàrbara Forés, a blend of Morenillo (70%) and Garnatxa Negra (30%), aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.
Vins del Tros.This is a relatively young winery launched in 2009 by Joan Ramon Bada, an oenologist, and Josep Arrugat, a vintner, both born in Vilalba dels Arcs, two friends since childhood who share a passion for winemaking and viticulture from their land. In late 2012, the team was joined by another passionate Spanish vintner, Xavier Orobitg, who sought to bring his extensive experience to this exciting project. The winery is home to 5 different plots of vineyards where they produce the white wine Te La Dedico, a blend of Garnatxa Blanca and Chenin Blanc; Cent x Cent, a single variety Garnatxa Blanca that was awarded the best white wine without wood in Catalonia by the Guia de Vins de Catalunya 2014, as well as being awarded a silver medal at the International Competition of the World’s Best Garnachas 2014. Their range of red wines include Ay De Mí, AY, a blend of Garnatxa Negra and Syrah, aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. El Señora Carmen is another of their red wines, made exclusively with Garnacha Negra, taken from the Valleta estate on 35 year old vines, and aged for 12 months. One of their most acclaimed wines is Lo Morenillo, made exclusively with the Morenillo variety from the Lo Mas estate, grown on vines over 90 years old and aged for 8 months in French oak barrels and clay pots. El Tremenda also stands out, a Samsó (Cariñena) varietal wine, from the 50 year old Setena estate, and aged for 14 months. And lastly, Brisat, with a bit of Garnatxa and a bit of Morenillo, aged for 4-5 months in clay amphorae.
La Fou.This is a project founded in 2007 by Valentí Roqueta (Bages) in the Terra Alta. The winery is situated in the heart of Batea, in the main square of the municipality. Under the La Fou label the winery produces three wines: La Fou El Sender, with Garnatxa Negra; La Fou De Batea, also made with Garnatxa Negra; and then the white wine La Fou Els Amellers, made with Garnatxa Blanca, offering aromas of citrus, grapefruit, lemons, jasmine, notes of sweet fruit (apricot) with a background of dried fruit, all of which contribute to a sense of volume and complexity in a set dominated by initial freshness which is maintained over time.
7 Magnífics.This is a project sponsored by Bodegas Miguel Torres, who produces wine in various areas of Catalunya, in singular and unique vineyards. In this region the winery produces two different wines: Rebels de Batea, a red made with Garnacha Tinta, with a fresh, fruity and well balanced profile and rich nuances of ripe plum, light notes of wild herbs and a sharp mineral imprint of the calcareous soils. They also produce the white Rebels de Batea, made with the Garnacha Blanca variety from vines planted over 20 years ago, briefly aged in the barrel. This is a young and fresh wine, with fragrant aromas of melon, pear and apple, and floral notes of white flowers and nutmeg, which gives the wine a certain finesse and elegance. This is a balanced, pleasant and seductive white wine.
Celler Tern.This is a relatively new project founded by three companions, a vintner, winemaker and a viticulturist. The winery produces three different wines, the Tern Garnatxa Blanca, where a part of the wine is fermented in fine grain, medium toasted French oak barrels, followed by 4 months ageing in the same barrels on its lees, and worked with bâtonnage. Tern Syrah is a young red wine made exclusively with the Syrah grape variety. And finally, Arrel de Nou, a blend of Garnacha Tinta, Syrah and Cariñena, is aged for 7 months in 300-500 litre first year French oak barrels.