Wines from the Pyrenean Foothills
Andorra is blessed by having France and Spain as her immediate neighbours: giants in the world of oenology, the two countries supply 99 per cent of Andorra's bottled nectars; all at bargain duty-free prices.
FRENCH WINE REGIONS
North of Andorra
The Languedoc-Roussillon region has been producing wine since pre-Roman times. Grape varieties grown in the region include Grenache, Merlot, Maccabeu, Carignan, Gamay, Cinsault, Malvoisie, Cabernet and Syrah.
The fertile river valleys just an hour or so north of Andorra boast a number of world-class, yet relatively little-known, sub-regions:
Large, important Languedoc sub-region containing a number of quality sub-area AOC
s. Produces balanced reds, fruity rosés and dry whites. Of particular note is the Château de Pech-Latt at Lagrasse, near Carcassonne. The monks at Lagrasse Abbey, founded by Charlemagne around the same time as he is believed to have granted Andorra its independent status, planted the first vines here in AD784. The Château ranks among the pioneers of organic vineyard agriculture (‘agriculture biologique
’) and produces excellent reds.
Côtes du Roussillon
Produces robust, earthy wines redolent of the warm south.
A specific sub-area within Corbières, producing strong full-bodied reds, with controlled limits on yield per hectare and minimum ageing of nine months in cellars. The product is always over 12 per cent alcohol by volume.
North-east of Toulouse, in the Tarn département; one of France's oldest wine regions, notable for its fragrant white wines.
Limoux has credible claim to predating champagne for the creation of sparkling wine. The area's Blanquette and Crémant de Limoux are sparklers of fine quality, produced using Clairette, Chenin and Chardonnay grapes.
On the slopes of the Montagne Noire above the Aude Valley.
Produces rich reds.
CATALAN WINE REGIONS
South of Andorra
Catalan wines are some of Spain's finest; and the region's bubbly Cava
even outsells Champagne. Traditionally, Spanish wines are naturally fermented and aged in wood barrels, then bottled slightly oxidised. Increasingly, however, modern New World production methods and tastes are being introduced in Catalunya, resulting in the region's development as one of Europe's best.
Cabernet, Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are now frequently cultivated alongside the most commonly grown indigenous vines such as Ull de Lliebre (more frequently encountered in Spanish as Tempranillo), Xarello, Parellada, Monastrell, Garnacha and Macabeo (known as Viura in Rioja).
Rioja, arguably Spain's most famous wine-producing region, is much further west near the Basque Country. It's a bit too far from Andorra to be considered a ‘local’ wine, but is readily encountered in Andorra, along with other quality world wines.
West and south of Barcelona, this is Catalunya's most important region and one of Europe's most sophisticated and forward-looking wine-producing areas. Although other areas also produce cava, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in Penedès is the largest centre of production, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the world market in sparkling wines.
Penedès is also the home of the world-famous Torres firm, which is now one of the biggest wine producers in the Americas; their white Viña Sol, made with native Catalan Parellada grapes, is Spain's staple quality blanco
. Other notable Torres wines are Fransola (white), Sangre de Toro and Coronas (reds).
area north of Barcelona, noteworthy for its Marfil label and its dessert wines.
Costers del Segre
In Lleida province, home to the excellent Raïmat estate which produces high-quality reds.
Empordà (Ampurdan-Costa Brava)
Gerona province. The most northerly demarcation and also the most ancient, established by the Greeks and Romans when ‘Empúries’, as it was then known, was the centre of Catalan maritime trade. Castillo de Perelada is a notable Empordà estate, producing excellent cava and very quaffable rosado
South of Barcelona; produces very respectable, robust reds.
Home of ‘l'Ermita’, one of the most expensive limited production wines in Spain.
Tarragona, Terra Alta & Conca de Barberá
The final three Catalan DO
s, all located to the south of Barcelona; these regions now export the majority of their grape harvest to Penedès for the production of cava.
Cava is sparkling wine, produced in the same way as champagne, although with different grape varieties. Cava was once labelled as Catalan champagne, but this is no longer permitted as it contravenes the EU protected designation of origin laws (AOP
Still wine is elaborated as normal, then, as it is bottled, yeast is added to cause a secondary fermentation; CO2
is a natural byproduct of the yeast's activity, hence the bubbles. The principal grape varieties used in cava are Parellada, Xarello, Macabeo and Monastrell.
Cava production was begun by the Codorníu label in the second half of the 19th century. The firm still makes excellent bubbly, and jockeys with rival Freixenet for the title of world's largest producer of sparkling wine.
The smaller family firm Juvés y Camps also produces a quality cava, labelled as ‘Reserva de la Familia
’, which is also worth searching out.
The price difference between champagne and cava often reflects the difference in production/labour costs rather than quality, as well as being a result of established marketing and perceived pedigree.