Best Catalan wine of 2019

by  |  16-12-2019

We come to that time of year for the “100 Best Wines in the Whole Universe” or other similarly-named yet no less grandiose summaries in wine publications. Obviously, they’d be more aptly named, “The Best Wines we tasted in 2019”, “The Best Wines less than a $10 Uber from our office”, or even more succinctly, “A couple of things knocked back recently that were quite alright” but that doesn’t move copies.

Every year, I taste wines from far and wide around the world, but on no level would I make a bold exclamation of having tasted even a meager fraction of a fraction of a percent of what’s produced on this little blue-green sphere of ours. What I do taste a great deal of, is wine from Catalunya. So, this year, like last year, I’m going to propose what I found to be the most engaging wine in the entire region with the caveat that this is obviously only based upon the wines I’ve tasted, roughly 2,000 of them, and most all of them blind.

I’m a bit bothered though as I fully realizing this “single best” concept discards too many otherwise very worthwhile wines. Thus, to mix it up a little, I want to mention not just my top wine of the year but also five others definitely worthy of your glass and hopefully easier to find wherever it is that you might find yourself.

The best of the bests

Let’s get started with the main show as for 2019, my pick for the best Catalan wine comes from DO Empordà and is the Martí Fabra – Masia Carreras Negre 2016. A blend of old-vine Carignan from around the village of Sant Climent Sescebes in the northern part of the Alt Empordà county, it shows exactly what this wine region is doing so incredibly well these days which is to produce wines of deep character in their little rugged slip of land that slides off the Pyrenees and into the Mediterranean Sea.

What makes this wine one of the most notable for me this year? In general Joan Fabra makes excellent, ridiculously good value wines year in, year out. I could have picked just about any wine he’s made as an example of showing true Empordà spirit. The difference is that with his 2016, this is an incredible vintage that’s open and tasting very well now and will continue to evolve positively over the coming years–if you find yourself able to wait.

The only problem with the wine, is that outside of Catalunya, you might have trouble finding it. The secret to Joan’s low prices is that he doesn’t work much with distributors and so if you want the wine, you’ll probably have to roll up to the cellar (that has no sign) and get them to open the garage door which exposes their tasting room so that you can buy a few bottles. So if you’re in the neighborhood, do make the stop! Or use this as an excuse to visit Empordà and a few other cellars.

The rest of the bests

Here are a few other suggestions from around Catalunya that you might be able to get your hands on a bit more easily and they’re all not only highly recommended but also incredibly representative of their various points of origin.

  1. Vall Llach – Embruix 2017 DOQ Priorat
    This has always been the bread and butter, “entry-level” wine that serves as an introduction to Vall Llach’s style but the 2017 knocked me out the first time I tasted it and it just keeps getting better. About five years ago there were some changes to the winemaking team and this wine really epitomizes that it’s all come together in this vintage. An excellent, fruit-driven yet not jammy, fresh yet not green, full-bodied yet not blocky take on a modern Priorat wine. My hat tips to this wine.
  2. Llopart – Original 1887 Brut Nature 2008 Corpinnat
    Part of the nine cellars that broke off from DO Cava earlier this year, I’ve had Llopart’s wines on many, many occasions. But, during my recent tasting of the wines from all the producers in the new Corpinnat group, I realized that I’d clearly never had this specific wine before. While not cheap in terms of the region, it’s very well-priced for the level of quality. It does remains to be seen if people will pull their head out of the 2€ bargain bucket of Cava wines and pay what is a higher, yet still very reasonable price for great wine but I hope they do as wines like this have made a bubbly lover out of me. Also impressive is that this is majority Parellada when most aged sparkling wines from the region are based on Xarel·lo which goes to show there’s a potential renaissance for this local grape as well.
  3. Parató – Turons de Vilafranca Carinyena – DO Penedès
    I’ve tasted Carinyena from Penedès before and it’s not been something I’d often repeat. Not ever bad, but definitely not showing the vervy, lively acidity you see alongside wanton structure and plush tannins from DOQ Priorat and DO Empordà. This wine from Parató changes all perceptions however. It shows wonderful varietal character with deep, luscious fruit as well as a linear finish to the wine, making it poundable from start to finish. At a recent lunch with my fellow Priorat denizens, it was the first bottle to evaporate and that’s because people here know good Carinyena when it crosses their lips.
  4. Vins de Pedra – Trempat 2018 – DO Conca de Barberà
    The local variety of Trepat has been making waves recently and it’s in no small thanks to producers like Marta Pedra and her Vins de Pedra. For a lighter alcohol, refreshing wine, this ‘Trempat’ (a play on a phrase in Catalan) still holds plenty of definition and has shown excellent evolution over time especially in this most-recent vintage. If looking for a lighter option in terms of reds from Catalunya, but with plenty going on to hold your interest, this wine is a perfect pick.
  5. Clos Mogador 2017 – DOQ Priorat
    No introduction needed here. This is one of the most classic and well-known wines in Priorat. The reason I include it in here is that from 2014 on, I’ve had trouble seeing where the wines of Mogador were really heading. In a blind tasting, myself and another taster called a bottle of the 2015 as Ribera del Duero and even after it was revealed, we saw our call as justified as it was just… odd. There has been more than a bit of weaving around the road for the past three vintages at the cellar but the 2017 shows a true return to form. There’s a great deal of subtlety to the wine while at the same time, it knows which way to look before crossing the road. This makes me eagerly want to taste the 2018 to see what they’ve done with that oddball vintage.

So, there you go. I’ve gone and skimmed the cream off the top as I’ve seen it this year. Your own particular selection could look a whole lot different which wouldn’t be a surprise given that there are simply so many excellent wines to choose from in Catalunya. At any rate, I hope this makes for a jumping off point for anyone looking to explore the region further or just wanting something tasty to see them through the impending holidays!

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