Explaining paratge/paraje certifications in Catalan wine

With the publication of my lengthy article at Meininger’s explaining the new certifications of DOQ Priorat, it’s worth standing back from this for a moment and understanding a key term that everyone in the wine trade is going to be hearing more of in the year to come: paratge, or in Spanish, paraje.

Cava de Paratge Qualificat/Cava de Paraje Calificado

The translation to English for this word has been a bit ill-conceived as the main entity pushing its wide use at the moment is DO Cava and they’re trying to paint it as a wine from a single vineyard. They’ve admitted that other terms would have been preferable, but were already registered (pago, finca, parcela, etc.) and so this term is both correct but not correct as literally it’s “place” but for the purposes of wine, the closest term in English for the word would be a “zone”.

How big can a zone be? Well, as big as you kinda want it and this is going to be a loose pebble on the sidewalk for Cava as they move forward. There are Cavas that will be certified under this and come to market this year, sourced from a single zone, but are not a single vineyard. I see this as destroying the potential of the certification as well as insisting in the international market to use the quite ugly sounding “paraje” (pa-ra-hey) from Spanish instead of the slightly smoother “paratge” (pa-ra-cha) in Catalan. And this isn’t me saying this, it’s UK wine professionals. I have no doubt that it will morph into something like “pa-raj”.

The main issue with Cava is that they’re trying to invoke a select, Cru status to some wines which will in turn elevate them to a higher level. There’s more to it than this, but that’s the basic component that makes it different from say, the Gran Reserva wines. This was most definitely needed as the image of the DO currently is one of Prosecco-level bubbly, made via Traditional Method, in Spain. I think anyone who has done the WSET courses will attest to this.

Those producers who are indeed making lovely wines from the region have had to fight back and so this had the potential of being a higher level within the DO that wouldn’t force producers to ditch Cava for Clàssic Penedès or potentially create a whole new DO. It’s in their hands to make it a success or a failure, but it already has many of the trappings of the Italian DOC/DOCG issue.

Priorat Vi de Paratge Qualificat

Priorat is coming at this from the more Burgundian concept and using age-old demarcations–some of which date back to monastic times in the 12th century–to delimit their paratges and they’re also opting for the Catalan version of the word. They’re not trying to sell this as single vineyard wine, but as a level between Village, “Vi de Vila” that has existed since 2009 and single vineyard. This is a crucial step and I’ve already received blow back from sommeliers in the US who essentially state, “This is stupid and will make the region harder to sell.”

It’s a short-term line of thinking, much like much of the international opinion on Catalan Independence which is to say, “Pfft, you’re not a country, why bother, get over it.” It’s more crucial in wine to get beyond this as granularity is the name of the game. If you think that it’s not, well, there are plenty of bottles of that god-awful, throat-burning Charles Shaw “Two Buck Chuck” produced from who knows where in California waiting for you.

But in Priorat, will there really be that many wines bottled under the paratge level? Probably not as those who can will opt for what will be the higher “vi de vinya” level which is high-end single vineyard wine like French Premier Cru or then “gran vi de vinya” which will be like Grand Cru. Most will likely step down to the Village level to show typicity as it’s easier at the moment. Regardless, you need to have this paratge level in there to create a natural progression to what can be considered the top vineyards. Otherwise, you’re just slinging out “grand cru” vineyard certifications with the same attention one gives to pan-fried tofu.

Paratge = Climat

The easiest explaining in all of this is to think of Paratge/Paraje to be the same as the French “Climat” term that you find in Burgundy. I didn’t mention this previously as even the French have a hard time explaining this in French. They usually just say that they’re historical areas known for a certain typicity and this, this is exactly what Priorat is aiming to do with the paratges as they set out with a cartographer and local historians to piece together this map of the entire territory. It’s going to make for an interesting next couple of years, if Climate Change doesn’t drive us into ruin beforehand.