Exploring Catalonia’s Rich Wine History, One Sip at a Time

Just outside Barcelona, a wine trail leads to some of the country’s oldest and most impressive vineyards.

Spain is home to some bold and seriously tasty red wines.

Spain is home to some bold and seriously tasty red wines.

Courtesy of Scala Dei Vineyards

The first time I visited Spain, I was an eager exchange student studying abroad in Madrid. On my humble college budget, a bottle of vino was a luxury, and the type of varietal never mattered. Decades later, a lot has changed, including my love for good wine. I’ve been exploring French wine for the past two years, and too often have overlooked the extensive and often relatively affordable (in comparison to French wine) world of Spanish wines. So, I head back to the land of rioja for a weeklong trip through Catalonia, armed with a little more knowledge and the same curiosity I had years ago.

The trip kicks off on a good note, literally, when my Delta flight attendant poured a glass of 2012 Vivanco Rioja Crianza. This wine represents all the elements I’ve grown to love about Spanish tempranillos: fruit driven, with aromas of vanilla and spice, and available in many U.S. stores for under 20 bucks. A few hours (and a few glasses) later, I land in Barcelona, checking into the W Hotel near Barceloneta beach. The sail-shaped building houses 473 rooms, all with panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea, and a rooftop bar that attracts just as many residents for cocktails as hotel guests.

The next morning, my first stop is Raventós Codorníu, located about an hour drive outside of the city center. The winery has a special place in Spain’s wine producing history; it’s the oldest wine (and cava) producer in the country. In 1872, Josep Raventós Fatjó used the traditional French method of creating champagne to produce the first cava in Spain. Over 450 years later, the Raventós family still owns the brand, while winemaker and technical director Bruno Colomer cultivates the grapes that produce a range of prestige cavas that can be shipped worldwide.

“Cava is a versatile drink that pairs with the vast majority of cuisines from most cultures. It also contains a lively and refreshing factor that helps reduce the heaviness effect caused by some sparkling wines,” says Colomer. My favorite lineup of the day is the Blanc de Blancs Reserve 2017 from the Ars Collecta collection, which includes chardonnay, Xarel·lo and Parellada del Penedès grapes. Codorníu also produces Raimat wines, with a focus on sustainable agricultural practices and vineyards that are organic certified. I visit its vineyards in Lleida, located just under two hours driving time from Barcelona. Here, I taste a classic albarino that bursts with flavors of mango and nectarine, as well as a tempranillo with velvet tannins and notes of cocoa and spice that would be the perfect accompaniment to roasted turkey.

Last year, the wine estate opened Raimat Natura, a protected natural area that offers trails and more than a hundred species of fauna plus over a hundred more species of flora. Nearby, I check into Raymat Castle, a restored 12th-century building managed by Elena de Carandini Raventós, who also heads Raimat Lleida Community Foundation’s initiatives to fund nonprofit organizations in the region. Some of those initiatives include a lab that helps startup companies achieve environmental sustainability goals and an annual art festival that highlights gastronomy and artists in Lleida. The castle sits on 7,413 acres of its own 100 percent organic vineyards and is a welcome retreat from the busy streets of Barcelona for the night.

The next day, the oenophile in me is giddy beyond measure to visit Priorat, about 80 miles southwest of Barcelona. Here, vineyards that sit as high as 2,400 feet were once the home of Carthusian monks from France who ran a monastery and planted vineyards on the steep slate-based slopes of the region. Today, Cellers Scala Dei—which literally means “ladder to God”—is the oldest winery in Priorat and produces some of the best red varietals in Spain, including a Cartoixa blend of garnacha and cariñena that sings on the tongue with ripe tannins and intense, toasted black fruits. I brought my tried-and-true FlyWithWine on the trip, a very durable suitcase that includes removable inserts for carrying wine, and it’s being put to good use with six bottles coming home with me.

Back in Barcelona, I’m ready to see what the city has to offer in the world of wine. I check into Mercer Hotel, located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and a short walk to most major sites in the city. The 28-room boutique hotel provides the intimate experience I seek in large cities, and a quiet courtyard draped in orange trees and a rooftop pool with umbrella-covered loungers is a quiet oasis without the crowds. A bottle of cava welcomes me in my room, and the hotel’s concierge Mauro Torres directs me to some of the best tapas meals I’ve had in Spain, including Gourmet Sensei, where a tuna tataki and vegan roasted “chicken” croquettes with curry mayo pair perfectly with an Ilercavo.

On my last day in Barcelona, I head to ElDiset, a wine bar that my friend who lives in the city calls her favorite hangout. I grab a seat at an outdoor table, still a bit awestruck that the world has opened up again to travel and allows for my favorite pastime: people watching. Ninety percent of the wine menu here is produced in Catalan, and I settle on a La Figaflor 2021 garnache that’s had four months with contact on the lees in the barrel. It’s as zippy and energetic on the mouth as the people who walk by me, each of us, happily in our own world.

How to get to Barcelona

Delta recently launched daily nonstop service between Atlanta and Barcelona. The flight takes about eight hours. From the airport, the Renfe train or taxis are available from Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport for the 30-minute drive into the city center.

For tasting information and appointments

Kristin Braswell is a travel journalist and founder of Crush Global Travel. She has penned pieces for Vogue, CNN, USA Today, Essence, NPR, Architectural Digest, Ebony, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Her perfect day includes soca music, rum, and the ocean.
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