A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia | Top Travel Tips

Harry Lambourne
13th June 2023

Catalonia should be right at the very top of any wine lover’s travel list. So, we’re here to give you a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia.

Catalonia is home to all things a great holiday should involve. Art, culture, sun, sea, sand, great food and of course, great wine. So, we thought we needed to create a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia.

You can visit the stunning regions of Penedès, Priorat and Montsant. All these mountainous region boast unrivalled views and wines to match. Not only that, but they’re close to the coast and the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

A wine lover’s guide to Catalonia will take you through the key wine regions of the area, the wines you can expect to try, as well as some top tips for Barcelona. Let’s get going!

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – The Wine Regions of Catalonia

We can’t do a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia without focusing on the wine! So, we’re going to look through the top regions of the Catalan area. Perhaps, the most important is Penedès. A region responsible for 95% of all the Cava production in Spain.

However, two more important regions require discussion. They are Priorat and Montsant. Both are responsible for deeply powerful red wines from low-yielding vines. These up and coming regions command some of the highest price tags in all of Spain and are a must-try for any oenophile. Therefore, impossible to exclude from a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia.

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – PenedÈs – The Wine Region
Penedes Wine Region - A Wine Lover's Guide To Catalonia
Penedès Wine Region

Penedès is, above all else, known for its production of Cava. However, Cava only came into the picture in the 1870s and wine production in the region goes back much further than that. So, even if bubbly isn’t your thing, Penedès should be something you’re well aware of in a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia.

Studies into Amphorae and Egyptian wine jars that were found in this region suggested that viticulture was originally practised by the Phoenicians in around 700 B.C, (MacNeil 474). Still wine production in the Penedès wine region has persisted through to the modern day.

In terms of geography, the area is awe-inspiring. It only has a relatively small surface when compared to other Spanish regions, such as Rioja. However, the topography is deeply varied. This is thanks to the wide-ranging Montserrat Massif mountain ranges, the valleys and the warm coastal land that sits on the Mediterranean sea.

Altitude is a key point of difference here as well. There are two different ‘levels’ to Penedès. The first is the ‘Low Penedès’ which occupies warm coastal land. Then, there is the ‘High Penedès’ which is found on cooler mountain plateaus at altitudes of 790 metres above sea level, (MacNeil 475). The wines at higher altitude will generally produce grapes with higher acidity levels so they’re better for sparkling wine.

The variation in protection from the mountains, heat from the sun and tempering winds from the ocean allow for both a variety in the styles of wine which are produced.

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – PenedÈs – The Still Wines

It’s impossible to discuss Penedès, and a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia, without talking about Cava. This is what the region is known for and this is how it sets itself apart. However, before we dive into that, it’s worth mentioning the still wines which are produced, as you can find excellent examples of them throughout this wine region.

White wine dominates the production in Penedès partly because the grapes are also used more frequently in Cava production. The three key Cava grapes, (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel’lo), are also the main grapes for white wine production.

Macabeo makes fresh, fruity and aromatic wines with a good acidity. Parellada is the most delicate and refined of the three. Then, Xarel’lo makes wines with good acidity and more body, even sometimes being aged in oak. These points of difference are also why they work so well in blends of both still and sparkling wine.

In terms of red grapes, for still wine, the two main varieties are Cariñena and Ull de Llebre. These are the Catalan names for Carignan and Tempranillo respectively. Ull de Llebre provides balance and acidity as well as a great concentration of flavour and ageing potential. Cariñena, on the other hand, provides alcohol, body and tannin. This is similar to its role in the production of Languedoc-Roussillon wines.

It’s always worth including these grapes regional name in a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia. Ull de Llebre could be your favourite grape variety and you might not even realise!

Beyond these grapes, you can expect a host of other indigenous and international varieties. Some grape varieties which regularly make appearances are; Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha (Grenache), Merlot and Monastrell (Mourvèdre).

As this is a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia, take note of these grapes varieties as they’re sure to be popping up on all the wine lists in the area.

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – PenedÈs – The Sparkling Wines

A wine lover’s guide to Catalonia must include Cava. Even if you don’t visit the caves and bodegas that produce this wine, you can visit the Xampanyeria’s of Barcelona. These are wine bars specialising in their region’s favourite bubbly. A few glasses of Cava and some Pintxos in the Spanish sun, what could be better?

Cava is the king of Spanish sparkling wine. While traditional method sparkling wine from Spanish regions as varied as Álava to Zaragoza can be called Cava, there is one region which dominates the Cava production in Spain. That region is Penedès.

Cava Vineyards Penedes - A Wine Lover's Guide To Catalonia
Cava Vineyards Penedès

Cava production dates back to the 19th century, with the name Cava actually being a translation of the word ‘cave’ or ‘cellar’. This is a reference to the caves of north-eastern Spain which were originally used as a means of preserving and ageing the wines. Caves allowed for lower average temperatures without the help of modern technology.

The idea for a Spanish traditional method sparkling wine gained further traction with Josep Raventós. He was a representative of the famous Codorníu winery. While travelling through Europe in the 1860s, his goal was to promote the still wines of his region, but after a visit to the French region of Champagne, his attention began to sparkle.

He took what he learnt back to Spain and began to focus his attention on sparkling wine. Raventós and other local winemakers then began to meet after 10 o’clock mass on Sunday to discuss wine and the possibility of a new ‘Spanish Champagne’. This is evident by the fact that the first Cava was originally called ‘champán’ or ‘xampany’, before it took the name ‘cava’, (MacNeil 476). The rebranding came from their realisation that it was distinct enough to warrant its own name.

This came at a perfect time. A recent bout of phylloxera had wiped out large portions of the Catalonian red grape vines. While it also impacted the cava production, a number of the key firms survived. This led to higher percentages of white grapes being planted which would prove vital in the production of Spain’s new traditional method sparkling wine.

Even to this day, Codorníu wines can be found. So, if you want to taste some of the ‘original’ cava, then these are a great place to start! They produce over 20% of the Cava in the world today. This is roughly 48 million bottles a year, out of the 245 million bottles produced, (MacNeil 476). A wine lover’s guide to Catalonia wouldn’t be complete without bringing up these Cava connoisseurs.

Codorníu Cava - a wine lover's guide to Catalonia
Codorníu Cava – A Must Try In A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia

The best grapes to use in Cava production are a matter of much debate among Catalonian winemakers. There is a clear divide between the traditional ‘Spanish’ grapes and then newer additions to the bunch.

In terms of white grapes, the three classic Cava grapes are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel’lo. However since 1981, some winemakers have opted to use Chardonnay. While many believe that this enhances the complexity and general standard of the wines, many other winemakers believe that it simply makes Cava feel more like Champagne, rather than keeping it as a unique entity.

This is similar to the story of the red grapes. Garnacha, Trepat and Monastrell have always been used, but recent times have seen the introduction of Pinot Noir. This is at the heart of the debate. Many winemakers think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are welcome additions to the group, but others want to distance themselves from simply creating a ‘Spanish Champagne’.

It’s easy to see why this would be the case. Cava is simply put, different to Champagne. In terms of taste it tends to be less acidic and austere. Instead it is fruity and accessible, even in its youth. The Catalonian people treat it as an everyday tipple to share over snacks with some friends. Or, a treat when lounging on a Sunday.

As an example, in the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, locals will visit on a Sunday. Bodegas sell local lamb and rent outdoor stone fireplaces, (MacNeil 478). This is a top tip in a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia. If you want to do as the locals, then get yourself to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – Priorat – The Wine Region

Priorat is a newcomer on the worldwide wine scene and needs to be mentioned on a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia. It emerged in the late 1990s, rising from near non-existent.

It sits inland from Tarragona on the Mediterranean coast. Karen MacNeil describes it as a ‘new old-world wine region’. Stylistically, the wines scream old world. They’re big, powerful creations, aged in French oak.

While they possess this classic old world style, it was only back in the 1970s that a few inhabitants remained in this remote wine-making region. Ancient Romans cultivated vines here, then a monastery was also a hub of creation here.

This monastery is how the region got its name. The legend goes that in the middle ages villagers saw angels ascending and descending on stairways to heavens, (very Led Zeppelin). This led to monasteries being established and the region of ‘Priorato’ was born. This comes from the Spanish word Priory. Then, Priorato became Priorat. Priorat being the Catalan word for Priorato.

The vineyards are baking hot in the day, but cool in the night. Small vineyards are scattered across valleys and incredibly high elevation. These vineyards are often steep and planted on incredibly loose ancient soil. This means that mechanisation is impossible. All vineyards are worked by hand, often with the assistance of helpful horses and donkeys.

In fact, the price of donkeys can be seen as an indicator of this regions rise to prominence. The price of donkeys in this region rose 10000% between 1980 and the 1990s, (MacNeil 495). It was at this time that people realised the potential for viticulture in this region and they knew they’d need a trusty four-legged companion to get it done. So, a wine lover’s guide to Catalonian needs to teach you to respect the donkeys!

Donkey In The Vineyard - A Wine Lover's Guide To Catalonia - Priorat
Donkey In The Vineyard – A Key Figure In Priorat Wine
A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – Priorat – The Wines

We’ve mentioned that these are a must have for a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia. They can be some of the most expensive wines in the whole of Spain. Although, they are without question some of the finest and more reasonably priced examples can be found.

Red wine rules the roost in Priorat and there are two grape varieties that are the most desirable. They are Garnacha and Cariñena. The Priorat wines are intense, powerful and almost inky. Expertly structured with strong tannins to make the age-worthy. Soft and loaded with rich concentrated flavours of blackberry and plums, then chocolate and liquorice notes from French oak and intense minerality from the famous ‘llicorella‘ soils of the region.

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – Montsant

Montsant also deserves a mention of a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia. Montsant actually circles the region of Priorat. You can access the main city of the region, (Gratallops), easily from Barcelona and once you’re there you can experience styles of wine similar to Priorat.

The wines are often considered less prestigious and not quite as complex. However, they will use the same grape varieties on low yielding vines. This is an excellent opportunity to sample styles of wines which have made this region famous, without breaking the bank.

If you time it right, you can also get the Montsant region during the Falset Wine Festival. It kicks off at the end of April, to the start of May each year. Held in the main city of Montsant, (Falset). It’s a great chance to sample the best wines of the region!

You can read more about the Montsant region in our separate holiday guide here.

A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia – Where To Stay

While there are endless places to pick for accommodation in a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia, we think Barcelona is the far and away best choice. The local areas around Penedès, Priorat and Montsant are all great day trips from Barcelona.

You can spend the day soaking in the Catalonian countryside and visiting vineyards and then come back to the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. The Spanish love to eat late, so you can make it back for a late dinner no problem!

Barcelona - Top Base In A Wine Lover's Guide To Catalonia
Barcelona – Top Base In A Wine Lover’s Guide To Catalonia

There’s a whole heap of attractions in Barcelona. The ever-growing Sagrada Família is one of Gaudi’s greatest works and is set to be complete in 2026. La Rambla, which is home to the Boquerie Market, has a great array of shops and foot stalls. Then, for the culture vultures the Picasso Museum is an absolute must-visit.

If you want the outdoors, then Barceloneta has a huge number of beautiful beaches, or you can stroll through the sprawling botanical gardens. Take a walk up into the hills and go through Park Güell, or to the old Civil War bunkers and soak in the most glorious sunset you could imagine.

For food, eat like a local! Catalan cuisine is a rich and varied one. The Aragon empire, which held modern day Catalonia, drew gastronomical influence from the Americas, France, Naples and Sicily. What you have is a cuisine that values shellfish, fish, game, veal and pork, as well as a whole host delicious produce including fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts.

From the humble Pan con Tomate, to rich and complex seafood paella and sweet treats like the Crema Catalana – you won’t be short of delicious and tasty treats.

Jump on the metro and explore one of the world’s greatest cities. Just make sure you stop and try some delicious local wine of the kinds that we’ve mentioned above. You won’t be disappointed.

This was a wine lover’s guide to Catalonia. It truly is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves a glass of wine. Even better, you can get return flights from London for as cheap as £50! Not bad at all. There’s no reason not to visit this magical place and try some of the best wines in the world.

If you want to treat yourself, or someone else in your life, don’t forget to check out our Monthly Wine Subscription and Gift Wine Subscription products. Each month you’ll receive hand-picked wines from small, independent family winemakers who focus on organicbiodynamic and sustainable viticulture. Learn more here:

If you’d simply just like to learn more about wine from the comfort of your own home, be sure to check out our online blog and sign up to our mailing list. We’re always looking to teach people about different regions, grape varieties and producers. Beyond that, you can expect to find a whole host of playlists, cocktail cards and recipe cards packed full of wine pairing ideas. There might even be some special offers along the way so make sure that you don’t miss out!

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