Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The D.O. Montsant

Founded in 2002, the wine appellation of Montsant ( known as the D.O. Montsant in Spain) has come a long way in 12 years. What started as small subzone of Falset under D.O. Tarragona with only 28 wineries has now grown into a healthy and dynamic independent wine region with 56 wineries to date. In total, the region occupies 2,000 hectares of vineyards, most of which are in the southern half of the region, and produces around 10 million kilos in grapes per year.
In this mountainous and stunningly beautiful region, the air is slightly floral and woody, with the occasional fragrance of mineral or clay kicked up by a passing car or warm breeze. Swallows swoop over almond and hazelnut trees, while small lizards peek out from dry underbrush, quickly scurrying across the dusty soil and out of harms way. Hundreds of fat and furry bumble bees with a pale white backends work diligently to collect pollen from dark purple lavender flowers swaying gracefully in the morning breeze. 
The rural pace of life in Montsant is slow and familiar, but for wine, the pace couldn't be more opposing.
To understand DO Montsant one needs to be intimately familiar with its geography, as confusion comes easy here.  To be clear, both D.O. Montsant and D.O.Q. Priorat are located within the political region of Priorat (demarcated by the dotted line on the map). Additionally true, D.O. Montsant forms a perfect ¨C¨ around D.O.Q. Priorat (area in white), thereby making the two inseparable in conversation if we are understand the region in its totality. Serra de Montsant, a major mountain chain running from the NE through the NW of both wine appellations is also a source of confusion, as it is a major player in craft wines of both regions.
A very unique and differentiating characteristic of Montsant is its smorgasbord of soil types, altitudes and climates. Unlike DOQ Priorat, with its famous slate soils, DO Montsant primarily consists of lime clay soils throughout the region, with a spattering of sandy granite in the south and lime and granite in the north, along with odd batches of slate in between.

On average, vineyard altitudes sit around 350-400 meters, but one can also find vines as low as 150 meters and as high as 800 meters near the Serra de Montalt in the southeast and Serra de Montsant in the northwest. Finally, summers here are generally quite dry, while winters tend to see the occasional frost and snow cover. Hence, we can say that most of the region experiences a mild Mediterranean climate with continental influences; however each vineyard throughout this wine region can boast of a very unique micro climate as a result of its location and altitude.
Most of the wines produced here are red, made from the autonomous grape varieties: Grenache (Garnatxa in Catalan) and Carignan (Carinena). However you can also find a fair amount of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. 
As for whites, the majority of wines, if not all the wines, are made with White Grenache (called Garnatxa Blanca in Catalan) and Macabeo (Macabeu), two very aromatic and expressive varieties.


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