About an hour north of Barcelona is the Spanish region of Empordà. This coastal Catalonian area is known internationally for its Mediterranean beauty and the resulting tourism, and for containing one of the world’s top-ranked restaurants, the Michele three star-rated El Celler de Can Roca.
In terms of gastronomy, Empordà offers more than just world-renowned food. It’s a historic winegrowing region, established as a Spanish Denominación de Origen in 1975 and dating back thousands of years. The DO includes 330 growers and 50 wineries, and is just over 2,000 hectares in size
Today, as the modern drinker expands their palate into all corners of the winegrowing world, Empordà producers are looking for a larger place at the table.
So said a handful of the DO’s winemakers during tasting yesterday at the InterContinental New York Times Square in Manhattan. A common lament was that Empordà receives very little (if any) coverage from wine media. Dwarfed by Spain’s larger and more celebrated DO’s, Empordà has become somewhat of a forgotten region, exporting only 15% of what it bottles.
But its winemakers believe that the region has what it takes to attract international attention. I asked the Empordà producers and representatives present why American consumers should drink Empordà.
1) Empordà is the Convergence of History and Innovation
Winemaking in Empordà dates back to the 5th century BC. Archeologists believe Phoenicians first introduced vines into the region. Later, Roman colonists and Benedictine monks took up winemaking here. Many of Empordà’s active vines date back centuries.
“We are not huge, but we have been around for over 3,000 years,” says Daniel Marquez, North American sales manager for Perelada vineyards.
At the same time, the region remains cutting edge with winemaking techniques and technology. Perelada, for instance, releases an annual Ex Ex (Exceptional Experiences) Collection, which showcases experimental wines made in very small batches. This includes a “natural wine” produced without sulphites, oenological products, or clarification of filtration.
“We like to say that we’re a wine region attached to tradition and open to innovation,” says Marta Casa, Marketing and Promotion for Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava Girona, a northeast Spanish tourist organization. “There are a lot of young people involved in Empordà winemaking.”
2) Empordà Retains a Signature Taste, Regardless of Varietal
The Empordà wines at the tasting shared notes of coastal salinity, minerality, stone fruits, and Mediterranean spices and herbs. Whether the varietal was a Spanish staple like Grenache and Carignan, or more worldly wines like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, there was that perceptible taste of Empordà.
Perelada’s Finca Garbet was a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, but tasted nothing like how these varietals might if they had originated from California or elsewhere. “When you drink our wines, you’re always drinking the Mediterranean,” Marquez says. “You always get that spice, that rosemary, sage and pepper.”
3) Empordà Wines are Cuisine Friendly
You might imagine that a region with one of the world’s most-decorated restaurants contains quite the serious gastronomic culture. Anna Espelt Delcios of Espelt Winery confirmed this suspicion, adding that she produces wines that can match the well-established, local culinary scene.
“They have a balance between drinkability and complexity, a minerality, and are made organically with sustainable methods,” she explains. “They’re highly drinkable, but also serve well the customer who has higher interests in food.”
Rafa Martin, President of Celler Martín Faixó Sa Perafita, pointed to the trust that El Celler de Can Roca has in Empordà wines. Having been named the world’s top restaurant in 2013 and 2015 by Restaurant Magazine, this global trendsetter in cuisine cannot stock just any wine menu. Yet, it features an array of Empordà bottles.
“That trust means a lot to us,” Martin says.
4) Empordà Offers Discoverability
Modern consumers are as experimental as ever and love finding new tastes. Why not steer them towards a lesser-known DO that produces top-flight wines?
“For being relatively unknown, we have a lot of different styles of wine,” Casa says.
Adds Marquez, “Many people don’t even know we exist. Slowly but surely, we are building a reputation.””
5) Families Come First
Empordà vineyards tend to be family run and focused.
“That is the way we do business because it is our lives,” says Martin. “We always work with local families and local products, because we try to express our area and our feelings that way.”
Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org