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Making the Case for Terroir in Spain Has Never Been Easy

Making the Case for Terroir in Spain Has Never Been Easy

“This is a tough place by definition,” Valentí Llagostera says.“Nothing is easy. We are just survivors.”

Lean and fit at 60, Llagostera stood at the base of a 60-degree slope of pure schist, peering upward, ready to tackle it. I worked up my nerve to scramble after him.

We weren’t rock climbing. I was visiting wineries, and Mas Doix, Llagostera’s family estate, is tucked into a mountain valley in Priorat, Spain’s most forbidding wine region, in the country’s northeastern Catalonian corner.

Ahead of us, 100-year-old Garnacha and Carignan vines clung to the hillside, their roots reaching down through rock fissures 15 meters to moisture. The schist soil, called “licorella,” contains 2 percent organic matter, and the rock is friable at the surface.

My feet slipping on the flat, broken stones, I struggled up to the top and looked down at the vines that yield the spare fruit in Llagostera’s Doix blend, four plants per bottle.

In the distance, the Serra de Montsant range rose like a shrub-and-stone layer cake. A gusting wind called serè sweeps through from inland, carrying the scents of wild fennel and thyme. Serè blasted dry heat on this spring morning. In the summer, it is tempered by a cooler Mediterranean breeze that brings the 45-degree-Fahrenheit diurnal swings that slow the grapes’ ripening, fine-tuning their structure and acidity.

We sat down beneath a wild fig tree, and Llagostera opened a bottle of 2013 Doix. Forty-five percent Garnacha and 55 percent Carignan, it had a dark ruby glow and the brooding flavor of blackberries dashed on hot rocks. It was intense, like the landscape where the grapes were grown.

I was as captivated as I had hoped to be. This powerful expression of terroir — this sense of place in the glass — was why I had come.

After years of being undervalued, the concept of terroir is coming to the fore now in Spain. Historically, wineries in Spain’s 69 D.O.s (denominations of origin) were prohibited from including vineyard information on their labels. The country’s most famous region, Rioja, classified wines not by terroir, but by the length of time they sat in oak. With bulk production helping to triple Spanish wine exports in the past couple of decades, the inability to distinguish quality wines from industrial plonk made in the same D.O. has presented a huge marketing problem for Spain’s terroir-driven estates.

Read more here.

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