Although Spain has been producing wines since the Phoenicians settled there, they have become fashionable only recently. The modernization of Spain’s wine industry and leap in quality come from an influx of investment after it joined the European Community in 1988. The Spanish, like the French, name their best wines by where the grapes grow. Government regulations recognize 64 regions, 62 of which are known as DO (Denominacion de Origen). Two other regions, Rioja in the north and Priorat near the Mediterranean coast just southwest of Barcelona, are recognized as being on top of the quality and price pyramid and have been awarded a higher status, Denominacion de Origen Calificada or DOC (sometimes written as DOCa). This hierarchy of areas does not mean that all wines from a DOC are better than all wines from a DO. Montsant, a DO, practically encircles the more up-market Priorat. Regulations require the same Mediterranean grapes as in Priorat. But Montsant’s wines are less captivating and less expensive, in part because the vineyards are at a slightly lower altitude. Elevation is key throughout Spain, since the temperatures exceed 100 degrees during the day. If the nights weren’t cool largely because of elevation, most Spanish wine would be heavy and uninteresting. Cool nights retard ripening, allowing grapes to develop more flavors. Celler el Masroig, a large cooperative founded in the early 20th century, initially focused on large volumes of high-alcohol wine. But with more than 300 growers, many of the vineyards are nicely situated and the coop now sees the value in higher-quality wine. The 2003 Sola Fred is a winner and a bargain. A moderately intense wine, it is not marred by the heaviness or coarseness commonly found at this price.
Celler el Masroig, Sola Fred, 2003 (about $10). Distributed by Ruby Wines, 508-588-7007.
November 3, 2005