Terra Alta, Spain
In the shadow of its Catalonian neighbor Priorat, the Terra Alta region is a rising star in Spain. The name Terra Alta literally means "highlands" and vines grow in steep, terraced slopes much like Priorat to the Northwest. Winemaking here goes back to the twelfth century when the King ordered settlement by the Templars and later the "Hospitable Knights." However, because the land is criss-crossed by rivers and mountains that made transport and communications difficult, winemaking it remained primarily a local endeavor until recently .
As the southernmost DO in Catalonia, Terra Alta has the hottest climate and the lowest rainfall. There are many old vines here, particularly Garnacha and Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, Tempranillo and Cariñena and more recent plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The region is best known for barrel fermented white wines, but is quickly gaining a reputation for producing reds with rich, spicy fruit. The wines are less structured than those from Priorat but showcase all the vibrancy and complexity of great old-vine Garnacha. The region gained DO status in 1985 and with the help of a new breed of winemakers including Xavier Clua, Terra Alta is finally gaining the recognition it deserves.