Montsant only received DO status in 2001 and is aggressively working towards building the quality that will help cement its international reputation – and help it to play alongside its famous neighbour, Priorat. To achieve the kind of out-sized reputation that Priorat has achieved is a tall order. The jury is out on whether Montsant’s distinctly different soils and topography can create wines as powerful and majestic as the toweringly big Priorat wines. And really that is not the objective of Montsant or the right perspective – Montsant should not be shoe-horned into any set of pre-conceived expectations. It is its own place and its wines will have their own personality. One thing that is certain is that, at least for the time being, Montsant produces some outstanding values for the level of quality that is on offer. You just have to do a little research.
Where is Montsant DO?
Located in Tarragona province of the State of Catalunya, Montsant is about a 2-hour drive to the south-west from Barcelona. In fact before 2001 when Montsant achieved its own DO designation its wines were marketed under the Tarragona designation. Montsant is a mountainous region with the very distinctive geographical characteristic that it surrounds the even-more mountainous Priorat. On the map it looks a little bit as though Montsant is an amoeba that is just seconds from engulfing another amoeba (that amoeba being Priorat in this analogy). The scenery is dramatic and many of the vineyards share the steep, schisty consistency (with the famous llicorella rock) that defines Priorat’s steep vineyards. However, Montsant also has more moderate topography and thus a wider range of wine styles are exhibited through the various sub-regions of the DO.
Why Montsant for Wine?
The answer to this question is super simple. On these varied terrains, with great soils for winegrowing and a myriad of microclimates – and with the benefit of the mediterranean climate of the region – Montsant can produce magnificent wines. The winemakers are earnestly applying themselves to driving the quality of their wines ever higher and the lower cost of land in Montsant in relation to that in Priorat has attracted a lot of foreign winemakers as well. It’s inevitable that Montsant will be compared with Priorat and be immediately seen as an understudy to its famous, engulfed neighbour. Both regions rely primarily on Grenache (Garnacha) and Carignan for their mainstay reds. The relationship between Montsant and Priorat is often compared to that between other famous regions that share grape varieties. For example, you could draw comparisons with the relationship between Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône. Are Chateauneuf wines “better”? That is fertile ground for argument. But just drawing a similar comparison between Montsant and Priorat tells you that this is a compelling up-and-coming wine region. And excellent hunting grounds for wines of distinction that punch way above their weight in terms of price.
Who are the Winemakers?
This is a booming wine region with new vineyards and wineries coming on-stream on a continuous basis. It is strongly export oriented with more than 60% of the wine heading to North America. As such there is a range of Montsant wines to be found on the shelves. A few well-established wineries offering excellent quality to price ratio are:
www.cellercapcanes.com Always reliable, their Mas Donis range is tremendous value
www.cellerscanblau.es From the prestigious Juan Gil family wine group
www.baronia-m.com Cellers Baronia produce a suite of high quality wine including the popular CIMS range.
Photos and maps courtesy of www.domontsant.com