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IWINETC 2016: Visiting DO Empordà in Catalonia

Posted: Wednesday, 22 June 2016 17:47


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IWINETC 2016: Visiting DO Empordà in Catalonia

June 22: Catalonia is designated as an autonomous region of Spain with 4 provinces including its capital Barcelona where the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) was held in April 2016. It has 12 wine regions- one DOQ (Priorat) and 11 DOs, writes Subhash Arora who visited three of the appellations including DO Penedes and DO Empordà and a few wineries in the regions after the Conference and covers DO Empordà in this Part 2 of the 2-part series

Click For Large ViewWhen you think of Costa Brava you think of the beautiful beaches and lovely sea-side drives. Bollywood buffs would be transported to the movie ‘Ye Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ where the trio of friends meets Katrina Kaif in a beach (in fact,  a nudist beach where the movie had to be shot carefully so no censorable shots got inside the frame by mistake.) But it also has beautiful towns like Pals and Girona and several wineries that fall under DO Empordà. We visited a couple of wineries after departing from NM Suites Hotel in Platja d'Aro where we had stayed the previous night and headed towards Torrent.

DO Empordà is a DO for wines produced in the north-east Catalonia. Earlier, it was known as DO Empordà- Costa Brava in order to associate the large tourist beach area on the eastern part of the region. Accepted as a DO in 1972, it was rechristened as DO Empordà 10 years ago, in 2006. It is divided into two parts- Alt Empordà and Baix Empordà- high and low, depending on the geographical location-Alt being in the northern part of the appellation area and Baix being in the south-the part where we visited 2 wineries and tasted several wines in restaurants over lunch and dinner.

It has been known for wines for centuries and like many other parts of Spain, this region was known for vines around 2500 years ago. There is documentation available going back at least to 1170. It was known for sweet wines earlier but unfortunately, till the mid 20th century also for cheap wines produced mainly by co-operatives. With 423 winegrowers and 45 wineries producing around 3.5 million bottles, with 4500 acres of registered vines with the Regulatory Council, and an estimated annual production of about 3.5 million bottles of wine, it is medium sized region.

In the late 1990s and in to the first decade of the 21st century, the focus shifted a great deal towards smaller, boutique wineries, which in turn worked to improve the image of the wines in the region by improving the quality. ;

Mas Oller cellar (DO Empordà)

Click For Large ViewTorrent is a small town 24 kms from Platja dAro. Mas Oller is located in the town of Torrent, in the region of the Petit Empordà. The owner who already owns a winery in DO Penedes bought it in the 1970s as a hobby rescued this family estate from ruins, slowly rebuilding the house. In effect, he placed the winery in what used to be the cowshed and replanted the vines on the land that used to be one of the most famous and largest vineyards in the close-by small town of Pals.

Today, e winery that was a 17th century farmhouse, Mas Oller has become a reference winery in the D.O. Empordà; wines are made with a philosophy that is committed to quality and the expression of their place of origin. 150 years ago it used to be the biggest winery in Pals. Unfortunately, Phylloxera killed it and it was abandoned.

Click For Large ViewIn 1970s , Carlos grew 5 varietals- Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Picpoul and Malvasia. When he cultivated Shiraz in 1998 the other producers laughed at him but he continued. The land with lots of Clay absorbs the water well and has a lot of sand too. Shiraz loved the soil and the quality has really been impressive.

There is a total of land of 17 hA and 50-70,000 bottles are produced, all from own land. 60% of the wines are exported- mostly to Europe-Germany and Belgium.  A small quantity is sold in Japan and Taiwan.  The winery and the vineyard are really beautiful and could attract a lot of tourists, only about a 1000 visitor every year.

We tasted 4 wines at an old, rustic room converted into a quaint tasting room. The quality was really excellent, the wines were fresh and with lots of character. The prices were commensurate with the quality- not practical for the Indian market. 

Visit to Pals

Click For Large ViewBarely 10 minutes from Torrent at a distance of 4 kms is the small, sleepy, medieval town of Pals where we had a short sojourn before lunch. It has a character marked by rich cultural heritage. It has maintained the historic legacy and deep-rooted traditions and legends and yet has a charm that visitors enjoy and the residents appreciate.

Click For Large ViewThe cobbled streets, the serene surrounds, the panoramic view and the walk through the streets of  the Gothic quarter make for a nice visit and possible stay for a few days in this historic town.

This was followed by Lunch at a small restaurant called Vicus Restaurant where the local cuisine paired with wines from DO Emporda etch your mind with fond memories. (

Visit to Brugarol cellar  Palamós

Click For Large ViewKnown for its Restaurant and located near the woods, it is a winery where one can spend a few days, enjoying the serene surroundings and panorama provided by the nature, interspersed with old artefacts and new pieces strewn at a few places giving it an interesting look.

Click For Large ViewEverything at Finca Bell-lloc is pervaded by the philosophy of avoiding unnecessary processing and taking advantage of progress for providing comfort and quality. But one doesn’t lose any of its essence and authenticity. Every moment you spend has some evocative and lasting memories. One can have the pleasure of close encounters with nature, architecture and the environment. The gastronomic experiences at the winery are of course associated with high quality cuisine which we didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy.

Click For Large ViewAn interesting feature of the winery is the underground area is made up of a labyrinth of dark, insulated and cool passageways equipped with climate control. You enter this area and you are in  a world of shadows and darkness.  Silence can be heard, the aroma of the wine can be perceived, the strength of the materials can be felt and, when it comes to tasting the wines, all five senses are finally stimulated, I was told. But it reminded me of the Dining in the Dark experience in a restaurant in Hong Kong. Unique and interesting for a one time and you may love it or hate it. I am not sure if I loved it. Although it is considered a fabulous example of steel structure, I felt there was too much of thick steel and I realised I loved wine more than steel. One of the wines even has a round, cylindrical cap on top of the bottle as a mere decoration.

But a novel and interesting visit that deserves an encore and a tsting at the winery.

Visiting Girona 

Click For Large ViewAround 50 mins later and covering about 35 kms, we arrived at our hotel in Girona, one of the provinces of Catalonia. We were ready for a walking tour of the city with a local guide, culminating at a popular restaurant known for its local cuisine.

Click For Large ViewAsk a foodie what Girona is known for- and his answer would be El Celle de Can Roca, the Best Restaurant in the World (unfortunately for the locals that title was snatched away from the restaurant after we returned, a couple of weeks ago). But Girona nevertheless is a charming city, where there are always places to discover; a well preserved Jewish Quarter, the impressive steps of the cathedral, which hides one of the best kept treasures and which   looked bathed in the sun when we visited just before dusk. The Moorish baths which the rich and powerful used to frequent till the curtains were brought down by the religious Heads add an interesting touch to the city for a tourist.

Michelin gastronomy with creative cuisine and traditional recipes of local products make you wonder if you are in San Sebastian (sans sea), the gourmet food capital of the world.  There are modern shops and small quaint shops but also the old town connected with the new town through bridges with windows opening out into Click For Large Viewboth sides of the small river, offering beautiful sight.

Costa Brava is a very charming part of Spain where one can combine various touristic charms with a memorable culinary experience with wines from DO Empordà and visit to a few wineries which are interesting because of their smaller size.

For more information on wine tourism in Catalonia, please visit

For an earlier related Article, click IWINETC 2016: Visiting DO Penedes in Catalonia

Subhash Arora

DO Map of Catalonia

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