In 2008, if one was to pose the question to a lover of Spanish wines, “What do you think about the wines of DO Montsant?” the typical response would be, “They’re good, like a cheaper version of Priorat.” While a bit over-concise, the point was valid at the time as the discussion spiraling around what exactly Montsant was hadn’t come to a conclusion.
Carved out of DO Tarragona and the Priorat comarca that wasn’t within DOQ Priorat in 2002, few could indeed initially define what the Montsant wines were other than the fact that, with so many old cooperatives producing thousands of liters of wine in both bulk and bottled form, that they were less expensive than their siblings in the exalted DOQ Priorat.
To start to fully understand this region, one needs to look out from any point in DO Montsant and see that the immediate aspect which strikes the eye is the light. The lands that comprise this Denomination of Origin in Catalonia are bright and open, old and welcoming, farmed and lived in.
These are but a few of the words to describe this side of the Priorat coin. As one owner who has cellars in both DO Montsant and DOQ Priorat succinctly put it, “In Priorat I have to struggle just to make the wine. In Montsant, the wine is so much easier to make that I can make the best wine possible from the region.”
There are more old vines in DO Montsant than in any other part of Priorat. While obviously none of them (except perhaps in the village of La Figuera) pre-date the arrival and devastation of phylloxera, stumbling across wines made from the grapes of 70 or 100 year-old vines is commonplace. Then there are the families. By and large, the people making wines in DO Montsant are the same ones that have been making them for the last few centuries, or maybe even before as they’ve discovered a number of Roman ruins in this area.
The villages that dot DO Montsant are lively and singular to the point where they even have their own accents. This is in sharp contrast to DOQ Priorat where the Barcelona accent is much more commonly heard due to the influx of outsiders in recent years. But in addition to the mannerisms, each village has their own families that managed to stay and survive unlike the 20th century abandonment found in the more isolated villages of the rugged, steep slopes at the center of the Priorat comarca.
It was in 2008 when the Global Financial Crisis came about that many things changed for the better with the fortunes of Montsant. Several smaller viticulturists who had been selling directly to the cooperatives saw great potential in their old vines that wasn’t being realized and decided to strike out on their own. One of these was Orto Vins which is headed by Joan Asens, the original winemaking genius behind the famed l’Ermita of Álvaro Palacios.
Joan’s work to make wines that showcased the singularity of the soils and grapes of Montsant have done much to push Montsant beyond the reputation it once had. This in turned has seen the cooperatives create higher quality wines as well. It’s this push in the last seven years which has helped to see the birth of Montsant as not just a slightly different version of Priorat with its clay, pebble, limestone, and sandstone soils, but as one of Catalonia’s top wine regions.