wine-searcher.com / Alella Wine
Alella is a small, little-known wine district in Catalonia, north-eastern Spain. It centers around the village of Alella, on the Mediterranean coast just a few miles from the eastern edge of Barcelona. Alella wines are mainly whites, but robust reds and fruit-driven rosés also feature.
The majority of Alella wines are crisp, dry, floral-scented whites made from local varieties Xarel-lo (known here as Pansa Blanca), Garnacha Blanca and Viura, and the French «international» varieties, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The red and rosé wines are based on Monastrell, Syrah, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo. The latter known here by its Catalan name Ull de Llebre, which means «Hare’s Eye». Monastrell, although now more common in southeastern Spain than here in the north, has a particular connection with this area: the town of Mataro, whose name is an Australian synonym for the variety, is located just a few miles up the coast from Alella.
Winemaking arrived in the Alella area with the Romans in the 1st century AD, and was sufficiently well established by AD 77 for Pliny The Elder to mention the local wines in his encyclopedic work Naturalis Historiæ («Natural History»). The Romans brought more than just wine to the area however; the security of their fast-growing empire depended largely on effective transport routes, so they built roads to connecting their various provinces. The ancient Roman road which once connected Rome with far-off Andalucia, is still visible in Alella town today. The area’s viniculture continued largely uninterrupted until the late 19th Century, when the devastating phylloxera mite arrived from the Americas. This tragic development followed much the same pattern around Alella as it did in other European wine regions; livelihoods were lost and many thousands of vines uprooted. A fair proportion of the vineyards, but by no means all, were replanted, with vines grafted on to phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks.
The region enjoyed a period of vinous prominence in the early 20th Century, with its Champagne-style xampany wines. This sparkling style – which we know today as Cava – had been introduced to Catalonia by José Raventos in the 1870s. It is still produced around Alella today, under the official Cava appellation title. The Alella DO title, which was introduced in 1955, focuses exclusively on still red, white and rosé styles. The 1980s saw the introduction of several new grape varieties, and a move to modernize winemaking equipment and styles, which breathed new life and potential back into the region.
Because of its coastal location, Alella’s climate is broadly Mediterranean, but the area’s complex topography makes for considerable variation between vineyard sites. Vines are planted at altitudes anywhere from 195ft (60m) to 800ft (250m) above sea level. Granite plays an important part in the geology here, both in the bedrock and as saulo (granite sands) in the topsoil, and is covered by limestone in parts.
The largest producer of Alella wines is the Cooperativa Alella Vinícola co-operative, whose Marfil brand covers a broad portfolio of styles. It established in 1906, making it one of Spain’s very first winemaking co-ops. Smaller, privately owned wineries of note here include Alta Alella, Marqués de Alella and Roura.
As the regional capital of Catalonia, and Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona is expanding rapidly. Coastal real estate is – unsurprisingly – in high demand, so the city has naturally spread eastwards along the coastline. Today, all that stands between Alella and the unbroken urban sprawl are a few low-lying hills. The Alella vineyard area has already been impacted by the pressures of urban development; today it covers just one-third of the acreage it did in the late 1950s. The future of Alella wine depends largely on its profitability, and how much emphasis the local authorities put on the local winemaking traditions.