La Costa Brava, the rocky, rugged coastline that runs along Spain’s north-eastern shore, is far better known for its lovely seaside resorts and wave-lapped beaches than for its wines. Yet just inland stretch the rolling vineyards of the DO Empordà-Costa Brava. One of Spain’s smaller Denominations of Origin, it has just under 3,000 hectares under vine and has earned a reputation in recent years for planting a wide range of local and international varieties. It is a unique and beautiful region in Spain to enjoy a food and wine gourmet tour.
Wine has been made here since the 5th century BC, when Phoenicians first colonized the coast. The DO has never been one of Spain’s best-known, but the exciting wines being made here in recent years aim to change that. Traditionally, the focus was on small, family-owned cellars specialized in sweet wines or easy-to-drink rosé wines made with local grapes like Cariñena. These days, it’s the young red wines that are garnering fame for their expressiveness and surprising quality.
The variety of soils here — limestone, sandy, volcanic and clayey — means that many grape varieties are able to thrive; a full dozen different varieties are officially permitted in the D.O. Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca, Garnacha and Cariñena still make up the bulk of the plantings, but increasingly it’s also common to find Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah; some growers are experimenting with even more varieties. Soils are largely well-drained and are more fertile than in many Spanish regions. In many ways, the D.O. has more in common with the two adjacent French appellations of Banyuls and Côtes de Roussillon than with other Spanish regions.
The combination of seascape and rural countryside makes Empordà-Costa Brava one of the loveliest wine regions in the country. The vines are planted at low altitudes (200 meters maximum) and are constantly caressed with the gentle breezes of the Mediterranean. Occasionally, they’re submitted to the harsher whims of the Tramuntana, a cold northern wind that sweeps down from the Pyrenees and prevents the region from getting too hot. Nearly all the vines are staked for protection.
Empordà-Costa Brava’s main town is Figueres, a commercial hub known as the home of the Salvador Dalí museum, an old theatre that was converted into a temple of surrealism by the artist himself. Perelada, home to Castillo Perelada, the area’s best-known winery, is another wine hotspot. Its centerpiece is a romantic 16th-century castle complex where there is also a restaurant, spa, hotel and casino. Near the coast, there is no end to the delightful villages and resorts, like Cadaquès, Peretallada, Pals and Tamarit.
Notable wineries include Vinícola del Nordest, Castillo de Capmany, Masia Serra, Oliveda, Oliver Conti, Pere Guardiola and Vinyes dels Aspres. There is ample opportunity to sample their wines in the wonderful restaurants of the area. Seafood eateries reign supreme along the coast, but the region’s most sought-after tables are at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli, considered the most famous restaurant in the world. Reservations for the farmhouse-style dining room just outside the town of Roses are booked a year in advance, but don’t worry as countless gourmet gems abound in this stunning region.