When you are seeking wine values I suggest that employ the Famous Neighbor Strategy (FNS).
The FNS is an easy one to follow. You find a wine appellation that you love but cannot afford to drink on daily, or weekly, basis. Chances are that these wines are also famous. Instead of waiting for a special occasion to enjoy this favorite wine you could look to see if a neighboring wine zone makes similar wines. Often right next door is a lesser known appellation making wines with similar or identical varieties, on comparable soils, and with near identical climatic conditions.
I love Châteauneuf-du-Pape but I’m not always up for laying down $50 a bottle. However, less famous neighbors like Rasteau and Lirac make wines with the same grapes in like conditions and sell for half the price.
In Spain’s Catalonia region you will find the world famous appellation (DOQ) of Priorat. The wines of Priorat deserve their reputation but there is precious little of it to go around and the prices reflect the scarcity and the demand. Right next door is Montsant, a Catalonia DO that virtually surrounds Priorat. Frequently, and quite unfairly, the wines of Montsant are given the moniker, “poor man’s Priorat.”
The vineyards of Montsant are usually not as old and the elevations and terrains are not as wild and wooly as Priorat. Priorat’s famed licorella soils of granite and slate are only occasionally in evidence in Montsant. Montsant’s soils are mostly sandy limestone, chalk, and clay, but granite and slate lie underneath these soils and the landscape and climate match Priorat’s.
The primary grapes for the famed red wines are identical: Garnacha and Cariñena (Grenache and Carignan). The wines, like in Priorat, are rich with dark fruits offering bold and often rustic flavors. The old vine red wines from Montsant are among the very finest in all of Spain.
Like in Priorat, red wines are king in Montsant accounting for greater than 90% of the area’s total production. The DO is rather new as the wines were sold as a sub-zone of the Tarragona (DO). Approval for the unique Montsant DO came in 2001 taking its name from the nearby Montsant mountains.
There are roughly 5,000 acres of vineyards in Montsant with more on the way. The producers here range from small to large with a good mix of local and foreign enterprise. Well over half of Montsant’s production is exported as the foreign markets have seen the great value in these gorgeous wines.
While the white wines are clearly a minority they are worth seeking out. These wines are typically based on Macabeo and White Grenache. The wines are frequently barrel-fermented resulting in wines with a silky texture and dense, complex fruit notes.
Rosé wines are also made in Montsant. As you would expect Garnacha is used along with Syrah to create bold and fruity Rosé wines that are powerful and elegant. Hopefully Rosé will become a thriving export as the Montsant offerings are unique and offer a great alternative to the ubiquitous Southern French Rosés that are now so popular.
In sum Montsant has much to offer and for the time being the prices asked for these wines are quite attractive. Jump into the wines from Montsant before they too become rich and famous.