Montsant DO (Denominación de Origen), within the Catalonia autonomous community of northern Spain, is an undulating area that was formerly treated as a viticultural sub-zone of the Tarragona DO. But growers felt its prime high-altitude vineyards warranted recognition as a DO in their own right and so the Montsant DO was created in 2001, its name taken from the Montsant massif ('holy mountain') that dominates the region's landscape.
Montsant lies west of Tarragona city and forms a 'C' shape that almost completely surrounds the prestigious Priorat DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada).
Vines were first introduced to the area by the Romans thousands of years ago, and Catholic monks continued the viticultural tradition during the Middle Ages. By the 19th Century, wines from Montsant were receiving praise at universal exhibitions.
Montsant's most-prized vineyards are located in terraces on steeply sloping sites, often interspersed with pine, almond and olive trees. (The region is also known for its excellent olive oils.) Here, the vines benefit from intense Mediterranean sunshine during the day and relatively cool temperatures at night. This high diurnal temperature variation assists in the development of complex aromas in the grapes, while preserving vital acidity. The soil is a local specialty known as 'llicorella', which is high in granite and slate components. Together, these growing conditions result in the region's wines being concentrated and expressive of the local terroir. The average altitude of the zone is 1180ft (360m) above sea level, rising steadily in the northwest and southeast as it approaches the Montsant and Montsalt mountains respectively.
Montsant has earned a reputation for its high-quality red wines, particularly those based on old Garnatxa (Garnacha) and Cariñena (Carignan) vines. Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), Spain's darling, and international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah also perform very well here. Most red wines are typically intended for aging and exhibit velvety textures even after a short time in oak. The old vines offer particularly complex examples.
A small quantity of white wine (based on Chardonnay, Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca) is produced, along with rosados (rosé) wines and dessert wines, for which the region was once famous. These Vi Ranci (old wines) are made in an oxidative style and are then fortified. Some mistelas (mistelle), made from grape juice and added alcohol, are also produced. Kosher wines from the area can also be found.
Praise for Montsant's high-quality wines is getting louder as the international market realizes the region's potential.