Tarragona, in Catalonia, northern Spain, is a wine region divided into two sections. The larger stretches along the Mediterranean coast south of Penedes, while a small portion lies further inland. This division dates back to 2001, when part of Tarragona was carved out to form a separate Montsant DO. Tarragona received DO status back in 1947, making it one of Spain's older designations. The wine region fans out from the picturesque city of the same name and the area is dotted with relics from times passed: Roman ruins and Gothic cathedrals.
The exact origins of viticulture here are not known. It is possible the Ancient Greeks brought vines to Tarragona. It is certain that the Romans who followed them produced and promoted wines of the region. Regardless of whoever first made wine here, the tradition has been a long one. Its history is also a decorated one, with periods of prestige, including during the 12th Century when the region's sweet fortified wines enjoyed particularly high demand locally and abroad. Tarragona also produced much of the altar wine used for Christian sacraments and ceremonies, and today, the region continues to export church wines.
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The terrain in Tarragona is largely uniform and climbs gently from the sea towards the Serra de Montalt mountains in the north and east. The smaller section of the designation (known as Ribera d'Ebre – Banks of the Ebro) sits at altitudes of up to 1310ft/400m (compared with 650ft/200m in the larger section, Tarragona Campo). The soils in Ribera d'Ebre are calcareous, stony and alluvial largely because of the Ebro River. In Tarragona Campo, the soils are calcareous, tending towards granite further inland.
The climate is markedly different between the two sections. Tarragona Campo, which sits by the sea, has a Mediterranean climate, enjoying warm summers and mild winter. Ribera d'Ebre, on the other hand, is sheltered from the Mediterranean by the Serra de Montalt, and has greater temperature variations from summer through winter.
The diversity of the topography and climates means that Tarragona is capable of producing a wide range of wine styles. Traditional sweet fortifieds can still be found in the region's late-harvest Garnacha wines and the lighter Moscatel de Tarragona. However, in response to changing demand, Tarragona has adopted a greater variation of styles, with white wines – both varietals and blends for Cava (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo) – dominating production. A major proportion of the region's grapes go into Cava production, being sold to the Cava estates in Penedes. (Tarragona's eastern half overlaps with the Cava designation).
Garnacha is also used for the region's refreshing and fruity rosé wines (rosado) and as a blending partner for Carinena. Other significant red grape varieties include Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Younger red styles from Tarragona are becoming more common.