Archive | October, 2015

Lazy Recos – October 31st – The Rainbow Daily Slosh

29 Oct

lazy

I have been truly neglectful. I haven’t been recommending many wines available through the bi-weekly releases at our mother ship. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I have been distracted by other things. Well, to be honest, I’ve been lazy. I’ve started about 5 different times to talk about releases and just stalled. There’s no good reason except that it’s my blog and I can do what I want. And, I’ve wanted to travel and then get home and write about it.

But, I thought that I would do a quick post on some of the wines that I’ve found recently that I like a lot. These are not necessarily from the October 31st release but are still available.

Let’s start with the reds.

saint rochI’d say that I have recommended the Château Saint-Roch Chimères maybe five or six times over the years. The 2013 vintage #119354 $19.95 is like the ones preceding it. Only better. It is a healthy, round blend of primarily Grenache and Syrah. It’s a Côtes du Roussillon that smooths out some of the rough edges that you might see with these wines. It is a beaut. Cherries, spicy (Syrah), earthy – Love it! It would be perfect with some kind of roast dinner in this fall season.

vinsobresAnother great red from the south of France is the 2013 Famille Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds #566854 $17.95. This is from the Perrin….famille. They are the family that creates Château de Beaucastel, an iconic wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These guys do know wine. This is a very gentle but medium-bodied handful of cherries with a bite. I’m thinking if it’s cherries then a cherry match – Muscovy duck breast, pork tenderloin or something else like that. This is from a village in the Côtes du Rhone that warrants villages designation. Top drawer.

matchbookIf you’ve been reading these pages, you know that The Director does love her Chardonnay. And, contrary to current trends, she likes it oaked. The past few weeks, we’ve been enjoying the 2013 Dunigan Hills Match Book #205492 $20.95. This is oaked but not that much. It allows the typical apple scents and flavours through without adding any tropical fruit stuff. Vanilla on the finish but, need I say, not too much. It’s a Goldilocks Chardonnay – Just Right.

c7cI’ve spoken of my love for wines from Washington State – Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Mark Ryan and my fave Andrew Will. Love the Will! And, I have written about the quirky, inventive, yet delicious wines from Charles Smith. We have been grabbing a Chardonnay from the – gasp – General Listing aisles. I know. It’s unimaginable that yours truly would linger with the plebes but I am not a snob (he says, with tongue firmly planted in cheek). In any event, Charles Smith has a great chard – 2013 Charles & Charles Chardonnay #394734 $15.95. This is a mid-weight, slightly oaked white with a bit more vanilla than the one above. It’s a keeper. A perfect sipper without food after a long day writing about wine, hanging at your local pub, watching the Blue Jays lose in six. Yes, that means we’ve had a bunch of it. And, it’s a Stelvin twist cap meaning that you can actually open this as a third bottle of the night without incurring cuts and stabs.

Wines previously recommended that are still available in number:

2008 Rivera Cappellaccio Riserva #305276 $17.95  – a full-bodied and well-aged Anglianico – meaty and lip smacking good.

2012 Talamonti Tre Saggi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo #204016 $15.95  – a full-bodied, round fruit sandwich. OK, a bit too weirdly descriptive. It’s just a good sipping wine. I’d say pizza if it’s got lots of cheese and not too much tomato sauce.

Cheers.

Bill

Remember: If you want to know what inventory your local has, click on the link associated with the stock number and choose your city or town from the drop down menu. I can tell how often that’s done and it isn’t done enough to make me comfortable that people know how to use it.

 

 

 

#MWWC20 Time to vote!

27 Oct

Source: #MWWC20 Time to vote!

Variety – Let’s Save It #MWWC20

26 Oct

 

wine-stain1-3There’s a self-abusive yet strangely entertaining monthly event in wine writing circles called the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. This is #MWWC20, I believe. This month the theme is “Variety” as chosen by last month’s winner, Frank of Frankly Wines. I have been absent from the Challenge the past few months. Somehow, regardless of my shiftless lifestyle, I couldn’t make the time to pen an entry. Yes, that’s pathetic and not being a good community member. But, I’ve gotten up off the couch this month and am rejoining the gang.

When I hear the word ‘Variety’, I think of a variety pack of Kellogg’s cereal.

variety pakWhen I was a kid, we would trek to my grandparents’ cottage as a very, very special trip and vacation. One of the big treats for us was a Variety Pak from Kellogg’s. It had cereals in it that we weren’t allowed to eat any other time of the year – Sugar Pops, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, I think there were other sugary treats too. You could eat them right in the box with milk. Very different than the everyday. These days, we might pick up a Pak for kids that visit the cottage but I’m afraid that they’ve buggered them up. Changing Sugar Pops to Corn Pops, putting in non-sugared cereals too – why ruin things? Why take breakfast cereals seriously?

But this is a wine blog and I digress. Variety in wine drinking is a virtue and I heartily support it. We should all drink many different types of wine from different sources. It helps us better understand the grape, the essence of wine, and the beauty of this beverage. There, I think that I’ve finished my submission for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge – Variety in Wine is Good.. Yup, drink different wines all the time. As Jimmy Flanagan would say, “That’s the ticket.”

Here’s the thing: I’m in a bit of a rut. For the past six months, I’ve been fixated on Spanish wine. It started innocently enough with preparing for a trip this past September to Espana. I mean what better excuse to quaff to excess Riojas, Riberos, Rias Baixas, and Priorats? It’s not as if I haven’t had many of the other wines and appreciated them all before. Why not plunge into a region and a few different varieties of grapes and sort of specialize? I read bloggers who have titles for their blogs which scream ‘specialization’ not variety. Why should I care? Why should I throw off the shackles of Spanish dominance and drink every kind of wine from every region? Well let me tell you.

Think about it – wine may be the only food product that has avoided global brands. Let’s think (asking my readers to think twice in a paragraph is a good way to give them a headache) about that for a minute. No Budweiser, Guinness, Marlborough, or Coca Cola of wine. Oh, you can buy Bordeaux almost everywhere but it comes from Bordeaux. It isn’t made with exacting Bordeaux standards in Battle Creek, Michigan. Sorry, stuck on the Kellogg’s thing. That’s right. You can’t make Bordeaux in Michigan at a factory no matter if you grow grapes right beside the factory – well, particularly if you grow grapes right next to the factory.

chdarmA glass of wine is, by its very nature a product of many factors – specific climates, soils, traditions, vintage variations, and only then we might talk about production techniques. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth about Cabernet Sauvignon in Pauillac.” It can’t be somehow magically recreated with Cabernet Sauvignon in Niagara. But, wait for it….here’s the link to the ‘theme’……that’s the way it should be. And, efforts to homogenize wine should be shamed and threatened with some awful fate that I can’t quite think of with my submission deadline minutes away.

scientistFood scientists and winemakers do put their pointy little heads together and come up with a way to make, dare I say, a ‘Woodbridge’ experience in South Australia. Add a little of this and a little of that. It’s good business to do this. And particularly fits the way that companies would pursue markets with other food products. Focus groups, trends, brand recognition stuff. It just makes sense.

It makes sense if you’re a shareholder. But, if you are a wine drinker, it’s just plain wrong. We should celebrate the differences and variety in wines made where they reside in a manner that reflects that place. Wine geeks talk about ‘the sense of place’ and terroir. That talk isn’t just for geeks. It is the thing that makes wine – wine. And what distinguishes it from Coca Cola. Well, that and the alcohol.

protest

Wine Protest of 2015

We need to send a clear message to these folks. Fire a shot across the bow of homogenization. Repeat with me, “We are your customers and we value variety.”

Or vote with your pocketbook and raise a glass of wine that does’t exactly taste like all the other wine you drink. For crying our loud, if you love Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, pick up a bottle of Pauillac and celebrate the differences. Or, get crazy. Pound back a bottle of Chianti Classico with your spaghetti – that’s as it should be. You don’t eat a Big Mac every night, do you? Why drink the same wine?

Variety in wine is what makes it special. Viva la Difference!

Now, where is that bottle of Ribera del Duero, it’s only 10 a.m. but I’m thirsty and ………….in a rut. Physician heal thyself.

 

 

Sao del Coster – Gratallops – #SundaySips

25 Oct
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Village of Gratallops – Monsant Range in the Background – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

Day 3: We checked out of the lovely Cal Compte, bid farewell to Graciela and Vincente, and navigated our way out of Torroja, and made the long trek to Gratallops (10 minutes).

Career Major (that's Main Street to you) in Torroja

Career Major (that’s Main Street to you) in Torroja – door to Cal Compte first arched door on left

We arrived at the central plaça in the village of Gratallops (pop. 300) at 9:00 a.m. and there stood ex-pat Timmer Brown of Catalunya Wine (@CatalunyaWine and http://www.catalunyawine.com ). I had connected with Timmer through Mike at Please Bring Me My Wine (@PBMMW) in the UK. In the beginning, I did not know that Timmer was Canadian and a hapless Toronto Maple Leafs fan. But, once I did, I knew that I had a hook. We greeted Timmer in the typical Canadian fashion (for the uninitiated, that’s a 2-4 of Molson Golden, a pound of back bacon, and Tim Horton’s double-doubles). Timmer had graciously agreed to show us a bit of the flavour of Priorat through its wineries and through the relationships that he has built over the past little while with wineries there. Timmer works with wineries in Catalunya – promoting, assisting with social media and building web sites. We couldn’t have been more appreciative of his enthusiasm or generosity. After the usual incredibly tight parking endeavour, he led us to our first winery, Sao del Coster.

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A plaque outside the door at Sao del Coster – granting Qualification for DOQ Priorat

Now, if we were expecting a separate new building with flashy signage, we would have been disappointed. Sao del Coster is located on a narrow street amongst residences and other mysterious businesses. We knocked on the door of the top floor of the winery (there are three floors – that’s what real gravity fed looks like) to no avail. We wandered down the sloping street around to the other side of the building which was the first floor and knocked again. We were greeted by Xavier Barrachina, Sao del Coster’s winemaker. He goes by the name of Javy and having  a nickname just fits him – informal, accommodating, friendly.

A Misty Morning View From the Terrace at Sao del Coster

A misty morning view from the terrace at Sao del Coster

Xavier took us up to the top floor (stairs were a bit narrow and one staircase was a spiral one – where are the worker safety inspectors?) where the fun begins. We weren’t there five minutes when one of the investor/owners, Michel Grupper, arrived with his two young children to talk business and with him was Frédéric Duseigneur, a consulting eonologist and biodynamic specialist. What a great coincidence to spend some time talking about the business of Sao del Coster, their biodynamic processes and further ambitions. Sao del Coster is a biodynamic operation. And biodynamic isn’t just different processes, it’s different beliefs and values. Frédéric talked to us about the ‘energy’ in the vineyard soils, the plant, the grape, the barrel. It was a fascinating discussion and reinforced my belief that, in great wine is passion.

Sao del Coster makes approximately 50,000 bottles a year, including their Galicia project. It’s smallish but stay tuned, I’ll be talking about smaller enterprises in further posts.

“When I grow up, I want to be wine.” Sao del Coster primary ferment

Xavier said, “Enough talking – let’s taste”. What? It’s 9:30 a.m. Who do you think I am? I actually swallow my sips, remember. But, as Timmer put it, “It’s never too early to taste good wine.” So, we entered the tasting room……..which just happened to be the same room we were standing in.

We began the Sao del Coster tasting with their Rias Baixas white – ‘X’. Rias Baixas? Yes, Sao del Coster has a Galicia project that’s been running a few years. I like Rias Baixas whites. But, I have to tell you that a crisp, salty white at 9:30 a.m. doesn’t gently arose your taste buds. It screams them awake. An interesting study might be the reviews given by professional tasters in the morning versus the afternoon. This tough love might have been what we really needed to get started but it didn’t provide me with a good opportunity to experience the wine the way I’d have liked. My hint at perhaps having a free bottle or two ‘to go’ to better feel this wine fell on deaf ears. If their craftsmanship on their reds is any example, I’m confident that this 100% Albariño is full value.

2013 Pim, Pam, Poom - Image courtesy of www.saodelcoster.com

2013 Pim, Pam, Poom – Image courtesy of http://www.saodelcoster.com

We started the reds with their ‘fun’ wine – Pim Pam Poom. Xavier explained that ‘pim, pam, poom’ is a Spanish (or was it Catalan?) expression similar to ‘easy, peasy, lemon squeezy’. The name is perfect for this wine. It had the weight and vibe of a fresh Beaujolais. That’s a compliment. If you’ve been playing along at home, you know that I appreciate good Beaujolais. Fresh, on the lighter side for a Priorat red – a chill wouldn’t hurt this wine. It’s 100% Garntaxa so tannins are subdued and red fruit is king. No oak. If they wanted people to enjoy this in the summer with nibbles – Mission Accomplished. I just checked their web site and there are no bottles of this left. Understandable, since they made only 2,300 bottles last vintage.

2012 'S' - Image courtesy of www.saodelcoster.com

2012 ‘S’ – Image courtesy of http://www.saodelcoster.com

The next wine was one that I think we have had in our market – S. This is a blend of Garnatxa, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Digression: I was surprised by the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that is being used in Priorat. They’re never the dominant grape but supporting cast members and seem to be the more common grapes in new plantings. You could smell the presence of oak with this wine. I’m thinking a short period but still there. This had a bit of heat, 15% ABV, on the first sip but like many of these wines, you don’t notice it as a hindrance but a quality that grows on you. This would be a great introduction to DOQ Priorat red wines, if you haven’t had them. I’m a little fuzzy on the price point but I’m thinking it was around 18€.

terram

2008 Terram – OK, it may look like I was drinking in bed. But, the nightstand at the hotel was the best place to take the picture. Really. Notwithstanding the fact that I do drink in bed.

The last wine we tried was the 2008 Terram. I love this wine! Garnatxa, Cariñena and a little CS and Syrah combine to give this dark and smoky red lovely balance and a smoothness that I bet we wouldn’t have found until its last few years. So far, our experience with Priorat red blends told us that the nose is almost always Garnatxa – red fruits. This one is 14% ABV, which I think is a sweet spot for this bold, full-bodied, dusty red. Medium length finish and that’s when you get the mineral hit – the schist, llicorella, slate or whatever else you might want to call it comes through. Price point is 25€. In a Priorat red, that’s mid range. Took some of this with us when we left.

Xavier with my Friend, Marty

Xavier with my friend, Marty. Drinking DOQ Priorat at 9:30 a.m. Our tasting table in the foreground How great is that?

Fortunately, as in all businesses, things need to get done and a 4X4 pulled up on the street upstairs with a load of Garnatxa that needed unloading. All hands on deck! Michel’s children, Xavier, Timmer, the pickers (there were 2) and my friend and I unloaded the grapes from the truck. Well OK, I didn’t really do that much. The amazing thing to me was that all these grapes were hand harvested, carried from the terraces down to the truck (that may be no small feat – check out the picture in my first Priorat post here), trucked to the winery 30 crates or so at a time (25 pounds to a crate) and then hand bombed into the winery upon arrival there. It just doesn’t work like that in most wine growing regions. The lack of mechanization and high volumes was quite noticeable

Now, do you know what an empty 4X4 means? Road trip! Timmer, my friend and I hopped into the truck and Xavier said, “Now the fun begins. Trying to get out of town without killing somebody.” Did I tell you that the streets were narrow?

Off we went, out of the village on to the main road to and from Gratallops until we came to a farm lane that led us down off the pavement and through the vineyards. Winding through different parcels of Garnatxa, Cariñena and olive trees is like crack to Rob Ford for yours truly. Up and down through terraces of beautiful gnarled vines. Different unsigned parcels owned by families for years all running together in a cryptic quilt. We stopped by one of the Sao del Coster vineyard parcels that looked out over the valley, across to Gratallops – the view looked almost exactly like the picture at the top of this post.

Beside the vineyard was a fenced compound and the mules were stirring. Xavier said, “The mules are restless. Before we check the vines, I have to feed them.” Why mules, you ask? Well, the terraced vineyards are so narrow and steep that the wineries cannot use traditional motorized vehicles to plow the terraces. They use mules. Cool.

Xavier Feeds the Mules at Sao del Coster

Xavier feeds the mules at Sao del Coster

After the mules, Xavier took us to a section of the vineyard that held Cariñena, Garnatxa, and Syrah. Some of the Garnatxa was already picked. He asked us to assess the pick worthiness (that’s a winemakers terms, BTW) of the Cariñena in the picture below.

Cariñena still on the Vine - Sao del Coster - Gratallops

Cariñena on the vine – Sao del Coster – Gratallops – good view of the llicorella

We picked a couple grapes, squeezed them into our mouths and I said, “Well, I have no friggin’ idea, Javy. But, since they are still here, I’d say, not ready yet.” I was right. The grapes weren’t ready – still a week and a half away. Although they do use the technical tools available, Xavier still relies primarily on experiencing the grape to determine readiness.

billinvineyardsdc

Yours truly and Xavier discussing the advantages of long pants over shorts

We hung out in the vineyard for about 30 minutes and then back in the 4X4 and returned to the winery. Before we left for our next winery, Xavier asked us to sample some 2013 wine from barrel. We returned to the barrel room and began the arduous and exacting task of extracting wine from barrel. OK, it isn’t that exacting or hard.

We saw, we tasted, we played in a field, we bought, and then we said our goodbyes to Xavier, Michel, and Frédéric and wandered off with Timmer down the street to our next tasting at Clos Figueras.

cratessdc

What a great way to taste but, more importantly, to understand wine. In this case, we developed an appreciation of the actual work that goes into the beverage we love. But, more than that we better understood the passion of Xavier and the folks at Sao del Coster. The paradoxical nature of biodynamic farming – the complexity of our controlling natures and the simplicity of working in tune with all of nature.

I have decided that if I could set the Wayback Machine, I’d start my working life as a mule at Sao del Coster in Gratallops. Oh, I know you’re saying, “But, Bill at least twice a year, you have to put on the yoke of slavery and pull a plough through a terraced vineyard”. Yes, I get it, but the rest of the year, you get to stand around with your buddies in a lovely vineyard, eat food already prepared by someone else, and leave the seat up without recrimination. Wait, would I get to drink wine? No? Well, maybe then I’ll pass on the mule concept.

Related Posts:

Priorat – Day 1 Torroja, Porrera

Priorat – Day 2

If you want to learn more about Sao del Coster:

http://www.saodelcoster.com

Other references used:

http://www.catalunyawine.com

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.vinologue.com

Priorat – Day 2

23 Oct
Monsant

Monsant – Image Courtesy of turismepriorat.org

That folks is a photo in Monsant Natural Park in Priorat. You can’t get away from it. Every time you look north and west, it seems to be there. Those two silhouettes are my friend and I in the midst of our Class 5 climb. OK, that’s not true. It’s not us. One: I’m afraid of edges and, Two: We didn’t have enough time to spend a day hiking. Next time, it will be me. The majesty of this rocky divide cannot be overstated. here’s another photo.

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Monsant – Image Courtesy of turismepriorat.org

Last time, I started to tell you about our visit to the Catalunya region of Priorat. You can read my first Priorat post here.

Day 2: The plan today was to see Siurana, Escaladei, visit Scala Dei winery, taste more great wine, eat more great food, and just wander.

Off we went back down the alleyway (I did say it was narrow, didn’t I?) and past Porrera on the road to Siurana. While we twist up and down these narrow roads, let me tell you a little more about Priorat as a wine region.

Wine making in Priorat dates back to the Roman times but after Moorish control of the region in the 8th Century, wine was forbidden. When the village of Siurana fell, Catalonian control by the Moors ended – that was in the late 12th century. And what do kids do when they can finally do something their parents forbade? Well, they started making wine again. It’s generally held that the wine biz started up in a remote outpost under the Montsant bluffs. It was a monastery called Cartoixa de Santa Maria d’Escaldei – the scala dei refers to ‘steps’ or ‘stairs to God’ that the Monsant bluffs evoked. The area around the monastery was called a priory and hence – Priorat (priory in Catalan).

scaledei3

Ruins of Cartoixa de Santa Maria

Then came a few centuries of fairly widespread winemaking. BTW, Parker gave the 1634 Scala Dei an 89 – “unctuous with a vein of graphite”. One of his earlier tastings and it caused quite a stir with the monks who gave it a 100! Phylloxera arrived in Priorat in the late 1800’s and all vines were eventually felled by that pest on the more than 12,000 acres in the region. Modest replanting was subsequently undertaken with Cariñena and Garnatxa, as the traditional grapes most often used. The goal was quantity. There were ebbs and flows but things stayed pretty well the same until the 70’s.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s a handful of forward looking winemakers called The Big Five (it was truly 6!) came to Priorat. Drawn by the potential and the challenge. These Big Five were René Barbier (Clos Mogador), Josep Lluis Pérez (Mas Martinet), Àlvaro Placios (Àlvaro Palacios, formerly Clos Dofi), Mariona Jarqué and Carles Pastrana (Clos de l’Obac), and Daphne Glorian (Clos Erasmus). I’ll continue on to present day Priorat winemaking in the next post.

Road to Siurana looking back on the village of Porrera

Road to Siurana looking back through the morning mist on the village of Porrera

Back on the road, we twisted, rose, fell, and twisted again our way past Porrera, past Poboleda, through Cornudella del Monsant, and up towards Siurana. Why Siurana? Well, the history: it’s a small clifftop village of 21 inhabitants that was the last Moorish village to fall to those pesky Christians in 1153. The atmosphere: winding streets and sheer drop offs of several hundred feet. The journey: along cliffside on a one-lane road with switchbacks that accommodates two cars, if you know what you’re doing (I eventually did). Aside: Roads in Catalunya are in really good shape but can be narrow.

Road to Siurana

Road to Siurana

Arriving in Siurana, we wandered. As we entered the village, smoke wafted towards us from a small village resto that had just opened and had started a fire. It had that sandalwoody smell. It was a bit damp and cool. How tempting it was to stop in, sit by the fire, order the daily special (lamb) and have a glass of wine (or two). But, we had just gotten started. Siurana is a village that is mainly a day tourist spot although it was pretty empty when we were there. Maybe 5 cars in the parking lot. The road there is daunting and our hostess at Cal Compte, Graciela, cringed when we said that we were heading there. I’m guessing it discourages some.

‘Nuf said as there really is nothing to say about Siurana that pictures don’t capture more effectively.

streetinsiurana

A Busy Street in Siurana

Siurana

Siurana

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Siurana Church

We left Siurana somewhat dreading meeting another car on the way down. We made it to the valley floor sans incident and returned to Cornudella del Montsant.

Cordunella (circa 1100 pop’n.) and Falset (circa 3000 pop’n) are the ‘big’ towns in the area. The only towns with a gas station! And, although I can’t remember it exactly, they may have a stop light each too.

We were driving through Cordunella to get to Escaladei and a much anticipated lunch when we saw a small corner building, door open and a small sandwich board on the sidewalk at the road saying it was a winery. Well, how could we resist our first tasting of the day?

Cellers Baronia del Montsant - Cordunella

Cellers Baronia del Montsant – Cordunella

The winery was Cellers Baronia del Montsant and we were met by the delightful Laura Lllevat Palau, Export and Marketing Manager. They were bottling in the glassed off room behind the tasting room but the rattling glass and bustling staff (there were 5 all told – 2 in the bottling room) didn’t take away from our experience – it heightened it. Laura took us through the history of the winery and we tasted the majority of their line.

Wine as an experience is complex, variable, and at the mercy of the winemaker. But, most wines of a particular region bring many similar characteristics. In the case of Priorat and near Priorat wines – like these DO Montsant wines – this is true and it really showed it’s stuff at this winery. The Cellers Baronia del Montsant bottle approximately 200,00 bottles annually which are officially DO Montsant. Think of a doughnut with DOQ Priorat the hole and DO Montsant the ring.

The red wines are made with Garnatxa and Cariñena mostly from older vines (50 -70 years). The llicorella, a black crumbly shale that makes up the vineyard soils in Priorat makes a statement on the nose and the finish. Quite minerally mouthfeel twinned with big but pretty well integrated tannins. I didn’t take notes so that I could pay attention to Laura. That doesn’t sound just right. I mean that I didn’t bury my head in a notebook because I wanted to hear the story of the wines and of the Cellers Baronia del Montsant. But, generally, these wines have just a hint of oak treatment (lower end) up to 14 months in oak (pricier label) with the strength of Cariñena supporting the fruit and ripeness of Garnatxa – all with that lovely background noise of earthy, dusty shale – strong finish.

Tasting Room at Baronia del Montsant - Laura Llevat Palau

Tasting Room at Baronia del Montsant – Laura Llevat Palau – my knee is displayed for verification

Laura asked where we were from and when we said Canada, she said, “Oh, LCBO and SAQ.” Laura had navigated the frustrating road to get her wines listed at both these large monopolies. She had also been to Total Wine in Naples, Fla. which was a good discussion point with my friend who has a mounted wall plaque there as a frequent flyer.

We bought a few wines each and were back in the car and on the somewhat less smooth and maintained road to Escaladei. The road takes you along the side of the Montsant bluffs. It is very cool.

We arrived in the little village of Escaladei maybe 15 minutes later. The village of Escaladei is a short drive away from the monastery ruins from which it derives it’s name. It has a lovely plaça, it had started to sprinkle a bit and we thought, “Let’s just sit under the umbrellas on the terrace, watch people and eat.” We ended up at a place where the kitchen was closed or it wasn’t. This was another fluencia.com moment. However, we had our red wine by the copa and waited to see what we had ordered – prawns, pan amb tomiquets (bread and tomatoes), and olives.

The prawn plate was massive and messy. The bread…..have I told you about my favourite food of Catalunya? No, I haven’t. In Catalunya and many places elsewhere in Spain, bread is toasted and served with tomatoes and olive oil smeared on it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. It is heavenly and so easy to do yourself if you have real tomatoes. In fact, I’ve just talked myself in to it for lunch.

Speaking of olive oil – in the plaça were several commercial and retail spots, including an olive oil mill and retail store – Miró Cubells. As we walked toward the door of the mill, a woman came out, clearly preparing to close. As she saw us walking her way, she clapped her hands with a big smile and told us to come in. At least that’s what we inferred. She re-entered the premises and turned the lights back on. The smile never left her face the whole time we were there. We asked if she spoke any English and she said, “No,” which technically is an English word too, BTW. But, she gestured excitedly and explained in Catalan, that with our hands and our hearts, we would be able to communicate. So sweet.

olive grove

Priorat Olive Grove

She led us around the room, showing us some of the equipment required to create the products and we tasted several of their oils and vinegars with a bit of bread. She must have mentioned three or four times that the mill was her family’s – showing us pictures of her children and husband. They use Alberquina olives (I love Alberquina olives!) mainly but in their premium oil there is a blend of three olives – Alberquina, Rojal, and Negret – all bringing some qualities to the blend – it’s called Cavaloca. Beautiful olive oil. I mean beautiful! Nutty, spicy, and grassy too. I’ve created a link below to a piece on olive oil in Priorat if you’re so inclined. And remember Lesson #3 from my first post.

We departed the olive mill and walked the twenty feet to Cellers Scala Dei. This winery is one of the oldest, if not the oldest in Priorat. It has an amazing history  and their wines have garnered awards and accolades from the wine press for many years. The tasting premises were the nicest that we saw during our visit. Housed in a large building on the plaça, the presentation centre has loads of merchandise and a peaceful vibe. Despite the premises being open, we were disappointed that we were not afforded an opportunity to taste that day. But we had Scala Dei wine several times during our stay in Spain.

We got back in the car and drove the 5 minutes to the ruins of Cartoixa de Santa Maria d’Escaladei and spent 45 minutes or so wandering the grounds. They are returning this large monastery to some of its original state. It is impressive stuff.

Entrance to Cartoixa de Santa Maria d 'Escaladei

Entrance to Cartoixa de Santa Maria d’Escaladei – I didn’t take catechism intstruction but I’m betting that Maria herself over the door.

The meal at Cal Compte was not quite as outstanding but pure Catalunya. We had some nibbles, a bowl of house-made cream of zucchini soup, a salad, and a plate of various sausages. All was very tasty. We had their red wine again. The cost pf a five course meal? 25€!

To bed – it was quiet – no church bells oddly.

References:

Olive Oil Times piece on Siurana oil: www.oliveoiltimes.com/reviews-opinions/travel-notes…siurana/44267

Website for Miro Cubells: http://www.molideloli.com/quisom_eng.html

Baronia del Montsant (great video on the winery): http://www.baronia-m.com/lliure/null/1?lang=en

http://www.vinologue.com

http://www.turismepriorat.org

http://www.catalunyawine.com

Priorat – Day 1 Torroja, Porrera

8 Oct
Priorat vines1

Terraced Vines – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

“Where the hell is that?”, you ask. That is Priorat in Catalunya. And those terraces hold Garnatxa and Cariñena vines. It’s spectacular country! The DOQ Priorat (pronounced PRE – or – rat) is about 150 kilometres southwest of Barcelona. My BFF and I had the pleasure of spending 3 days there last month. This first post deals with our introduction to Priorat and hopefully provides you with a flavour of this special region.

Day 1: (circa 11:00 am) I maneuvered the balky rental out of Barcelona with my friend as navigator. Mood? Sky high anticipation and jet lagged after taking the red eye from Toronto. South through the environs of Barcelona, past Tarragona and Reus. About an hour and a half later, we arrived at the base of the town of Torroja. Pronounced To-ROY-ya in Spanish and To-ROW-je in Catalan.

Torroja - Population 143

Torroja – Population 143 – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

You may think that places such as Torroja, Priorat, Montsant, Penedes, Barcelona, Girona, etc. are in Spain. You’d be wrong. They are in Catalunya.

Lesson #1: You will endear yourself to Catalans if you understand that they are not Spaniards – they are Catalans. When possible, using Catalan to communicate also is respectful and appreciated.

Back at Torroja, we sat in the car and pondered the question, “Where is our hotel, Cal Compte?” When you have no clue (BTW, we didn’t), you can sit in your idling car reviewing your travel file for only so long. Action is required. Ah, do we see potential help? Indeed, a stooped, old, weathered, darkly dressed woman with a cane was sitting at the regional bus stop. You can’t make this stuff up.

Now, this was the first of many occasions during my 2 and a half weeks in Spain that I wished that I had worked a bit harder with Hannah from fluencia.com. However, it may not have helped asking, “¿Donde esta Cal Compte?” when the woman spoke Catalan, not Spanish (Lesson #1).

It’s interesting that most of us tend to shout when communicating in a language that you know the other person DOES NOT UNDERSTAND. It’s as if through volume comes comprehension. But, in this case, we found that speaking loudly was of little use – the woman was functionally hearing impaired. That’s being polite. The woman was stone deaf! But, she graciously hobbled away waving her hand for us to follow her to a main floor garage off a nearby alleyway. Buddy was there working on farm implements and he pointed us towards our hotel, Cal Compte. This is when I learned that the narrow “alleyway” was actually the “street” to Cal Compte. “Are you shitting me?”

Passage to Cal Compte - Torroja

Passage to Cal Compte – Torroja

After some ‘Whoa, put the mirrors in’ and ‘Bill wait, you’re going to hit the……..O…O…O…OK, it’s alright now’ moments, we arrived at a town square, a plaça complete with church and stone fountain. And, just as Buddy said, Cal Compte was on our left. On a rising cobblestone street of stone and brick facades, Cal Compte was the building with the door slightly ajar. We peeked inside the door and quietly stepped down off the cobblestones into a large, dark, stone-walled two-story room. Seriously, are we in the right place? Where’s the concierge and valet parking?

“Hello? No answer. We pushed deeper into the next room, an equally large room furnished with a dining table. “Hello?” Then from the back of the building we heard, “William?” And out of the kitchen walked Graciela, our host. We were home indeed. We were shown to our rooms on the second floor; discovering the elevator only after lugging my so-close-to-overweight suitcase up the stairs.

Asked if we wanted to eat at Cal Compte that night, we said, “Si.” This wasn’t the last time on this trip that we agreed to a meal that we neither knew the cost of or the menu. Never a regret associated with any of them. In fact, opting to eat at Cal Compte blind was one of the best decisions we made all trip. My advice, trust. Trust: how else were we to experience Catalunya and Spain?

But, first things first. Where could we get lunch? It was past 1:00 pm and we hadn’t eaten since that forgettable in-flight wake up snack 6 hours ago. Graciela, and her main squeeze Vincente, suggested that we return to Porrera (which we’d passed on our way in to Torroja) to eat at a place called La Cooperativa.

We drove the 10 minutes back to Porrera, parked the car in Plaça Catalunya – a small, surprisingly busy plaça with the winery Sangenis i Vaqué at its head. We wandered into a store to ask directions to La Cooperativa. We were informed that La Cooperativa was, in fact, closed. After all, it was harvest time and all hands were required for wine. It was our first indication that there was winemakin’ goin’ on. I was getting pumped, stoked. And a bit thirsty.

El Rebost de Cal Carlets

El Rebost de Cal Carlets

So, we chose El Rebost de Cal Carlets for lunch, nearby on the plaça. El Rebost (roughly translated – The Pantry) was very good. I had the bacallà a la crema d’avellana (cod in a hazelnut cream sauce) – huge tasty serving. And we split a litre of vi negre (red wine) that had started as una copa de vi – we are problem drinkers after all. I can’t describe the wine other than it was chilled a bit and very serviceable. Although I do distinctly remember the last few sips brought a, “This was pretty good.” Which is insightful wine critic stuff. Yeah?

Post meal, we wandered the town, bought a bottle of Porrera wine in a store on the plaça called Vinum Priorat (www.vinumpriorat.com). It has a very good selection of Priorat wines, olive oil, and other locally made products – tastings available.

bridge porrrera

The Bridge to Vall Llach – Dry Riverbed – Catalan Flag Flying Proudly

Across the bridge from the plaça was the Celler Vall Llach in a renovated village house. Vall Llach is perhaps one of the more readily available and celebrated Priorat labels in North America. They produce more than 150,000 bottles annually from both DOQ Priorat and DO Monsant. The winery store and cellar were closed (you do need appointments here).  Next time for sure.

I will feature individual Priorat wineries in subsequent posts but maybe it’s time for a general overview on Priorat wineries and tasting.

Despite being one of only two wine regions in Spain/Catalunya with the ‘qualified’ adjective (Rioja being the other), Priorat isn’t exactly what you might be used to as a ‘touring’ wine region. Fancy faux chateaus a la Napa? Nope. Wineries designed by Frank Gehry? Nosiree. Tasting rooms with paired nibbles? What? No! Wine clubs and library wines? Seriously? No! Tourist buses hogging the roads? Didn’t see a one all week. In fact, we saw perhaps 10 tourists aside from us in three days and that’s being generous.

Sao del Coster "Tasting Room"

Sao de Coster “Tasting Room”

No, you taste wines By Appointment Only in what, in most cases, is the working winery. You interact amid the barrel room or press floor (which could be the same place) or in the vineyard directly with the employees, in particular the winemaker (enolog) in his or her boots and stained overalls. When you are in to wine and I am, it is simply an awesome way to understand what you are tasting, experiencing! It is so damn personal – as wine should be.

Now, there are a few large-scale wineries. Torres has a large high-tech winery that befits the multi-national wine company that is Torres, and Alvaro Palacios’s winery looks a bit Disney. But, in my limited experience, they are the exceptions. The bulk of the wineries are usually situated on small streets in one of the many villages or amid their vines in this rugged landscape.

Lesson #2: Enoturisme in Priorat is for real winos. But, it is growing. Let’s hope wineries and the people that work them can stay intimate, personal, and connected to tradition.

porrera street

A ‘Street’ in Porrera – Garage Door on Left

Where was I? Oh yeah, walking the streets of Porrera. One highlight was a smallish garage that opened on a stainless steel tank and crates of grapes recently harvested – people busy hand sorting. Cool to watch for awhile and completely unexpected. But we were bushed and a bit buzzy. So we headed back down the winding road, up the alleyway to Cal Compte and a quick time-zone nap.

Back up by 6:00 pm, we popped the cork on the Clos Dominic Clos Petó 2010 (15€) that we had picked up at Vinum Priorat. This wine qualifies for Vi de la Vila certification. That means that the wine is made entirely from grapes from a single village – in this case, Porrera. It took us a sniff and a swish to remember how high in alcohol these wines can get. This one was 15% ABV – large in the glass, the mouth, and on the finish. Cariñena first, maybe Cabernet Sauvignon second, my guess. I’d say we should have decanted it. We drank a tumbler (or two?) on the second level terrace by our rooms and then headed down to the main floor terrace.

We had no sooner sat down when Vincente came out with some local olives (love olives), hazelnuts and almonds. He asked if we wanted some wine. Seriously? He opened a bottle of the house red. More on the house wine in a minute.

As we sipped and noshed, we could look out over the rooftops of the village on to the vined and olive treed terraced sides of the mountains. Poetic? It was so quiet. As my friend said, “You CAN NOT believe how quiet it is. No REALLY.” That’s how quiet it was!

Terrace View Cal Compte

Terrace View Cal Compte – Montsant in the distance

I won’t go into too much detail on the meal – OK, I lie.

After the nuts and 0lives, we were started with a plate of thickly sliced aged sheep’s milk cheese with olive oil drizzled over and a bit of cracked black pepper on top with fresh bread on the side. I had seen the loaves covered with towels rising in the kitchen that afternoon. What an easy plate. Simple and evocative.

Lesson #3: Drizzle good olive oil on everything. FYI, Priorat produces a lot of olive oil for a small region  most of it under the Denominació d’Origen Protegida “Siurana” or Protected Designation of Origin Siurana. We visit an olive oil mill tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Then followed a bowl of the house made gazpacho with fresh diced tomatoes, cukes, and croutons on the side to add. Verrry nice. So incredibly fresh.

Following that we were served a green salad with perfectly ripe small tomatoes and a slab of fried goat cheese on top, drizzled with olive oil. No salt and pepper needed to get those tomàquets to release their flavour.

Then a plate of beef sliced thinly and lightly seared – almost carpaccio style – with olive oil and some fresh herbs. Melt in your mouth beef. Dessert? Poached pears with house made hazelnut ice cream. And to finish off the evening, a small glass of locally produced dessert wine – dolç, I believe it’s called. It had nice body and an herbal finish. But, I think it’s an acquired taste. How much did this meal cost? We had no idea.

Pedrablava 2012

Pedrablava 2012 – And it is Empty!

The house wine was PedraBlava 2012 and according to the label and Vincente, it was made expressly for Cal Compte by Clos Mogador, arguably the most renowned winery in Priorat. The first wine we had (Clos Dominic), although chronologically older was expressing it’s youth, edgy, unsettled but showing potential – needed time. This wine was drinking well right then with enough backbone, fruit, and spirit to age for awhile too. It may have simply been the difference between sipping sans food and sipping with a delicious meal. But, I preferred the Pedrablava. I couldn’t find the blend for the Pedrablava but I’m betting some non-traditional grapes made their way into it – Syrah maybe – a spicy finish? And like most of the Priorat reds we tasted, high in alcohol – 16%. Now, if we had thought about wine as a beverage containing serious alcohol before we started, we might have foregone the full litre at 3:00 pm given that this stuff is indeed large………….No, …………you know I’m just kidding. We would always chose to ignore that fact. If you have to think that hard about wine, you don’t deserve it.

Lesson #4: Priorat reds are generally high in alcohol.

Lesson #5: Pay no attention to Lesson #4. Priorat reds are large, expressive statements about this peaceful region. The power of the slate, the terraced slopes, the traditions, the labour intensity and passion required is reflected in the mass and grip of the wine. Enjoy them!

We slept soundly. Did I say it was quiet? Well, all except the church bells.

If your interest is peaked, my planning resources were:

http://www.turismepriorat.org

http://www.vinologue.net

http://www.catalunyawine.com

Next Post: Siurana, Cordunella de Montsant, Laura, Escaladei, another Cal Compte meal, and lots more on Priorat wine

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