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.

montsant6

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

siurana1

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

8 Responses to “Priorat – Day 2”

  1. Marty October 23, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    Makes me want to go back!!!!

    Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Bell network.

  2. Michelle Williams October 25, 2015 at 4:42 pm #

    Fantastic. I am really enjoying reading about your trip. I like Priorat wines. Looks like I need to add it visiting to my wish list.

    • Duff's Wines October 25, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

      It truly is a different kind of wine region. At the beginning of its evolution. I’m hoping that it doesn’t mimic many other regions which might doom it to mediocrity instead of finding what makes it Priorat and keeping it that way.
      Waiting to hear of your trip to Italia.

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