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Celler Devinssi – Gratallops – #SundaySips

8 Nov


When we last left our intrepid wine tasters, they were finishing a mid-day meal at La Figueres in Gratallops. You can read about our tasting at Clos Figueras here and the early morning tasting at Sao del Coster here. As we stabbed the last piece of sausage (and that did not come out like I had hoped), we were approached by Jordi from Celler Devinssi, the last stop of the day. Jordi would wait in the truck outside for us which was a bit more than he needed to do. So, we finished our meal and wandered outside to meet up with Jordi.

Jordi is a Russian-born, tourism-trained wine guy. We couldn’t quite understand how he actually ended up in Priorat but like so many others, he came for a bit of a stay and hasn’t left. Probably something to do with love.

We hopped in the truck which had stayed running with the A/C on to keep the wine cool. Attention to detail, baby. Jordi had a bunch of wine in the truck – he told us that he was taking us up into the vineyard to taste and talk.

Leaving the village, we exited the paved road at the same juncture as we had with Xavi of Sao del Coster and wound our way up and around through anonymous vineyards and olive groves until Jordi stopped at a little wooden building. We got out, he took the wine, we took the glasses and we walked up a terrace or two to find a barrel at a bit of a clearing.


Celler Devinssi tasting room – Gratallops in the distance – pinch me

How cool was this? The sun had started to break through some cloud cover, Gratallops in the distance with a ray of sunlight on it, it was warm and toasty, we had a mild buzz on, and we were about to drink……er….taste some wine with our new best friend, Jordi. Jordi was delightful.

Cellar Divinssi: A little history of Celler Devinssi is needed. Celler Devinssi was founded in 2000 by Josep Roca Benito from Barcelona. He was a wine merchant and became aware of the region through contacts in the business. After three years of rehabilitating the vineyard, they bottled their first vintage. Capacity at the winery is about 10,000 bottles – a true garage wine enterprise. Most of their vineyards are planted to Garnatxa and Cariñena. But, there are some white grape vines planted as well in limited number. There is a great interview with Josep from their website here.


Mas de les Valls – Image courtesy of http://www.devinssi.com

Jordi started us off with the white – 2013 Mas de les Valls Blanc. This is a village wine or vi de la vila – in this case – Gratallops. It definitely shows the Pedro Ximenez as I noted immediately the sherry (nutty) quality to this dry wine. The other grape is Garnatxa Blanc – lending a Rhoney vibe to it too. A nice combination of experiences. This wine would be a warm weather wine. Maybe afternoon sun – as we were experiencing. It was dry and moderately crisp. There were only 600 bottles made.

Before I get into the reds, there’s something I need to get off my chest – wine glasses at tasting rooms. In my travels, I have been blessed with many great tasting experiences. But, there have been too many where the winery has lousy wine glasses. I’m not suggesting that everyone go out there and get numerous Reidel glasses to perfectly match the wine varieties eg. the Blaufränkisch glass. But, for crying out loud – get something that’s not sold at Walmart for $12 a case!

What does that have to do with Devinssi? Well, they are small and still they use wine glasses that are very good quality for their tasting. In fact, all the wineries we entered in Priorat had good quality wine glasses, one wine per glass and no tasting fee. If I had a winery, I’d want my clients to have an optimum experience tasting my wines. And, I wouldn’t want some Canadian blogger bitching about the glasses. But, that’s just me.


Mas de les Valls Negre – Celler Devinssi – Gratallops

The first red that we had was their most popular red, I’d bet – 2013 Mas de les Valls Negre. This is a blend of Cariñena and Garnatxa with some Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in. Now, if you’ve sipped swirled and either spit or swallowed a bunch of wine in a day, you know that your buds don’t always cooperate. You just can’t feel it. This was such a sip and spit. So, rather than miss the mark, I’m going to use their web site to provide tasting notes – “12 months in 225 litre French and American oak casks…..fragrance of fresh and macerated cherries, black fruit jam….vanilla and mild touches of timber. In the mouth, it shows appropriate acidity and a certain fattiness and long palate.” I did notice the acidity. Don’t remember the oak at all.

ililaThe next red was their 2012 Il.Lia. Garnatxa, Cariñena and Cabernet Sauvignon fermented separately in oak. This definitely had more oak treatment, quite dry, tannins evident. This is a cellar wine. From their web site, “French oak – 225 litres casks are used for aging….it emphasizes black fruit, ripe plums, cherries….In the mouth it shows well balanced, well structured, beefy, fatty, and wide taste.” I liked it and planned to take some back to Canada to test my hypothesis on cellar time but it didn’t make it through the trip – we consumed all of it a few days later.


Me with my new best friend, Jordi. I’m seriously questioning the purchase of the Mountain Equipment Co-op shorts and tee. If you have a Wine Bloggers Dress Code, please forward

We returned to Gratallops via a different route. Jordi showed us the Clos Mogador vineyards and some olive groves. He made an interesting comment as we passed a mature vineyard with irrigation lines. Jordi said that the winemaker shouldn’t irrigate mature stock – he actually shamed the winemaker. Apparently irrigation is frowned upon – the nature of DOQ Priorat is to allow the harsh conditions to encourage power and depth that irrigation can reduce.

We toured the cellar facility. You need to know that the tour doesn’t last long as the cellar is in an old stone olive mill – two stories with an office and showroom/retail space upstairs and the barrel room and cellar on the ground level straight off the street. The staff (there are three, including Jordi) were there cleaning the first floor and readying the equipment for the first of the harvest. One guy’s wife was there to help.

devinssiMany wineries use the word ‘artisanal’ in describing the vibe, processes, and outcomes of their winery. Well, I’m not sure there’s a winery that’s anymore artisanal than Devinssi. When I think of the word, I think of people lovingly using their hands to craft a product from select ingredients or materials – be it cheese, wine, clothing, olive oil, or anything else. I don’t envision exhaust spewing harvesters, food scientists, or spiffy bottling lines. Well, you don’t get much of that at many Priorat wineries but Devinssi takes it a bit further. Their bottling ‘line’ is a small table with a hose. Cork it up one bottle at a time as you would at your local ‘homemade’ wine/beer store with a lever. Affix each label through the use of a small template holder for the bottle and a wet sponge. One bottle painstakingly at a time. Now, that’s not necessarily the key to making great wine but twinned with a similar ‘hands on’ approach in the vineyard, a solid site, older vines, and a level of expertise, it does work in this instance. It’s very cool to see.

If you get to Gratallops and you must, schedule some time at Devinssi and tell Jordi I sent you. You will get……well nothing that you wouldn’t get anyway but mention me anyway. After all he is my new BFF.

Here’s my penultimate pic of the Monsants.


The Monsants. I enjoyed this picture with a little Leonard Cohen playing. Image courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

An Update: Last post, I tried to explain the meaning of ‘Gratallops’. I was excited to see that someone had actually read the post and took the time to educate me. Sinisa Curavic from http://www.catalan365.wordpress.com informed me that ‘gratar’ means scratching in Catalan and ‘llops’ means wolves. So, ‘scratching wolves’. Thanks to Sinisa Curavic (check them out if you are planning on a wine trip to Catalunya).






Clos Figueras – Gratallops – #SundaySips

1 Nov

Monsant Redux – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.com

This is the fourth post on my trip to Priorat.

I know that I talked about the Monsant Mountains and Natural Park a few posts ago. You can read it here. And, this post isn’t about the topography but a winery. But, I don’t think that you paid enough attention to the Montsants before. I’m figuratively pulling the car over so you can get out and take another gape. Really understand it. We may have to do this again. They are très cool.

On our third, and last, day in Priorat we visited three wineries in Gatallops. We were escorted by Timmer Brown of Catalunya Wine (@catalunyawine & http://www.catalunyawine.com ). If your interest in Catalunya wine has been piqued by my posts, visit Timmer’s site to learn more. Last time out it was Sao del Coster. You can view my post on our visit here.

Before I start this post – here’s a quiz. How do you pronounce Gratallops? And what does it mean? Anyone? Buehler? Buehler?

I didn’t think so. We were told by one Prioratite (Prioratarian? Priorater?) or maybe it was Timmer that told us that Gratallops meant: Grata as in the Latin gratis – ‘free’ and llops as in the Latin lupus – ‘wolf’. So, ‘free of wolves’. Pronunciation we heard was varied but I believe it’s GRAT-a-yops. If there is a Catalan pronunciation expert out there, let me know.

Lesson over. After we finished up at Sao del Coster, we wandered down the street a block or two to the winery, Clos Figueras.

Clos Figueras is more of a stand alone winery but still within the village. It includes a lovely restaurant and has a few rooms for sleep overs.


The history of this winery bears some explanation. Although each and every winery we visited had a personality unlike the others, Clos Figueras adds the presence of a human personality in the person of Christopher Cannan. Christopher Cannan founded the wine export company, Europvin, back in the 80’s, I believe. He experienced the early attempts by winemakers to ‘up the game’ in Priorat through such wines as Scala Dei, loved them, and was encouraged by René Barbier  (of Clos Mogador) to establish a winery with the purchase of an abandoned vineyard and olive grove just north of Gratallops. The vineyard has been painstakingly rehabilitated and expanded. Clos Figueras produces about 30,000 bottles annually along with olive oil. Initially, Rene Barbier was the winemaker but Christopher has filled that role himself for awhile now. They primarily focus on Garnatxa but they have a significant plot of Viognier (not that common in Priorat) and make a brilliant white blend too. Syrah, Cariñena, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also planted.

cflogoWe met up with Miguel, the head of marketing for Clos Figueras. He told us a bit about the history of the winery. Miguel has such an enthusiasm for wine and, in particular, what they are achieving at Clos Figueras. Expressively outlining the history, the present state, and their ambitions. It was both informative and a bit of a tease. Bill wants wine!

He showed us the fermentation premises with both stainless steel and primary plastic tanks. Not unlike Sao del Coster, this was a pretty cramped space and tanks were wheeled around to accommodate switching things up.

He then invited us to the barrel room. The barrel room is in an old cistern. Oh yeah, you should know that Clos Figueras is in an old chicken coop. That’s right. It was a chicken coop before a winery. This prompted me to attempt numerous chicken related jokes as I penned this. “Miguel laid an egg when he explained the…..” “We were on the lookout for chicks?” “The pecking order in their wine levels is….” Now, there aren’t any indications other than the style of construction that would lead you to believe that you are in a chicken coop. It is quite winery-like now. Back to the barrel room – it is in an old brick lined cistern under the ground. It was pumped out, cleaned of sludge and such and rehabilitated like their vineyard.

We lifted a steel trap door and walked the fifteen feet down a steel spiral staircase into the barrel room. It was unusual but it seemed a perfect fit vibe-wise and we were told a perfect fit for the wine to age (humidity, temperature, etc.).

Barrel room - Clos Figueras - Gratallops

Barrel room – Clos Figueras – Gratallops (This is my kind of man cave – a Bill cave)

We were joined on our tour by Miquel Hudin. Miquel is the author of the vinologue series (link below) of regional winery reviews. His guide to Priorat was indispensable for our planning and initial understanding of this region.

Miguel, that’s Miguel not Miquel, told us about the different wines that were sleeping and we tasted several from barrel. In particular, we had  straight up Syrah (I believe 2013). Loved the spiciness and structure. It could be a single variety wine almost Northern Rhone-like but will be used as a blending partner. Clos Figueras uses up to 20% Syrah in their blends.

Enough of the underground, it was a nice day outside and we were thirsty. Bill wants wine! Up the stairs, make sure no one is left below, drop the trap door and pop a cork or two!

Miguel eloquently explaining to me the essence of life. It's wine of course.

Miguel eloquently explaining to me the essence of life. It’s wine of course.

We dove right in with some olives. I do love olives – these were Arbequino – my faves – some bread and charcuterie.

Serras del Priorat

Serras del Priorat

Clos Figueras, like most of the other Priorat wineries have several ranges of wines. We started with the – 2013 Serras del Priorat. An interesting thing about this wine is the packaging. Christopher Cannon’s daughter has taken over some of the marketing activity and has given this a hipper/more modern vibe in a burgundy shaped bottle. It’s a fresh wine with primary fruit being red ones – cherries, raspberries. A long finish for this weight. A hit of acidity – food friendly. If you are into ‘professional’  scores this has received several in the 90’s. Under 20€.

The next level up is the Font de la Figuera line. It has both red (negre) and white (blanc) blends.

Font de la Figuera Negre

Font de la Figuera Negre

The white was very floral channeling the Viognier – in the Rhone white style. Now this isn’t going to come out right but this wine isn’t in the ‘blah’ style of many white wines that we sampled in Priorat. It had depth we hadn’t seen much of up until then. I think this proves that there is promise here and with the passion we experienced, they will find their white wine stride. Approx. 21€.

We tasted two vintages of the Font de la Figuera negre – 2011 and 2013. Reviews were mixed. I liked the ’11, some of the others preferred the ’13. The consistent thing in these wines is depth again, a richness that you can count on with most mid-range Priorat reds that try to feature the Garnatxa. The depth exceeds the price point in most cases. Fruit front and centre – some leathery accents particularly in the ’11. Approx. 21€.

We were unable to taste the flagship wine of the winery – the Clos Figueras – the 2008 vintage is now being sold. It retails around 50€.

We finished our tasting and on to lunch at the restaurant on site – Les Figueres.

Clos Figueras - Gratallops

Clos Figueras – Gratallops

The restaurant is very well appointed. You can dine al fresco or inside. We chose inside. Timmer had to dash with his beautiful main squeeze and their little toddler (I remember those days of young children. I lie. I don’t remember them at all – maybe the effect of recreational drug use?). Before he left, I presented Timmer with his very own Toronto Maple Leafs cap – goodwill in abundance until he tires of me. Timmer ordered our lunch which in the local style was a lot of food. A lot of food. A beautiful tomato salad dressed plainly with olive oil just like we love it. Some calamari. Then a large plate of sausages and grilled peppers – it was YUUUUGE, Caroline. We passed on the wine with lunch as we had one more winery to do before we wobbled out of town on our way to Falset.

Clos Figueras is a one stop destination for great wine, enthusiastic knowledgable staff, great typical Catalan food, and a nice setting to sit and appreciate how lucky you are. BTW, I am. I’d think a must visit if you are venturing to Gratallops. Call or email ahead as tours/tastings are by appointment.

Next: Celler Devinssi






Sao del Coster – Gratallops – #SundaySips

25 Oct

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.


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€.


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.


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.


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:


Other references used:




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:




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

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