The first article I wrote on my exploration of the wines of the regions was about the Cathedral of Pinell de Brai. This was the first time I came across the original concrete vats used for the fermenting and maturing of the wines. So when we were in Cornudella de Monsant in October I saw a small ornate building which to me, warranted further investigation.
Built in 1919 by architect Cesar Martinelli i Brunet who was a disciple and admirer of Gaudi, and who’s major work was designing wineries using traditional materials and techniques, has made for one of the wonders of the wine world in Catalonia. The wines I found in this small delightful traditional Celler are to be savoured.
However, that is for later. When I was driving to Cornudella de Montsant I began to wonder if my writing and the wine were worth it. The road to Cornudella de Montsant is a tortuous one, a real mountain pass with bends so tight you can only drive in 3rd gear, and that is on a fine summers day. So take last Friday. The day in the valley was grey, overcast, cold but clear when I turned off the road from Falset to start the climb over the mountains. But as I drove on the higher I went the more the clouds came down, until I was driving in ‘fog’ with visibility that was not good. Now and then a vehicle would suddenly appear round one of the bends so that I jumped, to say it was un-nerving was an understatement. I had thought that when I descended into the first valley my visibility would improve, wrong! With bends so tight and a road that snaked it’s way round the sides of the mountains it was hard going. But eventually I arrived on the valley floor and headed for my destination in, would you believe, beautiful sunlight.
Now the village of Cornudella Montsant is located in the high valley of the river Siurana in a Park Natural being around 550 meters above sea level, whilst resting in between the Montsant and Prades Mountains. On all sides are the vineyards, now turning subtle hues of reds, browns through to orangey yellows. The old vines standing proud and free just as they have done for hundreds of years, producing grapes that take time to ripen thus producing some of the best wines around. Truely a wonderful vista to be greeted by.
On walking through the entrance, one of the first things you notice is that the Cathedral still retains the original wooden roof tiles and concrete vats. Whilst pillars and arches are so expertly pieced together they seem to defy the laws of gravity. Add to this the use of fine ceramic tiles with motifs in their decoration, and you have all the marks of a lovingly built work of art, where fine wines are skilfully blended to be sold and enjoyed everywhere.
So it is no surprise to find asiles of arched beauty, that take your eye down their length making you want to know what else is hidden down them. Here you find more of the concrete vats of interesting structure and size, they can and do hold anything up to 400 to 430 litres of wine. As is usual for this type of building, wine was being made here before its construction was finished, with the original capacity of one million kilos of grapes. If you take a careful look at these photographs you will see marked on the vats their litre capacity.
The vats can be round or square, these ones are large round concrete structures, and are still being used as they were originally designed to be. Their main advantage is that they maintain a constant temperature regardless of the time of year, and it was here that I saw exactly how they worked.
What you can clearly see here are the tops of the vats with the vent grills. But take a look at the ‘channel’ to one side of them, here the grapes are pumped along the gully untill they reach their allotted vat, then they are sent down a tube which is connected to the ‘pipe’ you can see sticking out of the side, all done in the traditional way. The wine which comes from these particular vats is white made from the Garnache grape. Up here on top of these giants you are in the secret world of the vintners.
The wines from these vats are turned into some of the very drinkable reds that are produced here.
Castle Siurana Rancio
From the tops of the concrete vats we walked out on to a flat part of the roof, where 20-liter glass bottles were arranged in rows. These were around 1/3rd full and it is how this particularly tasty wine is produced. It is a mellow wine obtained from a high-alcohol rosé wine, which is made from the Grenache grape giveing it its sweetness. These are then left on the roof to ‘sun and serene’ the natural oxidation process takes around about a year so the process is done about every 6 or 7 years. After this time it goes to mellow oak vats where it is mixed with around 5,000 liters of the oldest rancid vintages in the barrels, then it goes on to follow the solera system, and is finally put into oak barrels, where it ends its aging before being bottled.
They also use the Carbonic Maceration technique, only here the vats are upright instead of on their sides. There is only a small amount of this special wine made, but it is definitely special.
The grapes grown for the wines produced here are White Grenache which accounts for around -70% and the Carignan grape accounting for about-30%, both of which are from ancient gnarled vines with a very low production. The vineyards are located below the Montsant mountain range along the rocky terraces near the ancient village of Siurana, which is an old village sitting on a mountain ridge a tourist spot with spectacular views. Here the grapes mature slowly, so great wines with unique personality are obtained.
Castle Siurana Premium 2004
This wine has hints of coffee and balsamic with notes of black fruits that start to appear after de-canting. This is a wine that can be bought and laid down a good basis for the start of your own celler, as it can be kept around 10 years. It is an ideal companion for such dishes as stews and cheese, but more to my liking it is perfect for enjoying alone or with good company.
Les Troies Les Trois
This is a young red made from equal amounts of the Grenache and Carignan grapes, planted to the south of the town, which has been an ideal place for grape growing for centuries. There is an intense red color with hints of red and black fruit, which has a pleasant freshness.
The Black Codolar
This Semicriança wine is made from the varieties Grenache and Carignan which are selected from the vineyards in Montsant Cornudella. This wine is made in the traditional manner with a maceration of 12 days. It is then aged in oak barrels for between 4 to 6 months. It has an aroma that is both intense and elegant, with notes of vanilla, toast, eucalyptus. The taste is pleasant, and is yet another wine ideal for sipping, another of my personal likes.
El Codolar Rosat
This is a wine made from the Grenache and Carignan grapes the blend percentage being around 60/40. It is left to macerate with the skins for 24 hours until a color sufficiently intense and beautiful is produced. Then they bleed the juice and let it ferment at a very low temperature for about 1 month. This helps to keep the fresh and fruity aromas of the grapes, and produces a lovely ruby red color, this is one for my wife.
Castle Siurana Mistela
This is made with the juice of the Grenache variety, which is left to macerate with the skins for 24 hours then ‘s’encapçala’ with alcohol to prevent fermentation, thus they maintain their sweetness. Later the juice is put into oak barrels, where it will remain for at least one year. This is a sweet wine perfect for after dinner sipping.
Siurana Grenache Red Castle
This wine is made totally from the Grenache Red grape, of which only a few strains remain in our village. These strains are usually found amongst the vineyards and are harvested separately at the end of October. The wine is fermented in its skins for 12 days and this stops the fermentation. Next it is put into oak barrels, French and American, for 12 months, after this it is bottled unfiltered, then left to age in the bottle for at least a year.