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Well as I was saying Petanca season has begun and this Sunday we were at Asco. Asco? well Asco is the home of one of the two nuclear power stations in Catalonia, and sits on the river Ebro. Like most places on the Ebro, Asco has its castle where the Knights Templer used to watch over their valley and river for invaders and collected taxes from the bargees.

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So off we set this morning under an uncertain sky, into town to pick up a club member, crossed the bridge – looks familiar? (ah well this bridge was here long long before a certain food company was formed the original was distroyed during the Spanish Civil War) turned inland and headed for the pass.  The road through this pass wends and winds it’s way along side the Ebre, which glides by towards the sea on its way from Asco.  This is a pleasant journey although short through the mountains, the green of shrub and trees covering one side contrasting with the bare rock on the other. This is a National Park area so there might be the chance to glimpse an Eagle or mountain Goat. What you do see is the river running quietly past gravel islands exposed reflecting the blue of the sky – well this morning it was a sort of greyish blue – then as it curves inland there are olive, fruit and  almond groves which stay with you until you cross the river again at the entrance to Asco.

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Now I have often mentioned the Petanca Breakfast. No? well this is it:  you have a bocadillo -a baguette with tomato rubbed into it then filled with Hammon (air-dried ham) plus olives accompanied by water and local red wine. Believe me it is something we all relish, a little something to wake you up and get you playing. This is the Tivissa group enjoying theirs, then comes the competition it’s self.

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Petanca is taken quite seriously here, and the local television station turns up to film the event. When it comes to prize giving they are there showing everyone receiving their prizes then interviewing the winners and secondplace teams.  As you can see from this picture there are Mora trees (the fruit is a cross between a blackberry and raspberry very tasty)  and the shade was certainly needed yesterday as it was in the 30 dgs range.

Well we started around 9am and the final was around 2pm with a Tivissa team coming second overall winning hams.  Third places won a large round goats cheese plus a large dried sausage then the rest of us won three bottles of Corbera d’Ebre young wines very nice too. This is a wine called Mas Del Tio which I am rather partial to, a very sippable wine so I was more than happy, and if you would like to know more this is the link http://bit.ly/qvGwGd.  So here are our clubs with our prizes, first Mora d’Ebre only two teams won:

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Then Tivissa, the individual and group photos:

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Yes this is an enjoyable game and also lots of fun. As the competitions are played on Sundays when everyone has a day off, they are definitely Fun In The Sun Sundays!

©    Michael Douglas Bosc

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Well here we are almost at the end of the Petanca competitions, and back in Aragon at Mequinensa in sight of the castle next to the river for another day of bowling and catching up on things with friends.  However, because of the change in the weather, which thank goodness has cooled down, I found myself with difficulty in breathing due to a sinus infection (and I had two – yes 2 – flu jabs last December)

Anyway we started off playing well winning our first game easily, the second one was a bit of a battle but we won that. However, we had to wait for the other teams to finish their game before we could complete our third and final game.

It was at this point I became ill. I started coughing and being sick not the sort of thing you need in the middle of a competition, I needed my wife.  Because she was not playing she had wandered down to the river just below the courts, to take some  photographs, I could see her by the water’s edge so I made my way towards the river but began being ill again. Next thing I knew my wife was there helping me back to the courts sitting me down and getting me to relax.  Had I taken my anti histamine tablets that morning? I could not answer so she opened her handbag, produced two tablets, watched me take them then waited whilst I calmed down and breathed easier. (I am most thankful that she carries my tablets around, especially as when we are in a rush my mind is elsewhere on practical things I forget).  After assuring my friends I was alright  we resumed our game which we won.

I then joined my wife for a coffee sitting in the sun looking out onto the fountain which had a most soothing effect. Whilst waiting for the other teams to finish and the play offs begin, I sat drinking my coffee and looking round.  The hall where they hold the presentations is an airy spacious building, it sits at the back of the plaza with the fountain near the road. This fountain depicts a man holding a lantern in one hand with a long implement over his shoulder, here on competition days tables and chairs are set outside under the terrace. Inside the building you find the main hall large and spacious a tv is mounted over the bar with a kitchen and side rooms for meetings along one side, then off a small corridor you find the toilets, a must know for us oldies.

The other side of the hall is glass giving a fantastic view of the river, so you can sit watching both rowers and wildlife enjoying their day on the river.   Today however there was a long table set out with the prizes of large hams with a box of chocolates for the winners, large hams plus some excellent Maquinensa Olive Oil for the runners-up, followed by smaller hams for 3,4,5,6,7th then a bottles of wine with a dried sausage for everyone else.

The Play-Offs

The playoffs are held on a small court and an international course is laid out. This consists of two circles one at each end of the court with a spaced out measure of 8 strides in between (around 8ft).  In to the top circle a small red ball is placed (the bouletchi) then when a team’s name is called, the first bowler of that team stands in the bottom circle and bowls at the bouletchi trying to hit it or get as near to it as he/she can staying inside the other circle.  If they are successful then they score 2 points.  The next round is similar the second bowler tries for the bouletchi this is then replaced by a ball and the idea is that the bowler throws his ball at it trying to hit it, but, the bowlers ball must only land inside the circle before it hits if it does then that’s 2 points, but if it lands outside the circle then hits the ball no points.  The final bowler is the ‘picca’, he/she must throw their balls at the ball in the circle with the above rules applying. If it sounds complicated it isn’t really but it is hard to do.  The ground can slope one way or another or be slightly up or down hill, plus you only have 2 balls for each round.

To say that I was off bowling was an understatement to I was really surprised when after we had all bowled there was an announcement that a play off for second place between three teams was needed.  I did not do a very good bowl so it was up to my two team mates to rescue us and they did.  Perfect bowling and picking won us second prize. The Mayoress and other dignitaries presented the prizes, so here we all are at the presentation, brilliant players and an old duffer.

First prize of a ham and chocolates went to Ramona, Seraphi and Eunesio from Asco

Second prize of ham and olive oil went to Salout, Serrano and me from Mora de’Ebro

Fourth prize of a small ham went to Roca, Mohamed and Rayner also from Mora

After the presentations, my wife was asked to take group pictures of everyone so first, because the winners are in there came Asco hams and all.

Then came Tivissa who insisted Mora joined in so here we all are with hams and wine a good day had by all.  Cheers!

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Region DO Montsant

 I have been looking at the wines in the surrounding region, and discovered a wide variety of excellent country wines which do not disgrace the tables of restaurants in New York and other cities where they can be found in.  The fact that we (my wife and I) drink them as a normal table wine made me realise how lucky we are to live in such a delicious place. So I decided to take a look at the local Cellers and found that there is a lot of history intermingled with the wines. The Spanish Civil War did not leave much untouched this side of the river Ebre, and some of the smaller vineyards are only a few years old, although owned by families who have been making wine for generations. The land here is passed down through the family so you will find parcels of small vines dotted all over the DO’s  but owned by one family. When the harvest is in full flow it is not unusual to see tractors driving for some distance along the road, trailer piled high on their way to the presses.  

One of the things we have discovered still being used by some of the local Co-operativa’s, are the concrete vats which replaced the original wooden ones in many of them. These vats can hold between 30-32 thousand ltrs of wine, some of the smaller cellers still have them, where they are used to maintain the traditional way of producing wine.  It has to be noted that most cellers are beginning to go over to the stainless steel vats, but in many area’s wines are still produced in the wooden or concrete vats as well as stainless steel ones.

 Falset

Falset Town

So I shall start with Falset which is Capital of this region and is in the unique position of having one foot in each of the wine areas, ie., the DOQ Priorat and DO Montsant, here you will find the Head Quarters and Office of the Wine Appellation Regulatory Council. Falset is an old Catalan town with a Castle that sits on a high point to the left as you enter the town.  This has been restored to how it once looked although there seems to be very little of the original stone used. However, a Castle has stood on this site since around the 12th century. 

The New By-Pass Seen From Falset Castle

The Original Main Road

 

 When we first arrived here 7 years ago,  you had to drive through the town to reach the pass along the narrow road that winds its way through the town then out and upwards to the mountains. This was fine for cars, but as the lorries began to get larger it became almost impossible for them to use the road, so they were directed off to one side where a gently graded side road took them around the town joinging onto the twisting mountain road. Sometimes however, you would find one  had decided to go through town, a short cut, only to find the road narrowed and although it eventually got through the effect was to block the town. So they built a brand new by-pass taking you over the mountains, so now if you want to visit Falset you just turn off. I had thought that the road would have made the town quieter but it seems to have breathed life back into it, perhaps because the people from the surrounding district can now park and enjoy the amenities in comfort.

The Co-operativa

Entering the town from the west you find the Co-operativa on the right just off the old road the lorries used to by-pass the town. As you stand looking at the Celler face on it is an impressive building, not as decorative as some, but it has its own charm, and is referred to as a ‘Cathedral of Wine’ one of many which were designed by Cesar Martinell.  

Vermouth Vats

The Vats Under the Wooden Ceiling

 

I did not know what I expected to see inside, so you can imagine my delight as I approached and saw two enormous wooden barrels that seemed to fill the space framed by the big double doors, standing like giant sentinels with a normal sized barrel sitting on the floor between them which gave an indication of their size. I am informed that these are the vats for the Vermouth (does anyone have a straw for my wife?) the wood giving the density and flavour to this wine.  

Concrete Vats Lovingly Painted

All the Vats Together

 

To either side are the concrete vats which run in lines of 10 and  2 vats wide, still in use here, with the modern stainless steel ones in the middle of the building behind the two wooden vats.  The ceiling is of carved wood and vaulted like a cathedral (hence the name) whilst out side standing either side of the doors, are two of the original wine cages used to crush the grapes, by treading one wonders?  The building was constructed in 1919 with decorative plaques on each facing wall.   

The Co-operativa ShopPart of the Old Pressing Equipment

 

Wishing to know more we wandered round to the Co-operativa shop on the main street, which sells all sorts of things from wines and olive oils to  barrels and various containers for the presentation of wine.  They suggested we paid a visit to the Tourist Information Centre which is situated in the Castle.  Here we found information about their Wine Fiesta, it is on the weekend of April30-1st May. The local Vintners set up stalls to display, sell and allow tastings of their wines, where for around 8€ you can purchase a glass with tickets which, if you can stay the course, it is possible to sample your way round the stalls. I have talked to people who have done it they will be there again this year, so will we.  

Where the Market is Held

A Typical Street

 

To reach the Castle you have to pass through Falset it’s self.  The narrow streets, quaint squares, covered walkways edged with small shops of every description, a delightful step back in time, no supermarkets in this town. With cafes where you can sit and drink in the peace of your surroundings. 

The French Connection

The Calcots a BBQ Delight

 

 It was market day when we arrived, so the square was very busy with vegetable stalls displaying locally grown produce, snails and calcots (large spring like onions which are BBQ’d and eaten with a traditional salsa), and we found a small bread shop tucked away just off the square selling deliciously warm fresh bread. 

A Quiet Square

Typical Narrow Street

 

Then on up through narrow streets, which are too narrow for cars, turning and twisting towards the top of the hill. Then suddenly we were at the top, or so we thought, on looking up, there above and to the left was our goal, the Castle, one last climb and we had arrived.  We did not realise how steep the climb had been untill just as we reached the summit the mobile rang and I gasped for air as I tried to answer,  it was some minutes before I could compose my self.

The Rebuilt Castle

The Tourist Information at the Castle

 

The Tourist Information Centre is large and spacious built into the old Castle with two very helpful smiling young ladies in attendance, so much information and in English too. There is ample parking and a spacious courtyard in front, but I am glad we walked to the castle  we would have missed so much of Falset’s character.  If you visit Falset this is a must see even if only for the views. After catching our breath we returned to the town for coffee in a small but cheerful cafe, loaded with information and talking about which cellars to visit next.  

The Wines

The wines are quite diverse, they are full-bodied and aged.  I myself prefer a Tinto wine but have to admit that the Vi Negre are not as heavy as some I have tasted.  There are actually four types of wine here, Etim Negre is a deep full-bodied red, full of flavour and depth, whereas Etim Rosat, is light, sweet, fruity and well-flavoured, the Etim Blanco (white) has a warm mellow colour, being not too dry and very flavoursome.

The  top of the range wines, Etim L’esparver made from a grape selection and fermented in French oak barrels for 20 months, is well worth the wait.  Castell de Falset is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, aged in both French and American oak for 12 months giving the wine a sweet taste.  Etim Old Vines Grenache comes, as the name suggests,  from a blend of old vine Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, again aged in French oak barrels.  Etim Syrah is a deep concentrated wine bottled so I am informed just like the Old Vine Grenache, with no filtering. These are definatly wines of distinction, worth both the waiting for and the price.

The Tinto (a cross between the red and rosat) is to be found in other cellars.  Having said that the Co-operative does produce some fine dessert wines, and my usual reservations regarding the overly sweetness of some, was quietly plaquated by these.  

The Etim Verema Tardana Blanc, is made from the white Grenache grape to produce this sweet wine which, I have on good authority, (my wife’) could be drunk on any occasion and with almost any dish. Etim Verema Tardana Negre  is made from the red Grenache giving the sweet, subtle taste to this fine desert wine.  Lastly the Etim Verema Sobremadurada  produced from the Grenache and Carignan grapes,  is a subtle well matured wine sweet, but in my opinion, not overly so being more to my palet, but very delicious. 

All the wines are made from the Grenache grape with some being blended with a mix of Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grape either singly or a combination of them, either way the result is excellent.

For those of you who are lucky enough to visit Falset the last day of April, 1st May do try the Wine fair, but PLEASE take a dedicated driver it is most seriously recommended and do enjoy, CHEERS.

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It is a fact of nature that water reflects the sky.  A sunny day and the river has put on a shimmering blue dress as she runs towards the Mediterranean.  If it’s a cloudy day she will wear either a greenish grey dress with a mirror coat reflecting the trees along her banks, or she will try to cheer us up by wearing a shimmering dress of a silvery grey colour which now and again gapes to give a glimpse of a blue petticoat as she rushes on her way.   

Sometimes if it has been raining very hard she will drag fallen trees along, sending them bobbing and turning as they round stones and other hidden obstacles in the water.  But on a sunny day she will flow gently with the occasional ripple as she runs over large rocks and sandbanks on her way to the Mediterranean.

Passing under bridges of history from the Civil War, which were destroyed then re-built gently washing them as though remembering the pain when the bombs dropped laying waste the arches and tipping rails and masonry into her waiting arms.   

 

Last Templars stronghold at Miravet

Then on she flows towards the delta past Templer strongholds, castles of history who’s down fall is played out each year as part of the local history.

On through gorges with fields of vines on the banks, past orange groves, and relics of bygone factories harking back to the days when there was trade on the river. 

 

Then after a while she reaches the weir, which she slips over quietly, then on she glides towards Tortosa slipping through the town at peace with her surroundings. Past rice fields irrigated by her waters, past small towns, ever onwards to her destination, the Delta. 

There you will find majestic beaches of golden sand, the occasional palm tree their tops gently moving in the sea breeze. There is always something of  interest to be seen, especially when they are fruiting, grouped on the beach surrounded by the golden sand against a back drop of a blue sea and sky. You would be forgiven for thinking you were some where exotic and expect to see a camel appear with sheik to carry you off.

                                                                                        

Here the river fills the delta pools with her water where the Flamingoes forage for shrimps, and bulls roam the marsh fields while Marsh Harriers fly over head hunting for their dinner.

The irrigation is helped by small pumping water mills compact and picturesque, leaving you with images of times gone by, a hard but seemingly peaceful life. It is here more rice is grown along with a variety vegetables, watered the generous river.  

So, after she arrives and joins the sea all that is left is to turn north to the mountains where she first breathed life as a small stream then gradually grew up into the lady we now know, La Rio Ebro.

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