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Asco

Coat of arms of Ascó

Asco is up river from us and home to the Nuclear Station for which it is well known.  We always know when coffee or meal times are as we can see the ‘smoke signals’ rising over the mountain behind us.  Today as we drove in it was puffing away and the river was ‘smoking’ (where the hot water enters the river from the plant).  Asco is a small town nestled at the feet of the  Serra de la Fatarella mountain range. This is the same range our valley is in only on the other side of the mountains. But it can be crossed as we found out one day a few years ago when a very tired man trotted into the garden asking for water.  This is normal for those running, cycling or walking in the forest, water is never refused to them. There is also excellent fishing to be had here as the warm waters around the power station is a good breeding ground for fish. A lot of our friends live and work here and during term time Michael helps them with their English in the linguistics class at the college in Mora d’Ebro.  Most of the employment here is based on agriculture with the power station providing a lot of work.  Here they grow almonds, grapes (the wine is very good) and of course, olives.

There is a good deal of history attached to Asco, it  was one of the castled points along the Ebro during the Templars time.  They controlled trade, collected taxes and got rich.  Today the castle is slowly being rebuilt/restored as the towns now realises that being part of their heritage it is important to preserve it.

Petanca

We have been coming here to play in competitions since we began playing Petanca.  Our friends used to come and play in Mora when we had a club there but age, time and other things have seen the club disintegrate  to basically three or four people.  We like others either joined Tivissa or Asco to play, but we still see our old friends around town and at the competitions like today. At the time of writing they have just started playing so it will be a while before I go to take the photos. I do this because I like to, it is nice to see the faces of our friends when they get their ‘winners’ photo something so small means so much, I get pleasure doing it and they get pleasure from the photos.

So here we go – PETANCA! This is the ‘family photograph’ winners and losers alike. We had a great day met up with friends and generally enjoyed ourselves.

          

Relaxing waiting for the last game to finish

Here are the winners, first prize large ham, second prize smaller ham, and so on from there. Michael, Maria & Gill won wine and a dried sausage (sausage didn’t last long yumm) and he is in another competition next weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So as you can see here is proof that like golfers, mad dogs & Englishmen, Petanca players go out in the midday sun…..

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

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A Little History 

This photograph shows all that is left of the railway bridge which like others was destroyed during the civil war. This part of the Ebro valley, like Mora d’Ebre and Gandesa, was also in the thick of the battle for the River Ebre and every year it holds a commerative day depicting the battle, with vehicles, authentic uniforms and enactments. During the Battle of the Ebre some of the bloodiest battles were fought about 8km north of Fayon.  In July of 1938 on the 25th the 42nd division of the Republican Army crossed the river in this area, but were then surrounded and massacred in the hills by the Franco’s army.

Fayon was part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lleida, but in 1955 Fayon along with Mequinensa was segregated from Lleida and merged with the Archdiocese of Zaragoza.

The original village is now beneath the waters of the dam and the present village of Fayon was built by ENHER the state-owned company who built the dam.  Like so many of these mountain villages Fayon was originally a mining community here it was coal.  But after the mines closed the village lost 50% of its population.

A Little Fishing

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These days it is better known for its fishing, and in the café where we had a coffee these were displayed on the wall advertising the fishing potential of the river.  As you can see catfish are a bit big and these well known fighters can and do give anglers a run for their money and quite a bit of excitement.  Some of these catfish can be as big or bigger than some of the boats, I remember watching an angler on his own,  trying to get on into his inflatable dingy. After I had watched his struggle for a while and seen him get half of this fish in the dingy I carried on into to town.  I later learnt that he didn’t manage it but at least he got his hook back, the next time I saw him he had a solid boat and companion.

Coffee Before The Event

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We arrived early and went for a coffee. We found the café overlooking the swimming pool that every town has regardless of size and enjoyed the view before we left for the courts.  What I did not know was this little ‘cafe’ is actually a very well known fish restaurant.  Its menu is varied with high quality recipes and good value for money, which explains why as we were leaving Fayon we noticed quite a few people heading for it.  We would have done the same, except I did not know then what I know now, it must be the best kept secret in Fayon.

Petanca

The Petanca competition is held on the local football ground with courts laid out.  Once again there seemed to be fewer teams playing which is a shame as it is one game that the youngsters would enjoy. The Café had wifi which pleased my wife as she had somewhere to work whilst I played, so once the competition had started off she trotted to return just at the right time.

The Prizes

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As you can see there were some very good prizes to play for.  Hams, olive oil and wine for the winning team, a selection of dried sausage, wine and olive oil for the runners up, followed by olive oil and cheese for the winners of groups and finally olive oil for those who came second.  So here in no particular order after the winners are the photos  our club last.  Hope you enjoy:-

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(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

 

 

 

 

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Tivissa Petanca Social

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El President

As you know I have been playing Petanca for a few years during which time I have made some good friends, had quite a few laughs, lost a few competitions, won hams, wine, cheese, dried sausages, olive oil and the odd cup.  This year I can honestly say that when I have played – after the road trip – I have really enjoyed myself.

Getting Ready

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It’s Tivissas Fiesta this weekend so yesterday found us at the club for the Petanca Social.  We arrived early just as the prizes were being set out under the trees they looked quite impressive.

About Tivissa

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This is a quiet little town, loads of history, located below the La Llena massif which overlooks the Petanca courts and football ground.  Tivissa is part of a municipality which includes the village of La Serra d’Almos and the hamlets of Darmos and Llaberia, and can trace its origins back to prehistoric times, and during the Roman period amphorae’s were made here presumably to transport the Olive oil and wines that Catalunya was noted for even then.

Practice

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The afternoon was cool, the mountains looking what they are, solid hard rock covered in pines and greenery, not soft like they do on a spring afternoon. Clouds were gathering but no rain, just a pleasant breeze, so a little practice was in order whilst everyone arrived and caught up on news.

To decide who plays in which team, the names of the pickers were assigned  numbers then the names of everyone else are given numbers. Next all the numbers are placed into a container which was shaken then a number drawn and matched to a picker to make a team, simples.  Once this was done we were allotted our courts and we wandered off to enjoy a few serious games.

Prize Giving

 

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The afternoon passed quickly, it seemed as though we had just started.  Amador and I had won our group and were in the play offs, as we had played in doubles there were three teams of two.  So I have posted the photos in order of last first.  As always on these occasions the Alcalde was there to present the prizes accompanied by a young lady. You can see that there were smiles all round especially from me.  We then repaired to the buffet which as always was well laid out with a selection of goodies to nibble on.

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A Happy Chappie

Bon fiesta Tivissa.  Oh and thank you once again to the Alcalde, I am fine now.

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

 

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This is something of a wonderful cross between SiFi and fine wine, that I was neither expecting or prepared for.  So where to start?  well let’s go with a little bit of history.  Marca is a small village tucked away under the Darmos mountain range on the outskirts of Falset, in the Montsant region quietly going about the serious business of making wine.   It is a small Celler, with a French Wine Blender called Eduard (from Burgundy) who went to Australia to learn the new technology then came to Marca and the Celler Portal del Montsant.

The Celler’s history is one of pure Catalan wine making, dating back to 1194 when the Cartusian monks of the ‘Sant Bruno of Cologne’ order settled in the Priorat region and became the founders of the viticulture.   In 2001 the areas including Bellmunt, El Molar and El Lloar formed the ‘Wine Property Project Clos del Portal’ under the eye of architect Alfredo Arribas. The Cooperativa of Marca was merged with Falset presumably for economic reasons and the building fell into disuse.  Then in 2003 along with Ricard Wolfes Alfredo founded Portal del Montsant and located it in the old former Cooperativa building.

This building has been dedicated to the production of wines since the 1900’s.  In 2007 the eminent enologist Stephen Pannell joined the project bringing his expertise and creativity into play.   The  narrow terraces where the grapes grew  had been abandoned  because modern machinery could not operate there. These were cleared, restored then planted with an assortment of cloned vines of very low production but high quality interspersed with the traditional varieties including some experimental ones.  This vineyard follows a modern organic way of growing grapes which is in line with the cutting edge way the Winery works.

The make up of the soil in the region is a combination of calcareous, clay, and sand, add to this the directions the fields face plus the altitude and you have a unique mix of the old Carignan and Grenache once again covering the land where the first vines were laid down. By the way, these varieties take  their names from the founder of the Cartusian monks, some of these modern vineyards are over 65 years old and grow the ‘bush’ type vine.


So thats the history part now for the SiFi bit and the fine wines.  When we arrived I expected to find a small Celler in the style of a Cathedrel, the outside giving this impression.  But wow!  when you go inside it is like a Tardis compact yet huge!  Eduard first showed us the vats from the main level where he has his office and the wines are displayed.

From this window  you look down on shining stainless steel vats with French oak barrels ranged around the sides along with the concrete vat.  He then took us down to the first level and that is when you see the size and scope of this ‘wine Tardis’.


Eduard showed us how they kept wine stored oak barrels at an even temperature by covering them in plastic whilst using a small heater to warm the air.  Also here is the original machinery that was used before the introduction of the modern equipment, it is in working order and kept as a heritage piece to explain how things were originally done.


The modern equipment is small compact and efficient, but some of the original vats were not only small but unusual.  Take the egg shaped vats which are used for fermenting white wines.  It was also the first time I had seen egg vats made from concrete which not only keep the temperature even, but because of their shape they allow the wine to continue moving inside and makes for an excellent dry white wine, whilst the squarish vat is for the red wine.



There are barrels behind the ‘egg’ vats which contain fermenting white wine.  Every other day Eduard removes the bung takes a long metal rod with a flat end and stirs the wine until it goes from a clear liquid to a milky one.  This stirring makes sure that the wine stays alive and the sediment does not remain at the bottom of the barrel and turn the wine.



As we came down the stairs to this level we came face to face with four maceration vats, which are used for making special wine. Then just as I was thinking things could not improve I found them.  The Darleks are here!!! there facing me was a row of vats shaped like Darleks, not the scary ones of Dr Who, same shape vats.  These are used for the cold maceration of their excellent rose wine.  This cold maceration process allows the grapes to remain in their skins whilst they are chilled then they are pressed and fermented in cold conditions thus maintaining a constant temperature for the whole process.

Out side is this refrigeration truck which is used to store grapes for 24 hrs before beginning to process the wine using the cold maceration technique this helps with the juice concentration which makes fantastic wine.

Then it was down to the underground where the large old concrete vats have been cut through to reveal recesses  where the barrels are stored in a constant temperature of 14c. They are left to mature in the .  All the barrels are stacked by hand on curved racks.  Some are marked with the individual names of vineyards then left for around one and a half to two years for maturing.


Some of the old concrete vats are still in use and Eduard showed us the inside of one which had just been painted in the traditional manner, this is done to ensure that nothing leaks or air can get in.

The majority of the wine is red but they do make an excellent Rosado and a pleasant dry white.  I will list the wine in their  grouping, but remember these opinions are strictly mine according to my pallet which as we all know is different from others, my preference being for reds with a slightly sweet to dry but not so dry as to kill my pallet.

I will start with the BRUNUS, a wine I have drunk and really enjoyed.

The Rosado is a clear ruby colour crisp with an aroma that hints at cherries and raspberries with a hint cinnamon whilst there is a light flowery hint just hiding the sense of another fruit. Whilst this is the bouquet the taste is something else.  It is smooth slightly on the dry side but there is a body to this wine that would not disgrace a red.   This chilled would be a perfect afternoon evening drink on the terrace.  The alcohol content is 13% and made solely from the Grenache grape.

The Red this is a red that gives off a definite sparkle when in the glass.  The aroma is of flowers, cherries, currants and that hidden fruit again, but this time I got a feel of something different which I put down to the various minerals that are in the ground.  To my pallet it is slightly smoky with a spicy hint but a very full body slightly on the dense side.  It has an aftertaste that makes me look for more.  The alcohol content is 14% and made from 45%Carignan, 35%Grenache and 20%Syrah grapes. This, like the Rose, is also a wine you could drink just for the pleasure.

Santbru Blanc Montsant  This a white with a pale translucent gold tone. The aromas of honeysuckle with tones of pear and peach whilst being a difficult but interesting impressive taste there is a subtle aftertaste.  85% White Grenache and 15% Grey Grenache   with an alcohol content of 13.5%

Santbru Red  This wine has a regal deep purple/black colour and well defined tears. The aromas that issue from the glass are spices, berries, anise, thyme plus that certain taste that defines the region.  As for the palate, it senses a deep wholesome fruity flavor.  The alcohol content is 14.5%  and made from 65%Carignan 20%Syrah and 15%Grenache, a nice wine to go with the a meal.

BRUberry Red  Here is a wine that has a vibrantly clear deep red colour.  The aromas are of roses, fruit, soft spices with a country background.  The pallet finds a smooth velvet texture, with the taste of raspberry reminding you of jellies. Yet there is a subtitle smoothness that puts it in my sipping class.  The alcohol content is 13.5% and is made from 60%Grenache, 30%Carignan and 10%Syrah.

The above wines are superb and if you would like to try them you will find the Celler on http://www.portadelmonsant.com  and alfredoarribas@portadelmonsant.com  enjoy.

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Whilst reading through posts from my friends on Facebook I came across one from El Brogit Guiatges which interested me. They are keen to get people involved with the countryside, vineyards and Cellers to promote the great wine of the Monsant region.  You can go on various walks taking from a half day to three/four days, they also aim to promote the natural history and beauty of the Monsant Mountains. So loving wine, being interested in nature and in need of some exercise I decided we would join them on their walk to this Sunday.

Look at the map of the roads in the Monsant and Priorat regions and they appear as thick lines some not as thick but only slightly wiggly.  In real life however they are very wiggly! On a beautiful sunny morning, we took the road from Falset into the mountains along a very sneaky snaky road. Round bends that bent, corners, twists and turns to the top of the pass, from where the view of the valley was encompassing. From here it was a meander into the valley and Porrera, passing people in the fields picking hazelnuts, before taking another road upwards and onwards to our destination in Cornudella de Monsant, where we arrived around 10.00am.

On arrival we were greeted by one of our guides Meritxell a pleasant young lady who spoke good English and introduced us to Sergi our other guide.  After we were all assembled and been handed our tickets for the Celler we set off up through the village and out into the countryside.

I did say walk didn’t I? Well for me it was more of a hike but a very spectacular one.  Walking out of the village we began to climb towards the fields and the top of a ridge. The beginning was about a 30dgs climb, I am not used to this degree of exercise so it was head down one foot forward. Wow! look at the views Siurana to the east, with its lake glittering in the sunlight.

Now the climb was getting steeper, and the younger people were getting ahead of me but they paused to wait for my wife and Meritxell to catch up photographs had been taken.  So turning again we started upwards, it looked so steep and the mesa looked very high, no wonder they have a climbing centre here.  Then we reached a field just below the ridge and stopped for something to drink and a rest.

The views from here were even more beautiful.  Off we set again on the last part of our climb then as they say it was all down hill towards the hermitage of San Juan.  This is an old chapel used by the Cistercian Monks, but even they did not like the long climb so halfway up there is a shrine which they used. As for the farmers, they were so poor that they could not afford a chapel so they made do with a large rock ‘rock of prayer’ where they went to pray when in the fields.

Arriving at the Chapel we found there was a spring and after filling water bottles we wandered round to the front. Here we were divided into two teams and played a game of charades, everyone taking part with laughter.

We had just finished this when a Pirate appeared and handed the two team captains an envelope for the treasure hunt so off we went down towards the lower fields in search of treasure.

Once in the fields the captains opened the envelopes and looked at the treasure map, somewhere in amongst the 60 to 70-year-old vines were two keys which when matched with pictures would reveal the prize.  Well we found the keys and grapes, now what? then we saw a monk walking towards us carrying two bags. He welcomed us and said the captains should match their keys against those on the bags, when they were opened one had a bottle of wine inside the other had pieces of paper one with a mark on it so whoever picked it won the wine.  A young lady won to cheers and laughter (there was a lot of that) we took group pictures then made our way down to the Celler Baronia del Monsant.

These walks are not only interesting but fun. You see the countryside, meet people and generally enjoy a good walk.  If you are interested, you can contact Meritxell or Sergi on www.elbrogit.com/home.html    Happy Walking

 

The Celler

The Celler was a big surprise. Most of the Cellers we have visited were large, but this one is small and like a pocket Venus, small, but perfectly formed.

As you enter there is the shop selling the 6 wines they make here and displaying their prize certificates for their wines. Behind this is the area where in the harvest the grapes are brought to be processed. A young lady called Laura was our guide round the Celler, very helpful and informative.  Unlike other areas, tractors cannot harvest these fields so all picking is done by hand, and because of the weather up here grapes can take longer to ripen.  So they are brought to the Celler in grey boxes not trailors, then processed in the electric machines that like the Celler are small but perfect.

There is the machine where the stalks are separated, next to that is the crusher from where the grapes are pumped downstairs, all on castors so they can be moved around for storage.  Just to one side of the celler door is the bottling unit, and from here 90% of the wine is sold abroad.

Down stairs you find around 14 stainless steel vats, and to my surprise they use the open top method. Here the grape skins float to the top and form a crust which is kept damp by spraying grape juice over them thus preventing bacteria from forming and spoiling the wine.   From here the wine is placed into Oak barrels to mature.  These barrels are made from either American oak which gives the wine a vanilla note and French oak which gives the wine a spicy note.  It is only when the wine has matured that it is blended, until then each variety of grape is processed on its own.  The barrels are dated when the wine is put in and then the date when they are ready for blending is placed near the top so the blender can see when it is ready.

Then we came to the tasting of the 6 wines produced here. The first from the Garnatxa grape was ‘flor d’englora garnatxa 2009’. This wine I enjoyed immensely it was light and a little on the sweeter side which, in my opinion, was perfect for sipping at the end of the day sitting on the terrace watching the stars.  The other wines that followed became increasingly drier, ideal in my opinion, to be drunk with well hung beef or game, the last was a softer blend. But I have to say that my personal preference  was for the flor d’englora garnatxa.

This is an interesting Celler which needs further investigation so I am hoping to visit it again soon. This time to delve more into its history and the blending of the wines. If you would like to taste some of these wines and savour the flavours or match them with various meals you can find them on www.baronia-m.com  or reach them on engloria@baronia-m.com .

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