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Posts Tagged ‘Priorat wines’

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.
The Wines

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.

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“The two tractors pulled up side by side, two elderly farmers discussing the harvest, and the effect of the weather on the grapes.  Their trailers, one full, one empty, who’s grapes were already being crushed and filtered finished their conversation and departed on their John Deer tractors.  Now is the important time of year, grapes picked by hand under a relentless sun, the pickers sweat flowing into the dry soil, this is harvest Catalan style, this is what makes such excellent wine.”

We arrived at El Masroig Celler to be greeted by Eulalia, a cheerful young lady who is in charge of the marketing for the Celler and a daughter of one of the growers. She told us she had been helping her father with the harvest on her day off, something she has been doing for a long time.

We started our tour with a visit to farmer Josep Tost and his son Marc who were busy picking Syrah grapes in the traditional method – by hand.  When we arrived the sun was beating down, but these cheery hardworking farmers along side their pickers were working away.  Their grapes were also suffering from the lack of water, it has not rained since the middle of July, normally we have a few storms in late August early September  but this year nothing.  But the grapes were sweet and yes the wine will be of good but short on moisture. The people here are very aware of their heritage and traditions and the land dictates that these will survive.

 

When we returned to the Celler we were introduced to the Wine Maker Carles, who was a mine of information on both the wine and history of the Co-operativa.

Masroig is in some ways a microcosm of Spain, during the Civil War there were two Co-operativa’s, some were supporters of the Republicans others of the Nationalists.  Nothing is ever clear-cut always a mixture, then the two Co-operativa’s joined together, a small village re-uniting, coming together again. They decided to use one of the Cellers for production and the other for storing the barrels whilst the wine was maturing and ageing. Working together they have invested and grown, no grand Cathedral of Wine here, but every few years, as they have grown so they have built another section.

This year 2011 they will open the latest, a large bulk storage and bottling plant. It is a new modern building which looks rather strange beside the original ones, but inside there are concrete vats beneath the ground, traditional techniques are still being used. As well as modern stainless steel vats, are French Oak Barrels,   seeing the creamy coloured barrels in this setting looks somehow comforting even though they are brand new.

So it is the 14th of September, 11.00am and we are now going to take you on a journey as we see exactly how the grapes are processed.

We started the tour where the tractors bring in the grapes. First they drive their trailers to a small platform. Here a young man took a long metal pole with a juice sampler on the end, and plunged it into the grapes.  He turned it then took it out, then plunged it in again, this was done several times. He then took the liquid to a table where it was analysed, showing the sugar content and likely alcohol level.

Next the tractor and trailer are driven onto the ‘weigh bridge’ where the weight is noted, the farmer has to stay on the tractor whilst this is done, he then drives the trailer to one of the hoppers.  There are three of these: one for the Carbonic Maceration process, the other two are for the traditional method where the stalks are separated and taken for fertilizer.

There were two trailers waiting to unload their grapes. One was at the hopper on its way to the traditional processing the other was at the hopper for Carbonic Maceration, so I will start there.

First Carbonic Maceration:

At the hopper the grapes, complete with stalks, are emptied onto a conveyor belt which takes them to the large rocker tanks. When these are half full they are sealed and CO2 is pumped in removing all the oxygen.


These vats lie on their side with a motorised chain attached which rocks them back and forth while the alcohol ferments inside the grapes.  When they start to burst the vats are emptied into a conveyor which carries grapes and juice to the press.  Here the skins are removed, and the juice pumped into the underground concrete vats to mature, whilst the skins are conveyed to a large container which once full is loaded onto a lorry and sent for recycling into alcohol.


The traditional method:

Here the hopper was full of the Grenache grape with another trailer waiting to unload.  The hopper is started and two screws push the grapes into the crushing chamber where the stalks and grapes part company.  From here the Wine Maker sends the grapes down long plastic tubes to either the large cooled vats for fermentation, or to the open top vats.

Open top method:

This is something new to the Celler, but it is also a traditional way of fermentation, those familiar with the Australian way of wine making will recognise it.  The grapes once crushed, are placed in an open topped vat which is kept cold by a water jacket and left to ferment. The skins float to the top and forms a ‘crust or lid’ which keeps out bacteria preventing them from going off.  Every so often they are sprayed so that the grapes on top are dampened down preventing bacteria from breaking through. This process takes around 10 days, then the juice is transferred to barrels for maturing and ageing.

The main grape here is the Carignan then comes Grenache and Syrah with small amounts of others. The fields we visited were growing Syrah.

The red wine is aged for between 12 to 15 months depending on the type of wine being made. The white wine made from the Grenache grape is matured in French Oak barrels for around 6 months.  Personally I prefer what we refer to as Vino Tinto which is a red wine slightly lighter than a Negre which has a deeper colour and more body. I have two favourites from the Celler:

Tinto Joven: This is a pleasant young red, smooth with a cherry colour with a hint of soft fruits. It is made from carignan, grenache and tempranillo grapes, and the process used is 80% traditional fermentation and 20% carbonic maceration.

Tinto de Crianza: This wine has a deeper colour, and I find this a full flavoured wine to drink, with for me, a smoothness that I am sure comes from maturing in oak barrels.  It is made from carignan and red grenache grapes, and the process used is 100% traditional.

My wife likes the white wine made from the grenache grape which spends 6months maturing in the barrels.

There are a lot more wines from this Celler as I mentioned in my last article ‘An Age of Wine’, if, like me, you would like to try some, and I  can recommend their Cava, you can contact Eulalia on celler@cellermasroig.com you will not be disappointed.

I would like to say thank you Eulalia, Carles and the staff of El Masroig for taking the time to show how their wine is made and to Josep for letting us interrupt his harvest.  I hope you have enjoyed the tour as much as we did, and gained a small insight into the fascinating world of wine making.

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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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