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Posts Tagged ‘red 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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El Celler Cooperatiu Del Pinell de Brai

I was wondering what to do today as it was one of my wandering days. The sort of day when you want to do something but don’t really know what.  I have been trying to get to El Pinell de Brai, a small village in the Terra Alta region of Cataluna, amongst some of the finest wine makers in the region.I was actually trying to visit the Co-opratieva there. This is a grand building which hides within its walls vast concrete vats. However when we arrived it was the wrong time and day so we have an appointment for tomorrow morning.  As we were leaving the building, my wife spotted a small cellar opposite and we wandered over to have a look.

Celler Serra de Cavalls

What we found was a little gem just like those small vineyards in the champagne region of France, excellent wines without the hype. This vintner uses five growers to produce excellent wine in the traditions of their ancestors but using modern equipment. The results, although with a limited production, are some very fine wines which, I might add although having drank them and been delighted with their flavour, I never for a moment thought I would find the cellar. The wines are, for their quality, reasonably priced from a very good 5€ up to  an excellent 12€.  I have not tried the Blac Barrel but it is definitely on my list. I now know where some of my Petanca friends go for their wine.

The vines used are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, white Garnatxa and black Garnatxa all of which are grown naturally, no chemical sprays, hence the distinctive taste and bouquet. However you will not find vast hillsides of vines, this is not the way we do things here.  Instead you will find small farms (fincas) dotted around with vineyards who, when the time is right bring their grapes to be pressed. It is  very much a farming community, and they are true to their history they speak Catalan which, as we have found out is a very hard language to learn, but if you live in the countryside (Campo) you have to speak the language.

The Shop

So this morning I returned to Pinell de Brai, to tour the La Catedral del VI, the co-operative cellar to you and me.

This Is Where The Tour Begins

After a beetle invaded the vines and caused untold damage, leaving farmers with little or no income. Some left and went to the cities, others decided to stay replant new vines and start over. Then they got together and decided to form a co-operative, they would grow the grapes and decided that someone who knew how to make the wine would run the cellar. This did two things: First it left the farmers free to concentrate on growing the grapes and second with someone who know how to make wine in charge of the co-op there would be no falling out. So they began to build..

Concrete Vats Each Holding 30,000 Ltrs

They installed concrete vats that held 30,000ltrs of wine, with four rows of these vats about 8 vats long and 2 deep. You can walk across the tops under the beautiful carved vaulted ceilings.

The Vaulted Ceiling

Where the caps of the vats sit like lids on the floor, and the railing which abound everywhere carry water for cleaning them.  The cellar was started in 1918 and finished in 1922, and built by a student of  Gaudi, Cesar Martinell i Brunet, who was passionate about the co-operative movement. The Spanish government was to pay for the commissioned buildings but as the bills got bigger and no money arrived the hand decorated tiles which Brunet had ordered were stored away so that no one could say the builders had been extravagant.

Further Vats and Arches

A Vat Lid

Then during the Spanish civil war, it was badly bombed but when it was rebuilt  the hand painted tiles were taken out of store and placed along the front at long last.

The Tiles In Place

As for the wines they are few but enjoyable. The Tinto is a pleasant fruity country wine with a slight sweetness. The Vi Aperitiu is a pleasant vermouth, with the distinctive taste.  There is also a cooking wine definitely not for drinking, and a white that is not exactly sweet but not sharp. The Mistela is sweet, warm and very drinkable.

It is an unfortunate fact but these days olive oil is the main product at this press with only the listed selection of wines produced. But this is a village that prides it’s self on it’s artists crafts and produce.  If you are ever in the Terra Alta region of Catalunia take a look at this Co-op it is well worth the visit and long may it be so.

 

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc  author

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