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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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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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