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It is a while since I visited the Co-operativa in Batea, so once my life had returned to normal I contacted Judith and heard they had a new wine. This was a must visit so I hitched up the ‘Wine Wagon’ and on Wednesday morning headed off into the high country. The day was fine and warm which for this time of year was a plus. although there was a gusting wind which made driving through the mountainous terrain interesting.  The drive took me past the pink hue that are the peach and nectarine groves heralding the coming of spring whilst here and there farmers were doing some late pruning.  Although they were all wearing jackets I was quite sure they were pleased that the sun was out even if it was a little windy.  I arrived in Bata around 11ish and went to meet Judith in the showroom.

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This Co-operativa is an ever evolving entity, a place where new ideas are born and sure enough when I entered the bright and  spacious  showroom I found bath products such as Garnatxa bath oil and Cabernet Sauvignon soap for sale. This is something that I find interesting as it is a new way of presenting the various varieties of grape to people and I rather fancy a Sauvignon shower.  But these were not what I had come to see.

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Ranged along one wall are the various wines and liqueurs that are produced and sold  here in Terra Alta plus the odd bottle of Cava from Penedes.  Sitting on a shelf near the new wine was something that no kitchen or cook should be without – Ranci.  Here it is used in cooking by the older generation to add flavour to dishes and  has a warmth and bite that reminded me of  “cooking sherry” a perfectly pleasant drink just don’t let the cook near it.

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But this is the new comer,  the wine I had come to see the ECOLÒGIC. There are three wines in this collection one white and two reds. First to arrive on the shelf is the white. This is a pale yellow which if held against a white napkin gives a soft slightly lemony hue, with a hint of violets but certainly you can sense wild herbs on the palate. But this wine has a flavour of something which is just out of reach but oh so familiar, almost as if it’s teasing you to pin the ‘something’ down. It certainly made my palate want more if only to do just that, this is definitely a wine for summer and is certainly on my list.

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However the reds are to  follow.  Because of their time in the barrels the first Tinto not due till April, with the last due later in the year after spending around 12 months in the oak barrels. To explain this Judith took me to the barrel room.

 

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So I will explain the blend. The barrels on the left contain white wine which is blended with the red in the barrels on the right to produce the Ecologic reds. The first red to arrive spends 3 months in the barrel and is blended with white wine from the Garnatxa white around 10% to three barrels of red.  The Other red which will be a slightly deeper colour is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon at 10% to four barrels which gives it its distinct flavour.

The White is particularly good so I am looking forward to the red later this month.  Judith also informed me that they only use the oak barrels for around two years then these are off to make brandy, or perhaps somewhere to sit, sip and contemplate the art of wine making.

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Cheers!

© Michael Douglas Bosc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Terraces

These are some of the vineyards that nestle in the valley behind Darmos next to Celler Aibar 1895.  As it’s name suggests this family run winery has been producing wines since 1895, when like a phoenix, it raised itself out of the ashes of the wine industry following the devastating phylloxera epidemic which destroyed the vineyards.  Gradually the grandparents of Jaume Pinyol began to restore the vines and passed down their knowledge using the technology of the day to produce some very good wines.

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You can see from this photograph that it was a cold wintery day with a watery sun shining.  But the warm welcome we received from Jaume was worth the visit.  Jaume was very pleased to tell me something of his family history and how his wines are made.

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His grandparents worked very hard to rebuild the winery after the phylloxera epidemic, and were keen to use the modern equipment that came along. Unlike many of the Cellers we have visited there are no concrete vats here any more. They were replaced with stainless steel ones last century and Jaume has installed small modern vats which have airlocks in their lids, plus some larger ones with jackets that keep the temperature constant. Those of you who are home wine makers will recognise the method with the airlock.

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From here the wine is placed in French Oak barrels and left to mature, where it stays for between 3 to 9 months or 3 years depending on the wine in question. The barrels on the bottom row have the 3 year wines. Today the Celler produces around 40,000 bottles of seven different wines, mostly young fruity reds plus some full bodied reds and their white wine is excellent.

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So about these wines, I tasted 3 of the 7 so will start with:-

PARELL BLANC                                                                                                               

White being my wifes favourite wine I will let her describe it. This is a clean young white wine with a crystal clear moderately pale colour. Its aroma is very floral I could sence roses, fruits and just a hint of violets.  In the mouth it is very soft and fresh, but there is a good body to it which lets the taste linger long after you have tried it. This is a wine well worth drinking if only for the sheer pleasure, and like the others it is designed to be drunk young.  The Grapes used in this blending are Muscatel Alexandria and Macabeu in a  60%, 40% blend, and spends 3 months in the barrel.

PARELL ROURE:

This is a red wine also designed to be drunk young its has a fruityness but also a slight complexity.  There is an intense red colour which is both clear and vibrant almost bordering on the purple.  In it’s aroma you can detect the barrels where it has matured this makes for a very rounded wine.  The grapes used are  Garnatxa Negra, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and  Merlot in a 40%, 20%, 20%, 20% blend, and spends 9 months in the barrel.

XYZ TRIDIMENTIONAL:

Now this wine is for savouring. It is full boddied with a moderately intense cherry red hue which is both brilliant and deep.  It reminded me of wild fruit whilst lurking in the background was a hint of cinnamon, its warm, cosy and one of the nicest reds I have tried.  It’s taste is soft, warm and a little complex, with a lasting after taste that makes it very moorish.  The grapes used are  Garnatxa Negra, Syrah and Merlot in a  60%, 20%, 20% blend. This wine can spend between 3 months to 3 years in the barrel.

I have covered the three wines that most impressed me but there are a lot more to this range that are worth drinking. however, this is not the only thing this Celler produces. There is some excellent Olive Oil produced here and the original building, which was in decline, has been lovingly rebuilt with the equipment on display plus a diagramme of the working machinery. However that is for the next story of this Celler.

I would like to thank Jaume for his time and allowing us to look around his Celler.  He is very proud of what he produces and rightly so, exporting his wines to the Nederlands, Estonia, Switzerland, Sweden and Girona. I am surprised that America has not taken these wines, they don’t know what they are missing.  I do hope you will try them you can contact Jaume on:-  celleraibar@agricoles.eu .

(c)  Michael Douglas Bosc

 

 

 

 

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This week sees the annual Wine Fira in Gandesa, so we are off to visit and possibly try some wines.  I say possibly as it is not yet decided who will drink and who will drive, but I expect it will be as normal.  Decision made the one who picked driving will do the tasting and the one who picked tasting won’t drink so will drive. That, as they say, is the way we roll…

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When I last visited the Celler at Gandesa they had just renovated it, setting the three large presses in pride of place. The traditional concrete vats were lovingly restored, cleaned and the outsides painted white. All this was done by traditional methods using craftsmen and the result is stunning. This being one of the Gaudie inspired ‘Cathedrals of Wine ‘ the vaulted ceiling has been lovingly cleaned, restored and where necessary repointed.  We wandered over on Friday but because it was a national holiday the fira was not open till 6pm, so we decided to spend Saturday evening there. As we were leaving we saw a diagram hanging on the wall which led us to believe the fira was in the Celler itself. As usual we should have put our glasses on….

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So today being Saturday we are off to the Fira.  The day dawned sunny but cool so as we decided to go in the late afternoon, we wrapped up a little.  We headed west arriving in Gandesa just as the Mossos (police) were waiting for the early revelers to leave. Parking was a little bit difficult but we managed to find a spot in the road behind the Co-operativa and walked into the main street.  On the other side opposite the Co-operativa was the pavilion tent and inside set out along each side were the exhibiting Cellers.

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It was a surprise to find that compared with say Falset or Mora la’Nova there were not many stands in the tent.  However, we wandered through and found three cellers that need a second look.  Vins del Tros, V Altavins and Aiguardent de Prat Comte, the last of which makes some excellent liqueurs. Do you see what is next to this stand? an original still…. oh I just love it.  Batea was exhibiting some of their excellent wines which meant their stand was very busy. But this gave us an opportunity to take a look at these three Cellers, we will take Vins Del Tros first. My wife is looking forward to this visit as they make an excellent Grenache Blanc Wine, with its light-golden or straw-coloured juice Grenache Blanc is increasingly produced as a blend wine, its use as a softener when blending is quite common. It will be an interesting visit. Next we will take a peek at V Altavins:  This Celler is in Batea and produces a range called Pretty Wines now they sound interesting.  The last Celler is not your usual winery it produces some rather lovely liqueurs. Aiguardent de Prat Comte is something of a mystery so it will be an adventure I do so love wine mysteries….

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With these in mind we wandered out into the street to find cheese sellers and the doughnut sellers, then on into town. At the corner of the street is a shop selling bags and things, today they were also displaying the local wines. Then just round the corner looking at a Halloween window where these two young charmers in traditional costume keeping a proud mum and dad busy.

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Then into the square where we found they were roasting chestnuts and sweet potatoes whilst a giant mother, baby and two lads on their bikes were entertaining everyone.

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Then we wandered off to have a beer at a local bar. Now the look on my face says who’s that? – I don’t know any pretty young girls. We have not seen this pretty young lady for nearly a year and she has grown up in that time. It took a few moments and the question to place her, the daughter of one of my petanca partners.

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We finished our beer and wandered back through the tent and made our way home. Not before stopping to buy some wine I might add. As always there is more to these wine fairs than just wine, three Cellers to visit and new wines to talk about, I do love this time of year.

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

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Well it has finally happened, wagon was hitched and with a shout of yee haaa I headed west into Terra Alta country in search of fine wines.  My first stop was Gandessa which is to the Terra Alta region what Falset is to the Montsant and Priorat regions.  When I visited Gandessa earlier in the year I found they had given the outside of the Celler a face lift but it was the inside that has received a spectacular transformation.  This old celler has been lovingly restored, cleaned and turned into not just a working wine producer but also a museum.  So here is its story:

The Celler was built by Cesar Martinell, disciple of the architects Antoni Gaudi and Puig i Cadafalc. When in February 1919 Josep Maria Serras, the founder and first president of the cooperative, accompanied by board member Jaume Fontanet, invited Cesar to oversee the construction of the Gandesa Cooperative cellar, which in those days was called “Cooperación Agrícola de Gandesa”. The modern cellar which was  to house the winemaking facilities was completed in January 1920, and the incorporated Oil press being installed and finished the following November. This was a simple but important project which included ceramic artwork by Nogués, which were tragically destroyed in the civil war.  This Cathedrel style of construction was an experiment for the architect César Martinell, and he was very satisfied with the result. It is characterised by a great simplicity, but its classic beauty is never out of style.   It was this idea which Martinell had given to the members who had contacted him a year earlier.

The first thing that strikes you on entering is the vastness of the building.  The walls, ceilings and equipment have been given a make over and the impression is that of a light, clean and airy work place, the pristine concrete vats look at home next to the stainless steel vats.  The original presses are given pride of place they show how things used to be done before the process evolved.  These three are very impressive, the amount of work and energy needed to turn the handle once the grapes had been inserted would, I think, be quite something.

All the wood has been cleaned and where necessary repaired, the brickwork has had the same treatment and you can see the skill that went into the arches it all looks as though it was done yesterday, which is an indication of the detail that was applied to this restoration.

 

The bottling plant and most of the stainless steel vats are across the road, on the day I visited the Celler they were bottling samples of wine.  Just round the corner from that you find yourself in a large area with barrels, this is where the sweet wines are matured they use American oak as this gives an added flavour to these wines, it is here that the fermentation and maceration in the stainless steel vats takes place.

You have heard me tell of the wine being sold in plastic 2 ltr containers. This is quite normal here and in France, so I thought I would show the bottling section for these wines.  One of the things I found most intriguing when I sailed to Normandy, was the ‘pump’ way of buying wines.  Here you bring your own container to the Celler and they fill it with your chosen wine, you pay by the ltr, the same thing operates here which I might say, I think is an excellent to buy local wines.

 

The area Gandesa covers is made up of vallies with fields of alternating vines, olives and cherry trees. The mountain sides are terraced and turn a lovely shade of green in early spring providing a lush and vibrant vista to passers-by and locals alike,  however it is, as I have discovered, a 7 day week for the growers.  This all goes to produce some of the finest wines around and we have often lunched on the coast and found that the wines served are Terra Alta, the one thing Catalans have in common with French growers is they will not drink anything that is not of good quality. So now to the wines.

Terra Alta wines can be found in restaurants both in New York and London. I am quite sure that if you go to an independent wine seller, you will also find them there and hunting them down will be well worth the effort.

So where to start, ah, before I do let me explain that Terra Alta wines cover not only Catalunia but Aragon as well, so I have included my personal favourites from both regions.  As I have said before I am neither a wine snob nor expert, just someone who enjoys wine and likes writing about it, so I will start with a wine that I think is perfect for drinking with friends and would not disgrace a decent wine club.  It is however not a Catalunia wine but a Aragon wine.

The Winery is  Enate,Vinedes y Crianzas del alto Aragon, from the D.O. Somontano.

The grapes used are Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which give this wine its ‘companion’ label although when you try it you might just want to keep it for your ‘me’ moments.  It is a cheerful wine easy to drink and very enjoyable, with a deep intense cherry colour and is fermented in steel vats.

Its nose is of fruits entwined with a creamy aroma, which leaves a linger soft taste.

The price of this little gem is 4.75Euros.

The Winery is Celler Pinol   from D.O. Terra Alta     The grapes used are Garnacha Tinta, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Syrah giving this wine its elegance.

This is a family run winery which uses organic farming and follows traditional winemaking techniques and also Hungarian oak barrels giving this wine a very intensity. The colour is a deep, dark but bright cherry with deeper reflections and good tears.

Its nose is aromatic but with a hint of sweet jam and berries. Again there is the creamy note which helps this wine achieve a subtle balance.

As for the Flavour  it is well-balanced and a wine that would go well with most meat dishes definitely  in my mind one for the table.  This is a wine that deserves more exploring.
The price of this engaging wine is 7.60 Euros.
Terra Alta is known for its white wines and here I defer to my wifes palalet.  She picked just one which, I am informed, is perfect for those sunny day lunches…
The Winery is  Celler Barbara Fores  in D.O. Terra Alta   the grape used  is Garnacha Blanc, this is a perfect grape for making sipping whites as it has its own sweetness and speaking from a red wine position perfectly able to stand on its own merits.
This wine has the colour of straw with golden hints it is delecate, clear and bright with nice tears.
Its nose is a mix of fruit subtly mingling with honey flowers and a hint of tropical aromas.
This is a wine that will suit most palates, being well balanced but not too acidic.  There is however a slight after taste of bitterness but the sense of toasted nuts soon looses it, leaving a mmmm let’s try some more appeal.  This one my wife gave a 9, saying it was definately a sipping wine and chilled it was perfect and would go well with a nice crisp salad.
The price is 12.75 Euros

I hope these wines encourage you to try them. There is such a range of Terra Alta wines all with different tastes that pinning one down is very hard, which explains the Aragon wine.   You can order your wine from the Cooperatieva just Google Terra Alta Wines and Terra Alta’s your oyster.

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

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At this time of the year people are either getting over Christmas or planning their holidays.  Here in the wine region it is almost the same.  The grapes have been picked, wines processed and festivals planned to celebrate the harvests.  In the fields the rows of vines are being pruned and checked for problems, the ground fed and tidied.  So most of the Cellers are closed for a breather whilst preparing for the coming summer and harvest.

Living in Catalunia’s wine region is a bit like being on holiday, lots to do but only a short period to do it in.  However, as those of you who follow my writing will know I have been looking into not only the wines but the history of Cellers and villages in the regions.  I live on the edge of the Priorat region, and have visited some of the Cellers there, but behind my Finca to the west lies the Terra Alta Region, the high country.  This is the area which first started me on my journey into the wines of Catalunia, so, with visitors gone and the pruning of the olive trees under control, I turned my face westward, hitched up my wagon and headed out…

Well, perhaps not this far

I decided to visit Gandesa which is the heart of the region, and has one of the Wine Cathedrals, a beautiful Celler built by one of Gaudie’s followers, and an architectural monument to fine wines.  As you are driving West out of Mora D’Ebro you notice the road begins to climb, gently at first in a long gradual climb, then it becomes a more defined rise as you wend your way through the mountains towards Gandesa.

The first place you come to is Corbera D’Ebro, where a fierce battle was fought in the Civil War resulting in the village being raised, people left without food or proper shelter and bodies left lying in the streets.  The people, some of whom had fled to the countryside for safety, gradually returned and began to build their lives.  A new village was built at the foot of the old one and as this is a wine growing region a new Celler was raised out of the devastation.  I wrote about this last year http://bit.ly/qvGwGd  and mentioned that the old village is now a monument to all those who died, which can be visited and is a peaceful place where you can sit and contenplate both history and the scenery.

A further 5km on you approach Gandesa.  As you enter the town on the left hand side you will see a large hotel with a very good restaurant, the car park always has vehicles in it which here means the food is good.  Driving further into the town, the first thing you see is the Cellers wine shop then immediately behind this is the actual Celler.

I was delighted to see that the old Celler has been given a facelift with the outside fresh and gleaming in the sunlight.  There is a very strong leaning towards heritage  in the region and people are being encouraged to take care of and where possible restore their buildings.

This is the building I shall be visiting to find out the history of the wines and Celler in March, which is something I am looking forward to.  There are some fine wines and Cava sold here, yes I am still on the Cava trail but there is a whole year for that.

On the opposite side of the road is the  Civil War Meseum. You can park in the main road on the right hand side for free and usually outside the museum.  Now I have not been this far for nearly a year maybe more, so I was very pleased to find that the museum was now open again, as it had been shut for renovation. This was not the only thing to delight me, the old Wine Cathedrel has been restored.  It now has a nice new facade but work inside not yet completed.  So as is my want history and wine combined I first visited  the museum and found a light and spacious interior displaying artifacts of the Civil War from both sides, here there is a distinct bringing together of history, no taking sides too many lives were lost, just memories of a peoples war.

I have therefore made the Meuseum my first article which I hope you will enjoy reading the article and visiting both the Meuseum and Celler.

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Draped over the sloping hills in the DO Monsant wine region is the village of El Masroig. I say draped, as the village appears to have been gently and lovingly laid down, relaxed, quiet and very much at ease with nature.  There is no impression of the real El Masroig a lively Catalan village with lots to offer visitors.  Here there are culinary holidays, for those who want to learn how to cook Catalan style.  Leisure activity facilities, walking,  as well as the tours of the olive oil factories and wine Cellers.

This wine Celler is a village co-operative with around 200 members. It has been alive since 1917 and has evolved as time marched on. Today it has become something of a cultural centre as well as producing and promoting its wines, this is something that has gone hand in hand. This came about when they decided to modernise some of the vats by changing to stainless steel,  but, instead of destroying the concrete vats set underground, being part of their wine heritage, they kept them.

The subterranean concrete vats were much better at keeping the wine at an even temperature, it did not matter if the weather was hot the wine stayed cool. Unlike stainless steel vats, where to maintain the correct temperature water has to be pumped round the vats in tubes, all controlled by computer.  They still use the concrete vats only these are square instead of round and huge as you can see here.

In the subterranean vats arches were cut into the sides of each one opening them up to make a corridor through to the tasting room. They were cleaned, although on a few walls you can still see staining by the red wine, spooky.  Whilst on others artists have formed shadows of people it’s as though they were souls of the vintner’s and farmers.


On the walls of one vat there is writing, at first it strikes you odd to see it, wondering who would have put it there,  but the more I looked, I found myself wondering how the writing survived the wine. This writing is the thoughts of the village about their home and the wines they produce.

Also on display in the vats were some paintings, this is the start of the cultural exhibition.  As you wander along the corridor look up, there you see the lids of the vats still in place, and the filler tubes where the wine was pumped in to mature are also visible.

On reaching the tasting rooms you find modern paintings by one of the artists displayed on the walls. Soft lighting, wooden benches and tables lend an ambiance for the pleasure of tasting of the wines. If you had not walked through the winery or the vats you would think yourself in a very smart club such is the impression here.  So now you can either sit at the tables or wander round looking at the art display relaxing in the feel of an enjoyable evening. As you wander back through the vats, you see them from the other direction, the wine stains and wall art are more noticeable from this direction, maybe it’s because you have enjoyed the tasting rooms or perhaps that your senses have been woken and you see the soul of the wine. I do not know,  all I felt was a proud cultural sense of being, and rightly so.

At the end of the vats we returned back up the stairs into the shop.  Here you can buy wines, olive oil, Cava, and other delicious items. But the  most unusual thing here are the ‘wine pumps’.  These are where the villagers (and others) bring their plastic containers and fill them full of their favourite wines. This is nothing new, the French have been doing it for years, and so have the Spanish, a very civilised idea if I may say so.  Just think a moment before poo pooing this, the Celler produces some very good wines which the village and others drink, so why not fill containers with it straight from the Celler? makes perfect sense to me.  And whilst they are getting their wine they can admire the beautiful ceramic tiles depicting the grape harvest.


On Saturday we caught up with the Celler el Masroig at the fair.  They were deep in conversation with people about  the wine.  A lot of people were wandering away from them with glasses containing their favourite wine, and smiles on their faces. Such excellent wine, such a relaxed atmosphere.

 

The vineyards are spread out over the surrounding hills.  With the vines dressed in their spring greenery, the ground between the rows freshly cleaned, neat and tidy. Here the vines spread out their young green leaves to greet the sun, hungrily soaking up the nutrients necessary to produce the grapes.

These wines are as diverse as any and go from a young fruity full-bodied red, to oak aged deeply balanced reds, to a light fruity Rose, full of wonderful flavours. The golden colour of the white reminds you of the other product of the area honey, served chilled it is a very pleasant evening drink.  There are so many others that to mention them here would spoil the next visit.  This is a Celler with many parts and a history to match, add to this Inka a fountain of knowledge and a very nice young lady.  In the immortal words of Arni  ‘I’ll be back’……

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