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Posts Tagged ‘Wine Book’

Wine is a strange thing, to start with you either love it or hate it. This is not an uncommon attitude but one brought about the taste.  There is the type of soil to be considered plus the position of the terraces and vines to give the best amount of sun.  But it is the grape that rules, the grape + love and dedication to tradition that makes the difference, a blending of nature and man.

This will be a wine book with a difference, not the Gilly Cooper or Oz Clarke style just mine.  I am no connoisseur but I do know the sort of wine I like and there is an abundance of it hereabouts.

The articles I write on the various Cellers are written with enjoyment, and a certain amount of  excitement, as I am never sure what little gem I might find inside (http://bit.ly/KuRyC8).  My interest in the history, not just of the wines, but the villages and people themselves, makes me curious adding to my enjoyment of writing.

How the wines are made, the traditions and different methods of each celler uses, makes it possible to detect the area the wine comes from. Then there is the taste a Celler’s Blender applies,  making the wines slightly different from each other thus  providing some hard decisions when buying.

As you may have already discovered, if you have read my articles,  I do not use flowery expressions.  What I am aiming for is a simple description of how things are done to arrive at these wines and bring to your notice Cellers who produce some excellent Catalan wines for your table.

Take the vines, they are as diverse as they can be.  Here some are grown in straight rows of small bushy vines which can only be picked by hand, yielding around 5kilos per vine. This may not sound much but the wine produced from these vines is superb.

Next are the vines grown in long lines spaced wide enough apart to allow harvesting machines to go down the rows. These grapes are stripped from the vines and loaded into watertight (because there is a certain amount of juice created in this method) trailers then transported to the Cellers for processing.

Finally there are the Cellers themselves, some in the villages or small towns, others out in the countryside, in the mountains or in some cases in converted churches, all very different, all combining both modern and traditional way of production.   Put these facts together and, I am reliably informed, you have the reason the wines are so good.

The idea for this book began to grow after a visit to Pinell de Braí, now it is slowly but surely growing into a gentle wander through the wine region I am lucky enough to live in. So with the harvest approaching I am looking to be rather busy as here abouts daytime is not the only time they process the wine, here its a kind of magic…  This then is wine my way!

(c) Michael Bosc

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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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This weekend was the wine fiesta at Falset. So on Saturday afternoon we drove to into Falset found a space in one of the car parks which was almost full, and made our way to the main street.  This had been closed to traffic and was where the tasting stalls were usually set out, but this time there was nothing. Apart from the tables and chairs set out in the street by restaurants and bars and some of the cellers that had opened their doors for passing trade, the area was quiet,  where were the people?

 

As we wandered on we found crowds moving up towards the castle.  We had visited Falset Castle De Vi, a short while ago and knew the courtyard was large enough and relatively flat, an ideal place for the vintners to display their wines. 

Each cubicle is approximately 2m x 2m with a counter giving each vineyard and co-operative an equal chance to exhibit their wines. One or two also displayed a small selection of their olive oil. 

The idea is that you purchase a pouch which contain a large wine glass. This enables you to wander round the displays and taste the various wines on offer.  People were wandering off with small boxes or bags with bottles of wine inside, but most were there for the sheer pleasure of tasting and drinking the wines on offer whilst noting their preferred ones for purchase later.  A good social atmosphere abounded, friends meeting, laughing chatting more like a club scene but without the music, but this did not dampen their enthusiasm.

Through all this relaxed jollity, to me, something seemed to be missing. People were going straight from the car parks to the Castle, missing the town altogether.  We walked back towards the main street, looking for somewhere to have a coffee, and it was as though we had walked into a different place or time. Although the tables and chairs were in the road hardly anyone was sat at them, even the cellers who had shops in town had no visitors. This was a shame, the fair could have involved the whole town, people would have been able to sit, drink or eat and watch others enjoying the fair whilst the bars etc., would have had considerable trade.  As it was unless like us people were looking for a place to sit and have a coffee, people were leaving as they arrived from car park to castle then castle to car park.    

The wines were of the usual standard, for the DO Monsant and DOQ Priorat very good.  Full bodied reds,  deep in colour with a richness that denoted a smooth taste. Tinto’s that were a little lighter than the dark Negres, light Rose, a clear pink wine delicate but soft on the palet. The whites some a little dry, others more subtle not exactly sweet but again soft. My wife prefers white wine to red so I bow to her opinion here.  The wine I particularly liked was made from the Grenache grape, something I will be looking into. Oh and yes we did take home some wine.

 

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On The Way To Exhibition Halls

Yesterday was Sunday, warm, sunny and inviting, so what to do on such a day?  join your friends at a Honey and Olive Oil fair, so we did just that. This is a fair that happens every year to celebrate and promote the local honey and olive oil. Here you can buy oil and oil products such as olive pate and a very nice relish. With the honey you can buy everything from honey already in jars ready to sell or jars filled from large tubs according to your taste.  There was makeup, a rather nice honey based lip balm (so the ladies informed me) creams, lotions candles as well as honey beer.  It is possible to taste your way round the main hall and believe me it is well worth it.  There are different flavours of honey and oil just as there are flavours in wine.  Also on display were two stands which are part of the El Perello structure.

The Freesia Group

The Freesia Group a charity set up to raise money in the against fight cancer.  They are based in El Perello where the lady in this picture has lived for the last 19 years.  Very important people.

El Traginer Magazine

This is the El Traginer stand, staffed by two happy, cheerful people.  El Traginer is a local free Catalan  magazine, containing information besides advertising services and items and property for sale. It also advises you, in detail, of what is on and when with a  programme of activities plus their times.   This then is the  Mel i Oli Fira 2011.

Olive Oil

A Selection of Olive Oil

El Perello  is known for its Olive Oil and there were several producers displaying their oils.  These ranged from a pale green colour to an almost golden green.  One producer Joan Pinol produces their oil using the traditional stone crushed method. The olives are crushed by cone shaped stones then pressed through straw mats.  

 MEL (Honey)  

A Honey Shop - Cosmetics, Candles & Mel

I am under the impression that Honey or Mel as we call it here, is as important if not more so than the Olive Oil, possibly because El Perello is the main village producer in Catalunia. I also think that as it is a continuing, active, occupation which, unlike olive oil, where after the crop is harvested during November/December and the pruning time in March, the trees are basically left to themselves; bees on the other hand, cannot be left as keepers will tell you. It is an all year round occupation and the Bee Keeping Society is very active here.

A Display of Bees

One of the things they do is to get the children interested. In this way they not only see the bees at work, but how they live in the hives, the workers doing their bit, how the pollen is passed to them after collection and of course, the end results. Bees need attention to ensure they are healthy, and content, (angry bees are a bad scenario). An unhealthy bee can spell doom to the hive, so constant health checks are required, keepers are on constant lookout for mites that attack the  bees thus the children are made aware of the pit falls of not looking after the hives properly. This is also when the keeper can discover a new queen and, if caught in time, take her and start a new hive.  The queen is usually marked with either Tipex or nail varnish (I have it on good authority that neither harm her) so she is easily identified when checking the health of the hive and  production of honey. Afterall no queen = no honey. As nothing in this country goes to waste everything is used, from pollen through to honey, the people are very health conscious and know what is good and what is bad. They have been eco-friendly before the rest of the world even thought of the phrase.

 

Wine

 

One of the Wine Stands

 

As with all things country there is alway wine, lots of it and very very good.  Each region has its own distinctive taste to the wines produced, so it was nice to see a stand for wine distributor, disbegrup@terra.es  here you can purchase wines from around the region including the Cava’s and Mont Ferrant Brut Rose Cava. The other stand was Celler Batea from the Terra Alta region they had a fine selection of wines on display. No I could not taste any, for the one reason only, I could not get near enough!!!  When I finally caught the vinters eye, I managed to get information so a visit is in hand.

Herbs and Deli

Honey Candles

El Perello is a very interesting village, with Roman history, cave paintings as well as local history, with a Don Quotx windmill, so these deserve a really good investigation. Therefore I will at sometime be poking my nose in for a good look round.

   

 

   

 

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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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