Grape gathering at Mas Sinén

Last Saturday, in the highest of spirits, I drove to Poboleda in DO Priorat, to the friendly Mas Sinén winery, to feel what cutting grape feels like.

The winery ready to receive the grapes.

Salvador was just leaving the winery to climb the hill with his four-wheel-drive and join the people already working up in the vineyard. When we arrived, they stopped and sat down to breakfast. My timing was perfect!

I was offered a piece of delicious coca de recapte, a precursor, some say, of Neapolitan pizza (in the Middle Ages, Naples and Catalunya were ruled by the same family for some time), and a drink of … not wine, but rather water from the fountain close to the winery.

Mas Sinén winery from the vineyard.

Refreshed, we turned to the vines, not before a patient Salvador explained to me the principles of proper grape cutting and selection. It may look easy, but to avoid harvesting gatolls (late-maturing clusters that are still unripe) requires attention. By the way, this is one of the advantages of manual harvesting; machines do not discriminate, but take everything, ripe or otherwise..

At the beginning, all was very well; it was fun, it was relatively early, and friendly clouds obscured the sun.

Carinyena clusters freshly cut.

However, after two hours of bending continuously to reach the grapes, my back started to remind me of several things: my overweight, my sedentary habits, and having left behind my 50th birthday. To compound things, the clouds cleared and the sun started to shine down on our backs.

Tough work ahead (at least for me!)

One hour later, to my shame, I had to sit down in the shade, utterly exhausted, while my fitter, leaner and younger colleagues clicked on merrily. Fortunately, lunch time was near, and I could make a relatively honourable retreat to the winery.

The Montsant ridge protects from Northern winds.

There Salvador was entertaining some visitors, who looked curiously at my rather battered appearance and agreed with me about the high quality of the wine they were sipping: the new Petit Mas Sinén. After they left, Conxita and Salvador prepared lunch: fresh, real tomatoes (nothing to do with the somewhat similar fruits found in the cities’ markets) and lettuce, small Arbequina olives, coca de recapte, Catalan sausage and fried white beans, sweet coca with dark chocolate. Excellent! Some friends of the winery came for coffee, and we sat for some time discussing the harvest and future projects of this dynamic pair.

Skins float to the surface to form the cap.

After coffee it was time for work (light this time – or perhaps the lunch had given me extra strength): a small tank of Merlot was fermenting, and the cap, formed by the skins and pips that float to the surface, had to be broken and mixed with the must below. In the process, the gas foams through the must showing off the beautiful pink colour that contrasts with the dark cap.

After breaking the cap, the gas foams up showing the beautiful colour.
This process is called pigeage, and is done by mechanical means in bigger tanks, but has to be performed manually five to six times per day in the smaller containers.

Manual pigeage.

Bloodstains? Wrong! Merlot juice!

Suddenly it was seven in the evening. I had to drag myself to my car and leave Poboleda, thankful to Conxita and Salvador for an amazing, if exhausting, day. I must come back next year, but better trained!

Happy, tired me.


Wine in restaurants 1.4: wines in Mas Mariassa

This year’s holidays we did not fly abroad, but rather spent ten days in a small hotel (seven rooms) in the Catalan countryside. Mas Mariassa, a former farmhouse perched in the Serra de Llaberia hills that separate Priorat from the Mediterranean, is a haven of peace and silence. The nearest village, Pratdip, with picturesque remains of walls and castle, was haunted by vampire dogs (the dips) in the Middle Ages, until heavenly intervention rid the village of the scourge-or so say the legends. Anyway, the dogs in Mas Mariassa showed no vampirical inclinations, but were extremely friendly.

Not a vampire!

I can recommend Mas Mariassa for the place, the nice premises, the excellent cooking, and the personalized, professional service, but this blog’s focus is on wine. The wine list is a very good introduction to the wine zones around the hotel (DOQ Priorat and DOs Tarragona, Montsant, and Terra Alta), featuring a nice blend of well known warhorses and more independent, out of the way wines. In addition, a sprinkling of interesting wines from other zones.

Francesc, the owner and chef, is very knowledgeable and gives sound advice. Good glasses and prompt decanting in many cases. Temperature perhaps a little on the warm side.

We enjoyed several remarkable bottles, including a Cava one while in the candle-lit outdoors Jacuzzi, late after dinner under the stars and with strawberries. Here some details about them.

L’Heravi criança from the Vinyes d’en Gabriel winery in DO Montsant is a blend 50/50 of old vine Garnatxa and Carinyena, organically farmed. After one year in oak, l’Heravi is deep cherry red, with red fruit still dominant over cedar and spicy notes. Fruity and well balanced in the mouth.

From the relatively undistinguished DO Tarragona, Serra de Llaberia is a winery not far from the hotel. A family project. Their Elisabeth 2003 red has mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a little Garnatxa and Syrah. Twelve months in French oak. Deep red, shows little evolution in the rim. Ripe red fruit in the nose, cocoa and balsamic herbs. Big in the mouth, with well-rounded tannins and long. A Pleasant surprise.

Clos Nelin is one of the greatest whites of Priorat. Crafted by the master hand of René Barbier of Clos Mogador, he mixes, on a base of Garnatxa blanca, small parts of Viognier, Macabeu, Pinot Noir, Marsanne, Escanyavelles, Roussanne and Pedro Ximénez. The varietals are processed separately and in different types of container (stainless steel, concrete, oak) and aged for nine months. Pale yellow, with noticeable legs, shows a very full palette in the nose: white flowers and fruits, the mineral touch of Priorat, citrics, butter, hazelnuts. All these come again in the mouth, with a velvety yet crisp sensation.

Another interesting Montsant was Terròs, from La Cova dels Vins of winemaker Sisco Perelló. Garnatxa, Carinyena and Syrah aged for fourteen months in French oak, giving a deep cherry red wine, with lots of red fruit, minerality and tobacco and leather notes. Wide and long in the mouth.

The Cava in the Jacuzzi was Agustí Torelló Mata Gran Reserva. The testing conditions were not what could be termed scientific, but this is a great wine from one of the best Cava producers. A Brut Nature with no less than 36 months of ageing, and from a blend of the three classic Cava grapes: Macabeu, Xarel•lo and Parellada. Comparatively light and flowery (for a Gran Reserva), perfect for the moment.

A perfect place to make trips to the wine zones around and then relax and, with a good dinner, enjoy a nice bottle.



Down from great-grandmother Bàrbara Forés.

Sometime in 2001, my friends from Vins Noè, knowing my partiality to good reds, told me to taste a new wine. It came from Terra Alta, a comparatively obscure DO better known until then for strong, partially oxidized whites.

House entrance

The wine, Coma d’en Pou, was outstanding, and the first of a series of bottles from this and other wines made by the Bàrbara Forés winery that I have enjoyed in this last decade.

The winery is in Gandesa, relatively far (two hours drive) from Barcelona. This may explain the fact of having waited for ten years, until spending holidays in the Tarragona parts, to visit them.

My wife and I approached the unprepossessing house in the centre of Gandesa, only the placard on the wall announced we were on the right track. However, after entering, the interior was beautiful and airy, and hid some surprises. Underground, the glazed tiled underground tanks once used for wine production now harbour oak barrels.

Barrels underground

But first to the vineyards. Carme Ferrer, great-granddaughter of Bàrbara Forés (born in 1828), explained en route that Bàrbara’s pharmacist son, Rafael Ferrer, inherited her mother’s love for winemaking. He built the house and winery, and wine production continued with ups and downs until in 1994 Carme and her husband Manuel Sanmartin upgraded the winery installing state-of-the-art technology.

In the meantime we arrived to La Cometa plot, where we could see the Garnatxa blanca vines that were planted there 60 years ago, grown as bushes in the calcareous, sandy soil.

We then moved closer to the Pàndols hills, where the Garnatxa negra and Morenillo vineyards grow in a soil with higher clay content, fenced to avoid attacks of wild goat.

Close to Pàndols hills

And we finished the tour at the magnificent Coma d’en Pou vineyard, in the lower lands at the feet of the Cavalls hills near Corbera d’Ebre (a coma is a shallow depression). Here grow the red varieties mainly (Garnatxa Negra, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot) along with some Garnatxa blanca in a calcareous soil.

Grapes are harvested by hand and placed in small boxes after a first selection. The winery has a number of smallish tanks that enable separate processing for different grape / plot combinations.

The wines are as follows.

Bàrbara Forés blanc is the young white, Garnatxa blanca with 5% Viognier. Shows the typical citric aromas, very fresh.
Garnatxa blanca

El Quintà, a 100% Garnatxa blanca white from old vines, is fermented and kept for six months in French oak. Pale yellow with white fruit aromas, along with vanilla and toast notes. Unctuous and long. One of my favourite oak fermented whites.

El Quintà's Garnatxa blanca vines

Bàrbara Forés rosat, a rosé with body, from Garnatxa negra, Syrah and Carinyena. Raspberry red, with red fruit aromas, and a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Bàrbara Forés negre, the basic red out of Syrah, Garnatxa negra and Carinyena and with fourteen months of Allier oak. Deep cherry red; nose rich with red and black fruit, well structured and long in the mouth.

Tasting room

Coma d’en Pou is the red mentioned at the beginning. Garnatxa negra, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot aged for sixteen months in Allier oak. Cherry red, with lots of red fruit and balsamic reminiscences of the flora around the vineyard. Wood and tobacco as well. Wide and full in the mouth, but still elegant and long.

Coma d'en Pou

El Templari is a red wine that, contrary to normal Catalan practice, it is actually termed as red (vi vermell) and not black (vi negre). Half of it is Garnatxa negra, but the other half is Morenillo, a variety close to extinction. The vines are quite big in all their parts, including the grapes, and perhaps due to that the colour of the wine is a bright cherry red. Cherries also predominate in the nose, along with other red fruits, and the mouth is acid, light and elegant, rounded by sixteen months in oak. The name (The Templar) is a homage to the warrior monks that protected the zone after it was fought back from the Muslims in the Middle Ages.


Bàrbara Forés Dolç Natural is a natural sweet white from overripe Garnatxa blanca. Deep gold, not very sweet and well balanced with acidity, and white fruit aromas. Production limited to ca. 500 half-litre bottles.

Garnataxa blanca for sweet wine at Coma d'en Pou

All together, Carme and Manuel produce some 50’000 bottles each year. Look for them; they are good, personal, with excellent QPR and a great introduction to Terra Alta, a DO that is finding its place in the sun.



Sweet night

In the placid gardens of the Mas Figueres rural hotel, the Dolça Nit (Sweet Night) took place. Ten wineries, mostly from DO Montsant and DOQ Priorat, gave us an opportunity to taste their sweet wines together with selected pastry and sweets. The deliciously cool night and live music added to the enjoyment.

Mas Figueres rural hotel

Celler El Masroig is the cooperative winery of the El Masroig village, DO Montsant, and is leaving the mediocrity of other coops producing some personal, high quality wines. In the sweet segment, their speciality are mistelas (mistelles, obtained adding alcohol to the unfermented must and later aging): Mistela Negra and Mistela Molt Vella (Very Old). Both come from Carinyena grapes, but while the former is just aged for one month, the latter is kept in a Solera system forty years old. Mistela Negra is a deep cherry colour, with a nose with red fruit and aromatic herb and refreshing acidity in mouth. The Molt Vella shows a more evolutioned orange tinge, with ripest fruits, chocolate, nuts, coffee, tobacco…in the nose. Sweet but balanced with acidity, very long. For me, one of the stars of the show.

Orto Vins, DO Montsant, is a new winery with vineyards in El Masroig and owned by four well-known winemakers, one of them Joan Asens, Alvaro Palacios’ oenologist. Dolç d’Orto Blanc is made mainly from Garnatxa blanca, left to dry for some time and then pressed and fermented. Citrus aromas, good integration, long. Dolç d’Orto Negre is a 100 % Garnatxa negra from individually selected berries. Dark cherry red, with lots of fruit (black, figs, all ripe). Fresh and long.

The Falset-Marçá cooperative winery from DO Montsant is another outstanding coop. Their wines Etim Verema Tardana Blanc and Negre come, respectively, from Garnatxa blanca and negra grapes of late harvest. Both wines are aged in oak for four and ten months. The white is fresh, with honey, citric and floral aromas. The red goes more for red and black fruit, cocoa, raisins. Dense and balanced in the mouth. Some of the best QPR in the night.

As a guest from a DO that also boasts excellent sweet wines, Mas Estela from Empordà displayed their Estela Solera and Moscatell. The Estela Solera is 100% Garnatxa negra, a late harvest coupled with a Solera system. Dark amber, with black fruit and the oxidative aromas typical of soleras, lighter than others in sweetness in the mouth. Estela Moscatell is 100 % Muscat, and shows the characteristic aroma profile of the grape. Balanced and long.

Costers del Siurana, one of the DOQ Priorat pioneers, contributed with their Dolç del Obac: 80 % Garnatxa negra, 10 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 % Syrah. Dark, complex, dense and powerful, but perhaps somewhat overpriced.

Mas d’en Gil (DOQ Priorat) offered their Nus, which means knot, named so because of its complex winemaking. Garnatxa negra, Syrah and a dash of Viognier, using three different winemaking methods, give as a result a wine with cherry colour and cherry aromas, plus orange, wood and minerality.

The Capçanes coop (more details in this older post) poured their Pansal del Calàs, a 70 % Garnatxa negra and 30 % Carinyena fortified at mid fermentation. Comparatively light, not too sweet, designed to pair even some meat dishes.

Pleret Blanc Dolç from DOQ Priorat Buil & Giné winery is a naturally sweet Garnatxa blanca, Macabeu and Pedro Ximénez white, aged in oak and with white and red fruit notes.

There were two wineries that offered non-commercial wines (although most of the other wines have productions well below 3’000 bottles). Cellers Capafons-Ossó had a very special Mas dels Masos, their flagship wine, from a vintage in which the adverse climate forced them not to produce the normal dry wine. Instead, they painstakingly selected the over mature berries that had survived and made a sweet red that they pour on very special occasions.

Mas Martinet presented a ranci dolç made with a very old solera system that they could save some years ago in one of the historic wineries of Priorat. It is not clear whether Sara Pérez, its oenological mother, will finally market it, but I do hope she does!

I really enjoyed this exhibition. Many wines, almost all of them coming from the same zone and from similar grapes, but very different outcomes, most of them with high quality. It is about time that quality sweet wines get a better recognition and are not considered as the lesser offshoot of the wineries.



Wine in the cloister 2011

Last year I wrote about the highly pleasing public tasting organized by Vins Noe in my town’s Abbey cloister. Here we go again!

The Tast de Vins amb Ritme had this year eight wineries on display. One of them was a very promising Rioja: Tobelos. The other seven were Catalan: as usual, we will focus on them.

Three of them have been already reviewed in this blog. It was an opportunity to sample new vintages and, in one case, taste a novelty.

Can Feixes Huguet (DO Penedès and Cava), Gramona (Penedès and Cava) and Ferrer Bobet (DOQ Priorat) offered me the chance to revisit their wines and see that they continue to perform notably well, each one in their style.

In the case of Gramona, there was a surprise in the form of Frisant de Gel.

This 100% Gewurztraminer is produced by the selective cryoextraction process, exactly at the beginning as the Gewurztraminer Vi de Glass. As late autumn temperatures do not freeze grapes in the vineyard, Gramona has a cold chamber at minus 24 to freeze the already overmature grapes. Pressing renders a highly concentrated must that is slowly fermented. Additional fermentation in the final bottle produces a degree of gas that gives the Frisant its name. The floral aromas that are typical of the Vi de Glass evolve to white fruit, especially pear. A very unusual wine!

Acústic is a Montsant winery that can boast one of the outstanding reds of the DO. Auditori is a 100 % very old vine Garnatxa of very limited production that I was fortunate enough to taste some months ago.

Their white is called Acústic blanc and is a blend of Garnatxa blanca, Garnatxa roja, Macabeu and Xarel.lo, partly fermented in French oak. Pale yellow, with white and tropical fruit, fresh and silky.

Acústic negre is the simpler red, from Garnatxa and Carinyena vines some forty years old, and with ten months in French oak. Braó is the flagship of the winery, with a blend similar to Acústic negre but coming from older vines and with thirteen months of aging.

There were two wineries from DO Pla de Bages. One was Abadal, the most refined part of a large company with its main interests in the lower price segment, and the other was a newcomer, Collbaix (Celler el Molí).

Abadal was the main force behind the creation of the Pla de Bages DO (I must write a post about it soon) and leads the way with a drive to produce wines with personality, especially around the Picapoll white varietal. Indeed, there was on offer the Abadal Picapoll, a white made 100% with these grapes. Also Abadal 5 Merlot, a complex blend of Merlot coming from five different plots and aged for twelve months in American, Hungarian and French oak.

Abadal 3.9 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah coming from a single plot, with one year of aging. A new wine for me was Abadal 25 Aniversari, a special blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah that celebrates the 25 years of the launch of the winery.

Collbaix is a new winery with organic farming and promising wines. Collbaix blanc is made from Picapoll and Macabeu: crisp and fruity. Collbaix rosat comes fully from Merlot grapes and boasts an attractive ruby shade and red fruits in nose and mouth.

The third wine on display was La Llobeta, a red with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and twelve months of aging in American, Romanian and French oak. Deep cherry red, with a complex nose showing ripe fruit, lactic and spicy notes.

The last winery was still newer: Herencia Altés, from DO Terra Alta. For the time being, their only assets are old-vine plots; the winery is still to be built and they use the premises of a neighbour.

However, their wines repay attention: Benufet is a 100% Garnatxa blanca, complex and dense. The red Garnatxa negre is young, very fruity and with mineral notes. L’Estel is old vine Garnatxa negra and Syrah with three months oak ageing; more complex and tannic.

These two last wineries are really worthy following; I will keep you posted!



Top cavas from Gramona

130 years ago, the Batlle family started a business to export to a phylloxera-ridden France the wines they were producing since the beginning of the 1800’s. Also in that moment they built the Celler Batlle, concentrating wine production there, in the centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

In parallel, the Gramona family were well known wine sellers through several pubs.

In 1913 Bartomeu Gramona and Pilar Batlle married and started what has become one of the most celebrated Cava companies. In 1921 they started Cava production under several names, and finally in the 40’s the Gramona brand was developed.

In 2001 a new winery was built in the surroundings of Sant Sadurní, with state-of-the-art winemaking facilities. Nowadays all wines are produced there, but the noblest Gramona Cava bottles still go to the underground corridors of the former Celler to age until they are ripe for the connoisseur.

Gramona have around 150 ha of vineyards, either directly owned or closely controlled, with fifteen different varietals, to produce not only Cava but also a vast range of still wines, from a premium Sauvignon Blanc to remarkable sweets including Eiswein-type Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The Cava offering is also broad, but I will concentrate on the top bottles.

In the old Celler Batlle five Cavas are aged. You may know that the typical Cava grapes are Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada. The latter is mainly used for the younger Cavas, as it is fresh and aromatic. But for the long-aged Cavas Gramona use mainly Xarel.lo and Macabeu, along with the classical Champagne varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

While for the bulk of Cava production the processes of riddling and degorjat are automated, for the longer aging Cavas Gramona still use manual riddling, cork stopper for the second fermentation and degorjat by hand.

Another distinctive trait of Gramona is the expedition liquor. Secret recipes involving ranci wines and brandies, elaborated in soleras in their own cellars, give a finishing touch to Gramona Cavas, which are mainly Brut, not Brut Nature as some of the other top Cava companies.

Soleras for expedition liquor

The five top Gramona Cavas:

Argent Rosé, a 100 % Pinot Noir Gran Reserva Brut Nature, with the base wine partially fermented in oak. Onion skin colour, lots of red fruit and floral aromas, with some pastry and butter notes.

Argent, Gran Reserva Brut 100 % Chardonnay. Pale straw, with golden streaks and fine bubble. White fruit in the nose, along with citric and balsamic aromas. Crisp, creamy and well structured.

Gramona Brut Imperial Gran Reserva: 50 % Xarel.lo, 40 % Macabeu and 10 % Chardonnay, with at least 3 years of aging. Pale yellow, with white fruit and citrics.

III Lustros Brut Nature Gran Reserva: 70 % Xarel.lo and 30% Macabeu. At least five years of aging, with gas perfectly integrated, tiny and persistent bubble. Lactics and bakery notes, with white fruit and aniseed.

And last, the jewel of the house: Celler Batlle Brut Gran Reserva. The base wine is the same as III Lustros, but aged at least eight years and with the finishing touch of expedition liquor. Complex in the nose, with the full pack: ripe fruit, butter and bakery, toasted overtones. Wide and creamy in the mouth, with refreshing acidity and long finish. One of the very best Cavas around.

What to eat with these Cavas? They are not ideal for a slight refreshment (try them anyway), but are perfectly equal to the task of pairing with a full meal. In the picture below you can see my menu for my last birthday’s dinner at home: not exactly a light snack, but the pairing was great!

Birthday dinner