Lo Jaume’s wines

Jaume Balaguer (Lo Jaume, The Jaume (James) in Western Catalan parlance) is a many faceted man. He runs Bonviure, a wine and delicatessen shop in Gratallops (Priorat), and Celler Balaguer Cabré, a boutique winery in the same village; helps in Piró, the family restaurant; and sells to restaurants and wine shops wines from a number of small Catalan wineries. Apart from these trifling tasks, he writes a blog and is great in proposing wine-food pairings. What he does in his spare time, such as it may be, is something I have never dared to ask him.

It is about this last capacity that I wanted to tell you about. After the Tast amb Llops, my wife and I attended a pairing in his restaurant. By (lucky) chance, a few days later I enjoyed a similar occasion in a restaurant in Barcelona. That will come in my next post, to allow proper labelling of wines tasted.

Piró is a restaurant serving mainly typical Catalan food. As you know, I do not comment on a restaurant’s food unless I am disappointed. This was not the case.

The wines we tasted were the following:

Les Brugueres 2009 is a 100% Garnatxa blanca white from La Conreria de Scala Dei, DOQ Priorat, with a light golden yellow colour. Intense in the nose, with white fruit notes. Well structured in the mouth, with good acidity, and very long.

Humilitat 2008 is a red coupage of Garnatxa and Carinyena, produced by vino, amor y fantasia. Medium bodied, with lighter colour and spicy nose, its winemakers claim to have produced “the Burgundy of Priorat”. Quite true, although not a Grand Cru.

Trio Infernal 1/3 2007 is a Priorat red from 60% Garnatxa and 40 % Carinyena by Trio Infernal. Black fruit, complex nose, powerful but fine tannins.

Petit Gènesi 2009, Garnatxa, Carinyena and Syrah coming from the Vermunver winery in DO Montsant. With six months in different oaks, the nose points to black fruit and balsamic notes. Fresh in the mouth, with adequate structure.

Last but not least, La Guinardera 2006 is a 100% Garnatxa from Celler Balaguer Cabré, owned by Lo Jaume. This is no nepotism; La Guinardera is an elegant, medium bodied wine that comes from the property of the same name, an old vine plot that receives sunshine the whole day. Red fruit in the nose, with tobacco notes. Silky and long.

A perfect end for a day that included the visit to the Falset Wine Exhibition and the Tast amb Llops. Ten days later I was to have another pairing with Lo Jaume; and I was indeed looking forward to it.



Scratching the wolf: Tast amb Llops

In a previous post I already commented on the fact that Catalan villages with wolves in their names tend to produce excellent wine. This time we will speak about Gratallops.

Philologists tell us that Gratallops means the place where wolves sing, but the straightforward translation of the name from Catalan would be scratch wolves.

Gratallops was the original place where the five Priorat pioneers set up their wineries and still now are producing their wines, solidly installed among the best in Priorat.

In these surroundings the hotel Cal Llop (Wolf House) hosts the Tast amb Llops, Tasting with Wolves. No actual animals around, but rather nine of the twenty-odd wineries active in Gratallops (not bad for a village with 260 people), plus four from other Priorat villages, and a guest from the Rhône valley, Maison Tardieu-Laurent.


In the very pleasant plaza in front of the hotel, in a cool afternoon (in many ways), with music and some tasty tapas on offer, I was able to taste and chat, and discover or find again several treasures. These were the wines I enjoyed most:
  • Celler Alvaro Palacios, the winery of one of the five pioneers, with their Alvaro Palacios Gratallops Vi de Vila (village wine, a concept resembling the parallel in Burgundy, and now being introduced in many of Priorat villages).
  • Celler Clos Mogador, with Rene Barbier, another of the pioneers, explaining his Manyetes and Solertia. 
  • Celler Clos i Terrasses, maker of Clos Erasmus, with their second wine, Clos Laurel. 
  • Celler Vinya del Vuit, with their Vuit, in its 8th anniversary. This is relevant because Vuit means Eight, the number of people working in this project, which includes names like Sara Pérez, René Barbier Jr. and Ester Nin. 
  • Celler Trio Infernal, with their Trio Infernal 2/3.
Alas, time flies, and I could not taste all the wines on exhibition. Better luck (or planning) next year. But at least I could scratch the wolf’s fur, tasting some of the best wines from this outstanding village.


Missenyora 2009

Missenyora is one of my favourite whites of Costers del Segre and I come back to it regularly. 100 % Macabeu, fermented and aged for six months on its lees in new French oak, in the glass shows a bright, pale straw yellow. In the nose it is flowery, also with citric notes and well integrated wood. Off-dry in the mouth, silky, crisp, with long finish. Production limited to twelve thousand bottles.

It is produced by L’Olivera, a cooperative that provides jobs for the mentally challenged. They have a range of white, sparkling, red and sweet wines worth exploring, not to mention top quality olive oil.

At a price of around 11 EUR, the QPR is outstanding IMHO.

The wine’s name (My Lady) is the title of the Abbess of the nearby Cistercian Monastery of Vallbona de les Monges, really worth a visit, together with Poblet and Santes Creus, which configurate the Cister route in the zone. As may be expected, all three have remarkable wines produced in their immediate surroundings.

Vallbona de les Monges monastery


Wines at Torrelles

The village of Torrelles de Llobregat, 20 km west of Barcelona in the first hills of the Garraf massif, is not famous for its wines; rather, its cherries (and those from the surrounding villages) are prized in the Catalan markets. However, and for the second time, David González (Vinoscopio) has gathered a group of winemakers in the Torrelles Wine Fair that amply reward inspection.

Up to four groups of wineries (apart from high quality beer, cheese, cold meats and pastry producers) were available: 
  • Natural wine producers 
  • Wineries from a selected “special guest” wine zone; from Torroja in Priorat this time 
  • Wineries represented by smallish wine distributors 
  • Other wineries collaborating with Vinoscopio
All producers were small, some of them still cutting their teeth, and giving a good representation of their terroir. David has a detailed knowledge of the grass-roots wine world, especially Catalan, and a fine nose to detect potential stars.
Unlike more publicized events, this fair has a human scale and allows a short chat with the winery representatives, usually the owner or winemaker, given the size of most enterprises. For an amateur like me, it is a great opportunity to learn and make useful contacts to visit later.

Happy me at the opening tasting Miliarium blanc
I had only three hours and could not taste all wines and meet all winemakers. But I certainly liked some enough to purchase a bottle to be able to enjoy them at home:

Cava Berdié, a young Cava winery in Castellví de la Marca with a modern approach based nonetheless in traditional grape varieties and managed by three enthusiastic siblings. 

Miliarium, an engaging public-private project in Ulldecona that pools vineyards no longer farmed by their owners (usually old people with no children interested in the wine world) and employs young people. In the able hands of oenologist Juan Manuel Gonzalvo, it is a project to track closely. 

Mas de la Caçadora, a Els Guiamets, Montsant winery with a wide range of wines; I especially liked their Garnatxa Blanca sweet wine and a most tasty, enjoyable rosè. 

Rampell, from Torroja, Priorat, the project of Cristian Francès, Trio Infernal oenologist, with a very personal Chenin blanc and also a striking red. 

Celler Aixalà-Alcait from Torroja, Priorat, with highly regarded red wines. 

Celler Sabaté Franquet from Torroja, Priorat, with their first wine, promising coming from young vines.

Llicorella Vins from Torroja, Priorat, with a range of three reds. I took a bottle of the most aged and complex, the one I liked best (perhaps I am aged and complex myself!). 

Celler Ronadelles, a biodynamic winery at Cornudella del Montsant, DO Priorat. I enjoyed especially their red from old vines and a sweet from Garnatxa roja.

There were other wineries I like, but these were for me the highlights of a fair with a very consistent level. Surely an event to write down in the agenda of the seeker of uncommercial, terroir driven wines, looking for nice surprises and a sound QPR.



Carinyenes at Porrera

In my last 2010 post I explained my views on public wine tasting events and mentioned some of them I had already attended.
The Priorat and Montsant Wine Exhibition (Fira del Vi) in Falset mentioned there is a major mass attraction that is surrounded by smaller, more selective events that are worth attending. From Friday April 29th to Tuesday May 2nd the wine lovers (that can spare the time and cost) have their hands full with tastings, pairings, presentations and winery visits. I was able to attend a few of them, and in the upcoming posts I will endeavour to tell you about my experiences.

In the village of Porrera, already mentioned elsewhere in this blog, are located some of the oldest and finest Carinyena vines in the Priorat DO. In many cases, they are processed separately from other grapes, and the coupage is made just before bottling. Few Porrera wines, however, are pure Carinyena; usually the blend contains also Garnatxa and perhaps Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah.
Porrera wineries offer a unique opportunity every year at the “Carinyenes a Porrera” tasting. They present their best pure, unblended Carinyena wines before the coupage is done. Of course, in many cases the wine comes directly from the cask, without any bottle aging; however, the potential is there, and is very rewarding to taste them and have an inkling of what the wines in which they take part will be like.

One surprising aspect of this event is that is somehow illegal. Not that tasting wine is forbidden in Priorat; rather what is forbidden is the commercial use of the word Carinyena to name the grape varietal, because there is an Aragonese village, Cariñena, in the DO of the same name. Silly enough, but the wineries usually have to resort to the name Samsó, which is in fact another grape (some say the one named as Cinsault in France) or devise misspellings such as Caranyana. But if you ask the old winegrowers basking in the sun in the village square, they will tell you they have farmed Carinyena vines since childhood…

There were over twenty-five wines from eighteen different wineries; it was not the time or place to take down detailed notes of each, but I can name the ones that pleased me most:
Many wines, but all of them different, as a result of the microclimates of each plot, the age of the vines and the winemaker skill. A feast for Carinyena lovers, showing that this variety, often despised as unrefined, when in proper conditions can yield great wines.