The Priorat is one of the hidden gems of the Spanish wine world and luckily it is much easier to visit now that the access roads have improved and only takes an hour and a half to reach from Barcelona.
Why go there? Well the terrain is mountainous, the climate very dry and extreme and the roads narrow and winding but despite all of this the drama of the steep slopes planted with almond trees or vines, villages built on rocky outcrops and above all some spectacular wines are what should bring you here.
This is where the traditional varieties of garnacha (white and red) and cariñena are blended with newer arrivals cabernet, syrah and merlot to make some of the most powerful yet complex wines which reflect the wild herbs and red fruit aromas which send wine lovers all over the world into ecstasy.
It is fair to say that these wines have a bigger following outside of Spain due to what is referred to locally as "Riojitis" but cost has also been a factor since many of these wines have been overpriced. Reality seems to have set in and there are plenty of very interesting offerings in the 10-25? range as the number of Bodegas (wineries) has exploded from a dozen to nearly a hundred in only ten years.
A day trip visiting two contrasting bodegas with a full lunch in between is a great way to discover this wild area and I know you will fall in love with it just like me!
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
This years harvest has been delayed several weeks here in Vilamaniscle in the foothills of the Albera natural park because of rain or cloud which has meant the grapes could not ripen completely. The garnatxa grapes were harvested last week and now is the turn of the syrah with the cabernet
coming last. The quantities collected have generally been less than
last year but the quality is still excellent and it should be a great
vintage, at least in the Alt Emporda.
Having said that a few weeks ago most of the soft fruit (apples and
pears) and a few vines were completely wiped out by a freak hail storm
slightly further south around Mollet and Sant Climent so those that survived are very happy to be producing anything at all this year!
A very pleasant way to pass a few hours with friends is to find a perfect location such as San Bartomeu, a country house near Banyoles, and have Linda give a tasting of Spanish wines.
We started as the sun was going down but the weather was balmy and sitting outside around a big table with a glass in our hands and Linda explaining about the various regions, styles and grape varieties was a wonderful experience.
We tasted 6 wines in all starting with an Albariño white and moving on to 5 reds all from different regions. These included classic areas like Rioja and Ribera, up and coming Priorat and unknowns such as Jumilla and Empordà. Complemented with some local cheeses , bread and olive oil and there was little need for the BBQ programmed afterwards.
To find where “ambrosia” the food/drink of the gods comes from a visit to the Empordà is needed. Not only are some of the produce wines which get the highest ratings (Parker 93/94 points etc) but the location of some of the wineries are sublime. Tucked in a valley within the Cap de Creus natural park and only 3 kms from the Meditteranean sea with it’s moderating influence and near the charming village of Selva de Mar make this a highly desirable place to get to know.
Access is not easy and this is not a place to turn up to uninvited as it is family run by Didier and Nuria and their sons who are always busy but not very welcoming.
A tour of the vineyard and as we climbed up the sides of the hill we saw all the work that has gone into clearing, leveling and planting the terraces with varieties like syrah, monastrell and garnatxa gris to complement the garnatxa and cariñena and muscat they already have. The other important point to note is that this is an organic vineyard, and also they apply the biodynamic principles which look at the cycles of the moon to interact with the soil or when to work on the vines or add natural fertilizer. This means that the environment is not polluted by any type of chemical and as such the whole variety and diversity of organic, insect and wildlife is preserved and encouraged creating a truly healthy environment. During this time of the year with all the wild flowers, fennel, wild asparagus and flowering yellow broome walking here is a real pleasure. The soil on the slopes is poor and made up mainly of brown slate which means that the young plants need to work hard and put down deep roots to look for any moisture they can. Eventually the roots could go down 5-6 metres and that is when you will really get the mineral flavours so much appreciated by wine lovers. The only animal that is not welcome, at least not in the vineyard, is the wild boar which roam these mountains and that can strip entire rows in hours when the grapes are ripe and ready for harvesting.
The next part of the visit is a little more technical: where the grapes come in to the Bodega, how they are destemmed and crushed into grape juice which is cooled to 8ºC from the 24ºC or so when they arrive to stop any fermentation, the filtering and then storing in the stainless steel tanks where they will undergo the first controlled fermentation to convert all the sugar to
alcohol. All this is thirsty work and when we are led down into the storage cellar where there are over 200 oak barrels with their precious content slowly maturing we are given glasses and the tasting begins with the white wine. This is a blend of Garnatxa gris (white grenache) and Muscat with its flowery aromas. From here we move on to the first red, a mix of mainly red Garnatxa and a small amount of both Syrah and Cariñena and up to 12 months in oak.This is a fruity wine with lots of body and just screams out for foods like the local cheeses and sausage with “pa amb tomaquet”soaked in olive oil-a meal in itself. Then comes the 01 which is more elegant and complex with notes of the wild herbs we saw and smelled on our walk around the vines earlier. From here we were told to bring our glasses since we were going to taste direct from the tanks the 06 . They were truly delicious and even though the red will now spend about 18 months in french oak to add body and complexity this wine will be great when it finally is released. The tasting finished off (and us) with a visit to the oldest part of the house and the cellars carved out of the rock below the main house (the old ruins) where the 500 litre casks of sweet garnatxa and moscatel reside. Here they operate a solera system which means that the wines we are tasting are nearly 20 yrs old and are light, tangy and wonderful.
As you might imagine when we emerged into the light we were all feeling pretty good but in need of adding some food to the alcohol. We headed down the road 3 kms to Port de la Selva and had lunch sitting outside with another bottle of the white wine we had first tried a few hours before while evaluating the pros and cons of setting up a bodega in the Empordà!
A day trip to visit some of the most interesting Bodegas/ wineries of the Empordà.
From pickup at your hotel/ accommodation we take you through some of the best scenery in Girona Province on our way to a small family run Bodega in a privileged position just inland from the coast where we walk around the vineyards before having a tour and tasting with the owners.
Lunch is at the charming fishing village of Port de la Selva before heading to a larger Bodega for a tour and tasting where there is a well stocked shop for anyone wanting to take back some memories of the trip.