‘Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong…. ’continuously played on my mind as we drove through sharp turns and hairpin bends in the region of Priorat, a 2 hour drive; down south from Barcelona. Priorat a wine region is like that buried treasure which was excavated and is now hogging the lime light and rightly so. I was on my first trip this summer only to leave happy high with my teeth stained with the big and bold reds. Not to forget my lunch with Alvaro Palacios at his winery in Gratallops drinking L’Ermita the most expensive wine from Spain and this one the 2014, going at a cool 800-1000 Euros a bottle.
Priorat lies in Tarragona, Southern Catalonia and it is flanked by Mont Sant mountain range in the North, the Figuera and the LLoar peaks in the west, Mollo mountains in the east and the south opens up to river Siurana. The region has a total area of around 17629 hectares of which only 1900 hectares is worked on by 576 grape growers. The terrer (terroir in French) with the highlight of Licorella, an easily breakable slate which forms the top soil is what the regions basks in. One of the only two DoCa s (highest ranked wine region) in Spain, Priorat’s wine making history actively began in the 12th century when the monks of the Carthusian order established their Priory in Scala Dei and ruled over seven villages, giving the region its name. These monks brought the knowledge of viticulture from the time in Provence France. Priorat wine continued to get popular and were exported all across Europe till Phylloxera struck in the 19th century. Vineyards were lost, the rugged terrain was then planted with nut trees, the region got depopulated and poverty beckoned! The good times are here and the region has seen a renaissance in the last 20 years. It being awarded the DoCa in 2006 was a major boost to the sheer quality of wines the terroir can produce.
95% of the wines made in the region are red with Garnacha or Grenache and Carinena or Carignan being the forerunners. Carignan gives wine body, coupled with astringency and high pigmentation and Garnacha is more suitable for fine, aromatic wines which are full bodied, have little colour and which are easily affected by oxygen. It is a popular grape variety for making “vins rancis” and “generosos” or old wines made using the solera method like in Jérez. In the last few years, other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah have been introduced and have yielded good results. I witnessed it on tasting the Le Tercera 2014 from the house of Alvarez Duran of Porrera.
Priorat is divided into 12 villages and each with a different topography climatic influences and they are recognized by the term ‘Vi de Vila’ (village wines) and the rare ‘Vi de Finca’ (Single vineyard wine). The villages being, Bellmunt, Scaladei, Gratallops, El Lloars, El Morera, Poboleda, Porrera, Torroja, Villela Alta, Villela Baixa, Falset and Molar. Even ‘Torres’ a brand that is synonymous to Spanish wines in India have their winery in El Lloar and their Perpetual 2014 impressed.
Albeit the differences in the meso-climates, one of the few elements that helps the region to ripen the big reds and retain the flavours is the long ripening season caused by the diurnal temperature variance of more than 25 degree Celsius with night temperatures dropping to 12 and the morning racing to 40. The second being the bush-trained viticulture happening on tortuous and rocky terrain based on schist soils with many vineyards going at an incline of 60 degrees and hence the need of terracing. And lastly the low yield which can be as low as 300 Gms a vine is a result of old vines and poor soils thus yielding concentrated fruit and commanding a price.
I really hope to see Priorat wines in India soon, but price could be a deterrent. A certain ray of hope is Torres banking on its brand awareness to create a category. Until then on your next visit to Barcelona, take a day trip to Priorat amidst the ravines, rivers, steep vineyards and a lot of wines. If not for anything else, Spain better retain Catalunya for the mighty Priorat!
15 REDS from Priorat to try -
La Tercera 2014 – Alvarez Duran – Porrera
Finca Dofi 2014 – Alvaro Palacios – Gratallops
Petit Mas Sinen 2013 – Cellar Burgos Porta – Poboleda
1270 a vuit 2009 – Celler Hidalgo Albert – Poboleda
Los Torrents 2012 – Celler Pasanau – La Morera de Montsant
Porrera Vi de Vila 2014 - Celler Vall Llach – Porrera
Font de la Figuera 2014 – Clos Figueras – Gratallops
Clos Galena – Clos Galena – El Molar
Ferrer Bobet 2014 – Ferrer Bobet – Falset
GV5 2010 – Gratavinum – Gratallops
Mas Mallola – Marco Abella – Porrera
Cirerets 2014 – Mas Alta – La Vilella Alta
Doix 2013 – Mas Doix – Poboleda
L’expressio Del Priorat 2016 – Vinitum – Poboleda
Les Brugueres 2014 - La Conreria – Escaladei
In a room full of corporate honchos at the members-only Chambers at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bruce Cakebread the owner of Cakebread Cellars, Napa Valley showcased his effort; his wines, one after the other as the top brass of the city enjoyed a sit down meal and spoke about their Napa sojourns and of course the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. At another august gathering on the same evening at Yuuka the Japanese restaurant at the St Regis, patrons enjoyed a glimpse of Robert Mondavi wines , the institution in Napa which revolutionized the American wine industry and Mondavi thus got to be known as the Father of American wine. Is this the beginning of the American wine story in India, I thought to myself!
Despite America as a country more recognizable in India than some of the below mentioned its wine failed to find space on shelves and if it did find place on the wine list they moved very slow. Why? In the recent past American wines were represented by Iconic brands like Beringer, Stag’s Leap, Stag’s Leap Wine cellars, Cakebread etc and consumers weren’t ready to pay as much for an American wines as much they were for the French and Italian. It is changing now albeit slowly! Indians are slowly starting to wake up to wines in general and the last six years have been crucial in the overall wine culture growing. I accredit this to the many Indian wineries who have been making superior quality wines every passing year and also the top importers and modern retail who ensure that wines are reaching us in good condition, it wasn’t the case in the last decade. In the 21st century the French and Italian wines ruled followed by an era of inexpensive Australian and then the Chile, South African and the Argentinean wines. Is it time for America?
Kendall Jackson from Sonoma and Chateau St Michelle from Washington state have been trying to take a share of the market but have been able to only scratch the surface; below which rule the Jacob’s Creek and the Two Oceans of the world. As much as we need might of the likes of Bruce Cakebread to tell us about the purity of Napa so do we need the presence of an Export manager of a commercial cos to tell us stories about 50 million bottles a year! People may say that I’m advocating ‘2 buck chucks’ but the point remains that money and taste can’t be equated and an option should be provided at every price point and America has those options. I sipped on a Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay paired with the Avocado Tartare and thoughts of my Napa visit enthralled as I viewed the Mumbai skyline from the 38th floor of the St Regis!
P.S: Look up ‘Judgement of Paris’ and you will know what happened in 1976
On November 22, 2013 the Australian trade mark office quashed the European Commission’s appeal to register Prosecco as a GI produce coming from Italy as the members of the Winemaker’s federation of Australia rejoiced. Had it not been the case, I woudn’t have relished a glass of the crisp Prosecco sparkling from King Valley, Australia on a hot Mumbai afternoon.
De Bortoli,Australia’s second largest family owned wine co’s wines were unveiled in Mumbai over a Yum Cha replete with wines and devoid of tea. The afternoon began with the glass of Prosecco (Rs 2650), it gave a refreshing start whilst adding enough fuel for conversations to begin. Prosecco & Oz!! Darren Blood, Export Manager for APAC and emerging markets wasn’t surprised and soon put the prying minds to rest. A refreshing Pinot Grigio from Riverina (Rs 1850) soon followed with some truffled edamame money bags.
De Bortoli wines comes with a bigger portfolio this time, the mouthful Shiraz from Heathcote;the Woodfired (rs 3500) , Riorret the silky single vineyard Yarra valley Pinot Noir (Rs 8000) and for a fascinating end to the afternoon was ‘The Noble One’, a botrytis Semillon (Rs 5950 375 ml) bursting with dried apricots, orange zest and citrus notes with bracing acidity. De Bortoli wines are imported in the country by Prestige wines and spirits popular for their Spanish heavy weight Torres. Hope that De Bortoli wines, family-owned with an Italian legacy resonate with the Indian wine lovers and are able to make a mark too!
After the Andersen series Flipsydee launched Chateau Timberlay, Bordeaux wines from the house of Robert Giraud at a magnifique soiree at the Sofitel Hotel, Mumbai.
In an evening of music, gourmet food, glimpse of cabaret artists from the Lido Paris and art; the wines from Chateau Timberlay flowed to enchant. The venue Hriday was transformed into a beautiful French garden with a majestic replica of Arc de Triomphe in the entrance. Cremant de Bordeaux, Bordeuax Blanc and two variants of the rouge were unveiled. The wines start at Rs 2990. Chateau Timberlay an estate from the 14th century when the French were ruled by the British takes its name from the strong Atlantic winds that would knock down trees enroute ,'lay the timbers' as the Brits put it. Nonethless the Brits were the one spread the Claret word around and this wine is available in over 75 countries. To Claret, Cheers!
Flypsydee one of India's popular wine and spirit importers held the first tasting of the H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales inspired wines from the House of Robert Giraud a popular name in Bordeaux, France.
The series comprises a range of wines from the Languedoc region in Southern France with the labels inspired by Hans Christian Andersen the world famous writer of popular fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid”, “The Wild Swans”, and “The Chimney Sweeper”. As a tribute to his work, Robert Giraud created 6 varietals and assigned a reputed Danish artist Pia Kryger Lakha to create illustrations for the 6 corresponding labels. From the fairy tales range three wines are now available in India Chardonnay Columbard, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. At the price of Rs 2390 a bottle the reds are quite a steal,Cabernet Sauvignon was our choice!
Ventisquero, the 5th largest family owned wine company in Chile makes a comeback into India with a more affordable under Rs 1500 Clasico range. A cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chile’s classic Carmenere and their approachable Cabernet Sauvignon are now available in India and are imported by Aspri spirits.
Vina Ventisquero started in 1998, despite being based in Maipo valley they make wines from grapes grown across the wine growing region as far as the arid Atacama Desert up north and the best part, their source is 1800 hectares of their own vineyards or some they rent. Ventisquero’s first stint in India was with their Grey range didn’t seemingly go well because of prohibitive pricing due to taxation and adding it to it was the perception of premium Chilean wine; which is yet to sink in . Mr Nicolas Kowalski, Area Sales Director –Asia of Vina Ventisquero on his maiden India trip echoed the same thoughts, ‘We are restarting our India story and this time with our Clasico range. Given the taxation and the market readiness we would be exploring Grey and the premium ranges for the duty-free segment. We have more in our portfolio like the Pangea, a collaboration of Felipe Tosso our winemaker and John Duval the ex-Chief of Penfolds . We will unleash them gradually if the market responds well. At the moment our focus is to let people explore a good Chilean wine, the Clasico range”
India was looking for affordable options for Riesling and Pinot Noir, this was when the market seemed to be getting ready for wines some time in 2011 and there were no options but for the mighty French. This was when Cono Sur a Chilean brand was introduced in the market, a brand which offered a Pinot, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and more at a sub Rs 1600 price point then and it hasn’t changed much since.
Cono Sur was a brand established in 1993 with a vision to serve the foreign market and given Chile’s wine growing conditions, perhaps the best in the world; it didn’t take much time for Cono Sur to rise to the top making it the best selling wine in the UK in 2001. Of course this would not have been possible without the finesse in the product and their effort to go the organic way in managing their vineyards making them the first carbon neutral winery in South America. . In India Cono Sur has their Bicicleta series, the bicycle here represents the company’s commitment and respect to the environment. The entire series is about making very expressive and fruity wines in the modern style. They have Chardonnay, Pinot Not, Merlot and Cabernet sauvignon easily available on retail shelves or restaurants alike. Our pick; the Pinot Noir!
P.S: They have discontinued the Riesling but if you can find a 2013 vintage on the shelves, just grab it!
It welcomed us with a vegetal note and the Indian ‘terroir’ and then as it spent more time in the glass it starting unfurling itself and blazoned its fruit, mostly ripe whilst playing with very soft hands on the tannins. Ladies and Gentlemen, India sees yet another addition to its wine portfolio, The Daily Dose; a Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Daily Dose (TDD), is a brainchild of Vishal Kadakia who runs the Wine Park a co which imports premium imported wines. Made at Oakwood winery in Ahmednagar with organic grapes from a 2 acre plot in Solapur, TDD will release 12000 bottles of its 2015 vintage. In course of the wine soiree Vishal beamed, ‘We have been working on it for 2 years. We aimed for a wine that would appeal to the Indian palate, a simple no-fuss fruity wine with easy tannins and I am glad we finally made it.’ We indeed loved the wine and the label which has an infographic on the wine making process however the thing that played on our mind was the price, at Rs 750 a bottle, could it be the daily dose of an Indian consumer!
Indian wine and spirit distribution goes through three tiers and with the kind of margins that the tertiary level is what forces most wine cos to hike up their MRP to make up for schemes and margins. Nonetheless with Wine Park’s penetration in the Indian hotels and restaurants we sincerely wish that this wine becomes the daily dose for consumers albeit at a price which is lower than other Indian brands on the menus thus justifying the apparent brand philosophy!
One of the most trusted wine brands in the world; Torres has always fascinated me with their consistency in doling out great value for money wines. It was only in late 2014 when I got to taste many from their range, Vina Esmeralda, Mas Rabell series, Gran Vinasol, Gran Coronas and the gran papa; Riserva Real from 2001, and I had my vote for Torres.
Prestige Spirits who imports Torres wines organized a wine dinner last weekend presided over by Josep Plana, Area Manager, Torres and Siddhartha Tandon General Manager, Prestige at the Vetro, Oberoi Hotel. The soiree began with a perfumed Vina Esmeralda and then arrived a host of labels from their portfolio, Milmanda; a French barrel fermented Chardonnay, Mas La Plana; a big but rounded Cabernet Sauvignon, Altos Ibericos; a 100% Tempranillo from Rioja and lastly the aromatic and sweet Floralis Muscatel Oro. The wines were paired with some exquisite dishes from Adriano’s Kitchen and the whole experience went into Cinderella’s hour.
Torres as Josep Plana put is known for its ‘value for money’ philosophy and they will continue their march in India. When probed about a Cava from the house of Torres, a wine yet eluding them given that they are from Penedes the heart of Cava, Spain’s Sparkling wine, ‘ May be end of this year, we have been talking about it and we shall release it once we get the desired results in the wine.’ said Plana
India is now seeing entry of Spanish wines and Torres has surely paved the path!
I always knew the importance of glassware when it came to appreciating a wine; it makes a world of difference. My knowledge got reinstated and I understood glasses better at the Riedel glass tasting organized by Aspri Spirits who also deal in Riedel glassware.
Riedel an Austrian brand has been in the business of production of glassware and for 260 years and spanning 11 generations and is renowned and established worldwide for designing and producing the highest quality glasses and decanters for the enjoyment of wine and spirits. In the late 1950’s Claus J. Riedel was the first person ever in history to introduce and develop wine friendly stemware which delivers the bouquet, taste, balance and finish of a wine to the senses. He also introduced the concept of grape specific glassware. A glass consists of three parts- the bowl, the stem and the base, Riedel works on the different dimensions of these to create distinct glassware for a range of grape varieties.
We tasted a Sauvignon blanc out of the right glass and subsequently in glasses designed for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, all in the room could tell why the Sauvignon Blanc glass was worth all the halo. And we repeated the same with a Pinot Noir, a chardonnay and Bordeaux. Riedel goes by the saying that ‘The content commands the shape’ and with the tasting we could see why!
Many hotels in the country use Riedel stemware to give you a good wine experience however none may offer you a glass typical for every varietal. So it up to wine lovers to slowly build a collection of glassware in their home bar, you will tell the difference!