‘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
Valentine ’s Day is here and it gives another reason for people to manifest their love. In many of the Continental cultures it still signifies the advent of spring however in the modern times Anglo-American culture connects the day to romantic love. And going out with your loved ones on a special day can’t go wrong. Here are some of the places I would prefer all year around for a cozy meal.
Romanos, J W Sahar
One of the most tastefully done restaurants in town, the Romano’s has the charm of a fine-dine with plush banquette seating, wine displays and of course top service whilst the upstairs has a very interactive bar making it a good space for a pre or post dinner tipple. With Chef Zorzoli at the helm, you will see a different/modern side of Italian cooking.
Good Wife, BKC Bandra
This is a high energy cocktail space with crafted food. Tucked in the corporate hub of BKC, the Good Wife is not a space for a quiet fine-dine dinner. Good wife is casual with a great cocktail culture and comforting food with cuisine spanning Asian to Continental, no Indian though. Gastro-pubbing could be the new Valentine thing!
Shizusan, Phoenix Mills
After a round of Valentine shopping at the Phoenix, this Asian Bistro is great sport for some quality sushis, dimsums and other Asian Fare. The wooden décor blends in the experience and the drinks menu with Asia inspired cocktails complement to make the evening gastromantic!
Kode, Kamala Mills
This bar and eatery boasts of a 130 plus whiskies and 30 plus gins on the menu and I would start my evening with the latter and tonic and end with dram of the former. The food is modern presentation and multi-cuisine and you will love it. Beware the music levels go up as the might progresses, for a quieter dinner with conversations, you must be on your dessert course by 9pm.
A restaurant by the beach this one serves European fare with some brilliant sunset-views if you are there in time. They have an open-air and a indoor section, cover charges could apply on busy nights. Food and wine is my call for Estella.
The restaurant emerged in the top few of the Indian f&b scene at some recent awards and their food, drinks and service certainly vouch for it. Food with attention to detail, sustained cocktail (g&t) culture and a robust wine scene are the hallmarks of this place. Be prepared to shell out a lot more.
South of Vindhyas, Orchid Hotel
With the sitar and table playing the background, this restaurant helmed by Chef Bala for the last two decades will enthrall you with its food from the south India. In a traditional Mangalorean home like setting this place is the one you can enjoy your Valentine day with your family with conversations, food and music.