‘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!