Great Christmas Wines

Christmas is coming and it’s time to stock up with some of the great wines of Catalunya.
Perhaps the most interesting news on the grapevine is the creative competition between oenologists.
An increasingly popular sight in bodegas are small1000ltr stainless steel tanks used for limited editions of specific varieties or styles. One off Cavas, white wines, rosés as well as big black (red) wines are coming from the most interesting corners of the vineyards. Quality has never been better so while the thrifty punter will still get excellent value from 3 euros it would not be too inflationary to suggest a budget of between 6 euros and 10 for the season that’s in it. Most wines mentioned here will fall into this price range. Report back to this writer if you find any dodginess.

There is no shortage of fresh new Cavas and white wines. Chardonnay, Gewurtztrauminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are well established members of the Penedès community. These smoothen the curves and add longer legs to the native varieties of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo. Blanc de Pacs from Parés Baltà proves there are many pleasant surprises in native varieties but try their Mas de Carol if you are a Chardonnay lover. There’s an excellent crisp Sauvignon Blanc thanks to new bodega Miguel Jané. The trend for the future is firmly set by the Terrasola Sauvignon Blanc/Xarel.lo from Jean Leon which came way up there in a recent tasting of 60 wines held at El Molí. Xarel.lo is a variety that lends itself well to light fermentation in oak and batonage of lees. For purity try Avi Ton ’03 from Eudald Masana Noya or follow fashion and enjoy it blended with Chardonnay from Pere Ventura, Castellroig and Petrea of Mas Comtal

For cavas, aim for exotic Priori from Cavas Colet, the very presentable Opus Evolutium from Privat, and the delicious Selecte Reserva from Jaume Giro i Giro. Remember, if the bubbles of your sparkler are rising large and fast, you are going to need plenty of Vichy water before the morning; finesse is best.

Watch out you don’t get run over by wild Rosé wines and Cavas. No forget-me-easily pinks. Prepare for high-heeled, big-striding Merlots, Cabernets and Pinot Noirs produced from well matured vines and not shy about bit of rouge around the lips. Queens of this category are Mas Comtal (Merlot), Parato (Pinot Noir), Torreblanca (Merlot) Miguel Jane (Cabernet Sauvignon)
Rose Cavas have been growing in popularity but with the inclusion of one for the aperatif at the royal wedding this year they will be very popular with young princesses this Christmas. Coincidentally Dalí and the royal couple are big fans of Castell de Parellada. Should that be all snapped up go for Nadal (Pinot Noir) and La Xarmada(Trepat)

The Penedès red, wiped out by phyloxera in the1890s and only seriously replanted in the 60/80s continue their comeback. Classic French varieties dominate. Good oenology and a huge variety of microclimates and soils in Penedès guarantee plenty of interesting wines. There is something for everyone between 3 and 90 euros.
Starting with the most decadent: Petrea Mas Comtal ’01 (Merlot), Bru de Gramona ‘01 (Pinot Noir), Jean Leon Reserva ’99 (Cabernet), Suriol Reserva ’01 (Pinot Noir), La Creueta ‘01 Masana Noya (Cabernet/Merlot), Torreblanca’01 (Cabernet/Merlot),

An hour further south, 600 euros is the asking price for the first wine on the list of the Hotel Sport in Priorat. The fingerprint of the wine maker must be on every drop, if not the finger. That, one supposes, is what one gets for being Mr first outsider in Priorat Palacios and fair play to his elbow too.
The dark colour of Carinenya along with the fruitier Garnatxa, llicorella slate soil, miserable vine production (often1kg/vine) and ferociously dry climate mark the identity and value of wines from this region.
Primitiu de Bellmunt (Clos Bartholome in the States) is prepared with 100 year old vine drops, grape by grape selection for total production of 6,000 bottles. Mas del Camperol and Mas de la Abundancia are two more members of the Petit cellars de Priorat that offer unique expression and style without fiscal exaggeration. Coma Vella from Mas d’en Gil epitomises the fusion of native and classic and gets my prize as the smoothest wine of 2004. Cooperatives remain an important force in Priorat and Terra Alta and many have taken on good oenologists with notable results. Les Sorts from Mont Roig, Llagrimas de Tardor from Bot and Vallmajor from Gandesa will not disappoint.
Enjoy a pleasant drop or two
Paddy Mannion 2/11/04
[email protected]