DO Conca de Barbera

The Conca de Barbera is situated about an hour south of Barcelona between Penedès and Priorat. In the early 70s the Sangenis family of Pacs del Penedès purchased a small wine farm and called it La Xarmada. They planted unheard-of varieties in an unknown region, an incredible bet, equivelent to placing all your money on a donkey at Leapordstown. Last month their La Xarmada, Tardus Viscivorus, a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo was joint winner of the recent El Molí/Barcelona Business Wine Challenge.
For many years La Xarmada sold their wine wholesale to Bodegas Torres where it was highly appreciated. Good quality wines are what Bodegas Torres is about and before long Torres had purchaced the castle and vineyards of Milmanda. I have to hand it to Don Torres, he has a very good eye for unappreciated property and his timing was perfect. Not only did he acquire an extremely fine pile of national heritage with substancial lands in a priveleged landscape but his next door neighbour is the largest Cistercian monestry and an ever increasing magnet for tourists from all over the world.
Planting and pruning your way to the top of the pile:
Torres make very fine wines and aim to win every wine competition in the world, so how do they do it? Jordi Puigdevall, the Cellar manager at Milmanda carefully explained the method of husbandry. First stop is the taste of what’s already in the ground, otherwise Torres wouldn’t have paid a penny for all the land in Conca. Now we’re into farming and the following equation. Plant the maximum number of vines and extract the minimum amount of grapes from each. Each vine has two branches trained on wires that are about half a meter off the ground. A branch may have up to four shoots but the total number per vine is limited to six, so there may be a combination of 3 and 3 or 4 and 2. Pruning (Podar) starts a few weeks after harvest in September and farmers patiently work the vineyards until the end of February. The new branches are trained onto a second higher wire and when clusters of miniscule grapes appear, these are culled (Espurgar) to control the amount of fruit the vine produces. Thus, the grapes acquire greater concentrations of terroir and maximise their varietal expression. In May and June the leaves of the vines are thinned (Despampar) to allow the maturing grapes more exposure to the sun. Harvest normally starts in mid August depending on varieties and elevation. Each vine is treated like a thouraghbred with all the work preformed by hand.
Many consider 27.33 € a small price to pay for the house white, Milmanda and 75€ won’t stop punters emptying the cellars of Gran Muralles two months after it’s release.
Escaping the big smoke.
If the wineries of Conca de Barbera are not housed in medieval castles, you’re likely to encounter them in modernist cathederals. The area is literally dripping with medieval, romanic and gothic. I dare not recommend any one town, suffise to say that the people of Conca are proudly taking care of their hertage and you will get all the original stone facades you want. Industry has totally ignored this beautiful valley for so long and is not welcome now. Follow the A7 motorway in the direction of Zaragosa, take exit 9 for Esplugas de Francoli and Montblanc about 1 hour from Barcelona. Personally I recommend the approach from Igualada along the C241 through Santa Coloma de Queralt. If you feel like really taking your time turn right just outside Roquefort de Queralt and follow the lovely C15, an original 1960s road via Solivella and Blancafort. It’s a lazy Sunday cyclists dream that runs flat or down hill all the way to Espluga de Francoli.
La Xarmada 93 817 12 37
Bodegas Torres: 619 831 314,
Tourist Information:,
The best Spanish wine for 8 euros
Another Penedès wine has leapt to the front in international competition. Pinord Chateldon Cabernet Sauvignon reserva 1999 was the only Spanish wine to achieve a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. I remember being impressed by this wine by the hand of oenologist Carlos Playa, of Pinord 8 years ago. My first impression was of a Rioja style wine, very complete, long and warming, just what the doctor ordered on a cold and windy winter’s evening. The embossed bottle is distinctive and even then the price was remarkably reasonable
This Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (there is also a gran reserva) has just the correct amount of Merlot to make it a true classic. Brick red in colour it offers a range of aromas with notes of ageing in the barrel, spices and leather which repeat on the tongue. On the palate the maturity of the wine and the tannins balance with voluptous effect.
Another Chardonnay Sir/Madam
Whats more interesting than a Chardonnay, another Chardonnay? Experiments with French varieties have paid off because of the depth of know how with older native varieties. There are a few good Chardonnay varietals about but the most interesting brews are fusions of Chardonnay and its new fieldfellows from Catalunya. Check out Alsina & Sarda’s Chardonnay/Xarel.lo blend. Butter and fruit with body. An excellent dry white with a nose of its own.
Alsina & Sarda:

Drink less, spend more and enjoy the quality, especially the next day.
Paddy Mannion [email protected]

What’s on
Dec. 10, “Christmas Wine Tasting” courtesy of Martha Mila and Mas Comtal, the International Women’s Club Barcelona. 93 2040231, [email protected]
Dec. 13 Classic Motorbikes, Ruta del Raim/the Wine route, Torrelles de Foix
Weekend before Christmas. Fira de Gall/ Wine tastings, Vilafranca del Penedès. Country life and stocking fillers by the placa.
Live nativity scenes everywhere, keep an eye out for caganés.
January, 2nd Sundays Antiques and art, Vilafranca del Penedès
From mid January. Tres Tombs Vilafranca del Penedes, Vendrell, Vilanova. Parades and horse trials, Horses, carriages and wagon trains that plied the roads of yore.
Calçots: Every year they start earlier, Can Festís 93 899 70 65,
Wine-tastings: New releases. Yours truly at el Molí, Torrelles de Foix, 93 897 22 07
Wild mushroom picking: pick a wood, look out for local cars, bring your basket and a good sharp knife, visit local pub for scrutiny
New year cycle, 50 mills and the Vall de Corb , Conca de Barbera, El Molí Tours 93 897 22 07