La Xarmada, DO Conca de Barbera
Last month, La Xarmada, Tardus Viscivorus, a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo grapes from DO Conca de Barbera, was joint winner of the El Molí/Barcelona Business Wine Challenge (Mas Comtal’s Antistiana ’98 shared first place). Wine-making in Conca de Barbera enjoys a long tradition going back to the Cistersian monks (and nuns) who settled, civilised and administered this region beginning in1153. Tradition is a great thing but nearly always comes accompanied by a baggage of norms, rules and establishment that avoids change and strangles initiative. All the best wines have broken rules and the young maker of La Xarmada, Albert Sangenís-Llivi has more than exceeded his quota. Early in the 70s, the Sangenis family of Pacs del Penedès purchased a small wine farm in the Conca de Barbera. They reorganised the vineyards (una xarmada) and replanted Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah as well as other new and traditional varieties. Tardus Viscivorus ’01 is a blend of Syrah(Shiraz) and Tempranillo(Ull de Llebre). It is an ideal winter wine and was used to great effect with a second helping of Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing recently. The wine hints of hunting and game, for the vineyards of Conca de Barbera are always running into forests, rounded mountains and starker conical shaped heights that warn you of Priorat to the south. The peppery finish will delight as it wastes any wild boar in its wake. Give this wine plenty of time to breath.
La Xarmada Tardus Viscivorus ’01, approx: 7€ , La Xarmada: 93 817 12 37
Torres, Milmanda 2001
Before La Xarmada began bottling their own wine in the 90s, they sold it to Bodegas Torres,who were particularly impressed with the Syrah and Chardonnay. Torres later purchaced the castle and vineyards of Milmanda, between Espluges de Francoli and Poblet in the centre of Conca de Barbera.
You have to hand it to Don Torres, he has a very good eye for excellent vineyards and unappreciated property. Not only did he acquire an extremely fine pile of national heritage with substancial lands in a privileged landscape but his next door neighbour is the largest Cistercian monestry and an ever increasing magnet for tourists from all over the world.
Milmanda, the white wine, is now one of the top classics of the Torres stable. A 100% Chardonnay produced exclusively from their vineyards in DO Conca de Barbera (Pago) and aged for twelve months in French oak. The method of elaboration gives it a gold clarity and soft smells of fruit and butter, the microclimate and husbandry bring depth and concentration, and the soil and fruit supply hours of complex mature fruit.
Milmanda Chardonnay ‘01price: price approx: 28€
Bodegas Torres: 619 831 314, www.torres.es
Planting and pruning your way to the top:
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.
To start with there’s the taste of what’s already in the ground, otherwise Torres wouldn’t have paid a penny for all the land in Conca. Then there is Torres very own approach, plant the maximum number of vines and extract the minimum amount of grapes from each. From each vine, two branches are trained on wires 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. New branches are trained onto a 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 the Milmanda black beauty “vinetum paganicus”, two months after it’s release. It’s name is Gran Muralles and it´s intention is clearly to evoke the atmosphere of this historic area. Garnatxa, Garró, Sansó and Monastrell will have you flying backwards in time to share a hunting expedition with Charles IV and Philipe II.
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 l’Espluga de Francoli.
Tourist Information: www.concadebarbera.info, www.larutadelcister.info
Wineries: www.do-conca.org
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.
Pinord Chateldon Cabernet Sauvignon reserva ’99, Price 8€: Bodegas Pinord: www.pinord.es
Another Chardonnay Sir
Whats more interesting than a Chardonnay, another Chardonnay? 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. price approx: 5€
Alsina & Sarda: www.alsinasarda.com




What’s on
Christmas Wine Tasting courtesy of Martha Mila and Mas Comtal, the International Women’s Club Barcelona. 93 2040231, [email protected] Dec.10,
Classic Motorbikes, Ruta del Raim/the Wine route, Torrelles de Foix, Dec.13
Post-Modern Chanson with Victor Nubla & Peo Casino, Can Festís, St Pere de Riudebittles, Dec.13 http://usuarios.lycos.es/hronir/dado.htm
Fira de Gall, Vilafranca del Penedès. Country life, turkeys, cocks and stocking fillers by the placa.
Weekend before Christmas.
Everywhere, Live nativity scenes, keep an eye out for caganés.
Olive Oil: Watch out for thick white smoke. Now being pressed in dozens of micro mills between Penedès and Terra Alta. In another ten years they will be described as designer oils or have ceased to exist. Pay special attention to the southern interior region of Les Garrigues.
Calçots: Every year they start earlier, The Miller Mannions 93 897 2207 or 93 899 70 65,
Wine-tastings: New releases. Yours truly at el Molí, Torrelles de Foix, 93 897 22 07
Wild mushrooms: Pick a wood, look out for local cars, bring your basket and a good sharp knife, visit local pub for scrutiny and assessment after you haul.
New year bike ride: El Molí Tours 93 897 22 07, www.elmolitours.com