Priorat Wine Fair

8.00 am on May 2 witnessed me earnestly packing my best knife, chopping board and favourite chef and companion Stefan Lismond into the El Molí backup van for the run down the A7 in the direction of Priorat and the annual wine fair of Falset. Just past Tarragona we followed the excellent T11 up the valley to the mysterious mountainous valley of the Prior. The stringy and rarely used road from Aiguados which I used 15 years ago to escape the coast clung to the curves of the opposite mountains. Stefan enthusiasm was rising as we pulled into very sleepy Falset around 9.30. There’s a sweeping 90ºC curve in the middle of the main street that reminds me of College Green. For the wine fair all traffic was diverted and the resulting space dedicated to exhibition stands and proper mid street breakfasts.
We had come to taste wines and participate in the cooking competition. Our first mission after stomach lining was to hand in our recipe and find a suitable white wine for the sauce. Manuel Aviño of Cavas Nadal, one the best white wine makers in Spain saved us a long search by pointing us in the direction of Celler Els Guiamets and their young and attractively labelled Garnatxa Lo Mets.
By 11.00 we were well set up with table, carbon fire and Catalan cooking pottery. Our dish was Medallions of Pork fillet with cream of grape sauce, which if we didn’t have to skin twenty grapes and wait for the fire would have taken about 5 minutes to prepare but what with the intuitive slow food style of Stefan and a keen crowd of spectators who enjoy Catalan spoken with an Irish brogue we allowed ourselves be the second last to finish.
Judging was preformed by the wandering group of judges without a word of blind tasting. Final decision and prize giving was in the main square which must be the steepest plaza in Catalunya, A mild reminder of the slopes the people of this town are accustomed to farming. We consider our 4th place out of 21 a reasonable result upon which we can build for next year.

With time to spare before lunch we went round the stands to exercise our elegant tasting glasses supplied complete with rustic shoulder holster and coupons for five tastings which remained intact despite trying at least 12 wines. The news is there are no bad wines in Priorat. Starting at 6 euros you can experience wines that are uniquely fortified by a combination of micro climate, soil and variety the likes of which are not to be found anywhere. Upwards between 12 euros and 600 euros you will come across some of the most astonishing expressions of vinicular existence.
For expressive economy from vineyards as small as 8 hectacres of tortuously beautiful landscape try Mas Deu 2003 from DO Montsant. All you expect from a Garnatxa/Cariñena blend. lots of honest strong personality, big but not Cabernet, drink with fried salted cod and rice or steamed mussels on a Friday night. Mas Deu: [email protected] 977 82 50 17
Celler Els Guimets , DO Montsant more than entertained us with their whites, the younger of which we employed in our recipe. The well made 100% Garnatxa fermented and in wood, a style which complements the big strong whites of this variety. There’s nothing else like it for around 7 euros.
Things take a turn skywards with Alvaro Palacios whose wines were the first to hit the headlines. I didn’t get a hit off their Les Terrasses ’02 but it may reward waiting for another year.
Then again 2002 was a difficult year which had the effect of micro surprises against a background of general regularness.
Mas d’en Gil have it sussed. Successful, experienced and savvy Penedès wine maker, Pere Rovira puts territory, experimentation, the best of the new and old and then a very decided hand to create velvety, sophisticated, sumptuous wines.
We tasted Coma Vella ’01. The label is clear, design impeccable, matching the wine terribly. If you live in a designer house with a designer partner and you eat in designer restaurants, and you wonder how you got there, this is your sup. Lots of intriguing shades from around 17 euros. Mas d’en Gil 977 830 192.

As the judges of the cooking competition had run off with our lunch we vainly tried to gain access to the finer restaurants in town, all of which were booked out. Aspic, is a clear demonstration of the confidence that has descended on the town and region, and now battles it out with at least four other new restaurants for the up market tourism that has settled its eye firmly on Priorat.
We were interested in real food anyway and the company of friendly locals at the sports complex where a giant and very tasty paella was prepared for around 200 people including fellow cooking competition participants.
I couldn’t resist dragging my partner in crime off for a couple of games of pool and a little more misspent childhood. Stefan you really must watch that follow on.
To round off the day we drove the 500+ curves to the small town of Scala Dei, site of the oldest Cistercian Abbey in Southern Catalonia with the limestone forms of the Prades Mountains rising directly behind it that suggest the stairways to Heaven, or at least one of them. After you drive into this gem of a small town turn right into the square and directly in front you will find the Bodega of Asuncion Peyra de Ameller, whose family purchased all the remaining buildings and vineyards from the departing monks 200 years ago. The cellar you enter remains more or less as it was then and you will travel far before you come across a better story teller than Asuncion or a better selection of porrons with samples of Vermut, Vi de Malaga, Vi de Missa, Muscatel, Vi Ranci, Vi negre and Vi Blanc. Bless my soul Asuncion but I swear your Vermut is the best there is and I promise to come back for a continuation of the story of the keys of Scala Dei.

Medallions of Pork fillet with cream of grape and garnatxa sauce, serves 6
Filet of pork sliced into medallions
20 large grapes white/red peeled and quartered
20 gms of butter
20 cl of virgin olive oil
100 cl of cream
1/2 glass of white wine (try any Garnatxa from Priorat/Montsant/Terra Alta)
freshly picked wild asparagus
Red Pepper, toasted over flame and skinned

This is seriously easy…
Fry medallions in butter and oil until lightly golden.
Remove from pan and add peeled grapes.
Fry grapes for two minutes and add wine.
Reduce and add cream.
Return medallions of pork to pan, season and allow to blend.
Garnish with wild asparagus and strips of red pepper.

Serve with one of many reasonably priced Garnatxa white wines, try one fermented in wood sometime for the effect of clinging to the side of civilisation.
Stefan Lismond, Can Festís restaurant and rural retreat, 93 899 70 65

Suggested Accommodation in Priorat
The Fonda National of Falset is still there in its comfy time capsule/best bar in the universe state of existentialism. Magnificent chequered floor, excellent pool tables and selection of beverages from around the world including the best from Flanders and Dublin should you be so inclined. The bedrooms are very nice, if they don’t move a thing and got an artist to paint the place it would cost 3 times more and still be economic. 977 83 01 57.
Cal Molí Barceló, Marça, 4/5 people, Ernest Pique, 977 83 05 15,
La Cerrada 2, Porrera, Gemma Peyri, 630 324 578 [email protected],

New excursions organised by the Wine Museum of Vilafranca del Penedès, les estaciones de la vinya, (the seasons of the grapevine)
Next Sunday participants will observe the first grapes buds on the estate of Oriol Rossell. Starting at the train station of Arboz.
The summer session on June 20 goes by the name of a poem by Josep-Maria de Sagarra, vinyes verdes vora del mar.. This will be held at the cellars of Antonio Almirall of Sitges, producer of the now rare Malvasia variety that Sitges was once famous for.
In contrast the Autumn outing on September 19 will aim for the high ground and Pontons to study the differences between vineyards of this altitude and those lower and closer to the coast.
The winter date is October 17 starting from the train station of Vendrell and will visit a winery nursery.
On all dates the meeting station is at a train station and you will want to be there before 10.00am.
Each visit will be accompanied by at least one expert often two or three, who will explain in detail all you need to know and more.

Winners of the 38 th competition of DO Penedès wines organised by the Academia Tastevins.
Giró Ribot with two medals. Enloogist Joan Rovira collected a Gold for a young white and silver for a white aged in oak, both wines produced with non native varieties Muscat and Chardonnay.
Lourdes Mitjans head of marketing and PR at Caves Hill came away with a gold for their Merlot crianza and silver for their young Tempranillo, which I’ve always been a fan of. Other recipients of medals were Covides, Naveran, Gramona, Vallformosa, Castleroig, Ferret, Celler Coop de Vilafranca and René Barbier.

Not just another winery visit? Jean Leon is organising a one day course for non professionls. Vineyard husbandry, enology, tasting, lunch and the opportunity to create your own blend of wine at one of the most famous small wineries in the world, and a chance to “do it your way”. Barcelona today, Hollywood tomorrow. To make a reservation for this unique course contact the wonderful hosts, Agnes or Anna at Jean Leon visitor centre, el Pla de Penedès. 93 899 55 12 , [email protected]

What’s on in May
May 3/4 Mostra de Vins, DO Priorat, all day Sat. & Falset
May 3/4 Classic Motorbikes, Santa Oliva
May 5 Trans Catalunya Probike Club 93 419 78 89
May 8 Anibal Martinez Trio, Can Festís, presentation of new CD “instrucciones para girar”
May 6/9 Fira de Abril de Cunit, 2nd largest in Catalunya
May 1st Saturday, walk from l'Arboç - Torrelavit - Montserrat, Grup Caminants de l'Arboç 97767 04 60
May 15 Fira del Mel/Festival of Honey, Arnes, Terra Alta, music, honey tastings, wine tastings, festival market.
May Corte Ingles Marathon
May 22 Fira de Mai, Vilafranca, carneval, horse competitions, first day of Casteller season
May/June Trapezi, La Fira del Circ a Reus i Vilanova 901 11 21 13
May 17/23 Festa de la bicicleta, Vendrell, Barcelona, Torrelles de Foix.
May 30 Sitges Theatre festival