The Long and Winding Road

My first stop in Spain many years ago was a place called Salou. Every year this once small coastal town goes from a population of about 2000 to quarter of a million. To supply water to this two month long deluge of people they suck it in from the rapidly degrading sea. If you stay for a week, great, you haven’t used half the clothes in your suitcase and there is no shortage of your favourite brew from home, stay longer and the salt in your clothes, in the shower and in the sea starts to play havoc with pale skins like mine and you find yourself blotching radically. So I got on my trusty parish priest Humber and headed for the mountains and inland. I had some notion that Pamplona wasn’t that far off and Spain as I knew it then had plains, which would make things easier. The climb past Reus and over the mountains to Priorat was very insightful. At the top there were two roads and I chose the greener. I saw and met a shepherd and one other person that day, a gentleman who having given me directions and driven off, returned and insisted I join him for a very hearty and well needed lunch and my very first taste of Priorat wine. It was characteristically dark enough to stain a black t shirt, strong of character and full of punch. As I wobbled off three hours later the irregular clunk of a wine bottle in my pannier was a hint of the man I am today and where I’m going tomorrow.

The most striking wines I tasted at the biannual Alimentaria fair last year were from Terra Alta. A bit of Merlot and Cabernet were beginning to appear but the traditional white and red Garnatxa varieties and Cariñena were more than holding their own. Big wines with more than two shirt buttons open supplied by an assortment of Interesting characters from this peaceful mountainous territory.
There are over 50 cooperatives and independent wineries in Terra Alta and quite a few are proving that south of Priorat lies another land ripe for discovery. Many wineries are following the example of Priorat and are introducing barrel ageing and fermenting for white and red wines. This doesn’t immediately produce well crafted wines as the wood predominates and the fermentation in barrel produces an after burn in the throat, but given experience we’ll be looking at some very deep and well balanced wines in the next 5/10 years. The young white wines will be strong enough for many with 13% vol being the starting point. Think of banana and spices on the nose and serious amounts of granny smith and black tea for flavour. Just imagine the types of vermouth they can come up with.
This time around we stopped at the Cooperative at Bot and purchased several bottles of their top of the range “Lagrimes de Tardor” The red went neck and neck with a good Ribera del Duero (Pago de Carrovejas) of similar age before pulling out in front. Nice bottle and labelling too. The Co Op at Batea produces a smashing young white, Vallmajor that proves the basic ingredient has all it takes to go the distance...with no sting at all. Then there’s an impressive curriculum of small production one offs, beautifully packaged from Piñol wines, Batea.
I had other reasons for making the two hour trip from Penedès to the southern reaches of Catalonia. I wanted to see a house for sale in Prat de la Conte and find out more about the Green Way or Via Verde, a converted railway line between Arnes and El Pinell de Brai exclusively for bicycles, horses and walkers. There is also another route which runs along the Ebro from Tortosa in the direction of Mora del Ebro and if I’m not mistaken will link up with the extensive circuit of cycle paths around the Ebro Delta in the east and the Via Verde in the west. If I have my way we’ll be cycling from Penedès through Conca de Barbers, Les Garrigues and Priorat before linking up with these routes in or around Mora del Ebro. If you are interested send me a mail and I’ll let you know when we’re heading that way.
To get to Terra Alta, take the motorway for about an hour past Tarragona and turn off for Tortosa. Heading inland from Tortosa you find yourself carving a route alongside the Ebro and the spectacle begins. Limestone mountain ranges and ravines, orange groves and abandoned stone wall farm houses to beat the band.

Back in the big smoke I visited the Palauet Luca on Enrique Granados for the presentation of the new wines from Penedès, a one day tasting aimed squarely at restaurants. About 40 bodegas were present and it was interesting watching this decidedly selective bunch of public work the floor. Top on their list was Gramona where challenging wine making has always been the order of the day. Their Sauvignon blanc is to cry for. Primeur their rose has lost it’s stickiness and is all soft aromas and acres of fruit and spices.
Among those who are showing that the 2002 harvest isn’t all bad news are Rovellats with an excellent glass clinging traditional white. Nadal with a now established collection of nobel rot, late harvest and tradicional white wines. Bonastre and a very nicely crafted 2000 Pinot Noir that had my nose locked to the glass. Cavas Hill with a rock solid Cabernet Sauvignon reserva and Blanc bruc, a very fine Xarel.lo, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay blend. L’Alzinar Merlot 2000 had a mature mind of its own. Masia Freixe where young oenologist Luis Bosser Artal is doing for their wines, Agrest de Guitard, what Mick Jagger did for rock ‘n roll. Finally, on my way out and probably the worst positioned stand of all was Xavi Huguet of Can Feixes without a worry in the world trying to keep the new blue labelled red reserva out of range of all but the most demanding regulars. Try the Can Feixas 2001 Chardonnay and you’ll have what is probably the finest barrel aged Chardonnay in the land.

Can Feixes 93 771 82 27
L’Alzinar 93 891 23 53
Cavas Hill 93 890 05 88
Can Bonastre 93 772 61 67
Nadal 93 889 80 11
Agrest de Guitard 93 770 60 65
Gramona 93 891 01 13
Celler Batea 977 43 00 56
Co Op de Bot 977 42 81 92
Vins Piñol 977 43 05 05
Consell Comarcal de la Terra Alta

Paddy Mannion [email protected]