Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Wonderful Catalan Wines I
Despite accounting for only about 16 percent of the Spanish population, Catalonia represents about 25.5% of all Spanish exports, and accounts for 23% of all Spanish industry (2013-2015 statistics from Ministry of Economy).
The food and agricultoural products sector is the third largest Catalan export, following chemicals and automotive products. Wines and extra virgin olive oil top the list of exported products, with cheese following close behind and meat and meat products, especially pork (jamón), comprising the very top segments. 70% of all Spanish agricultural exports are generated in Catalonia.
The Catalan product that has made major inroads in the world’s markets as well as being consumed in quantity by the locals is wine. Catalonia has 12 distinct denominations. Best known are Cava, Priorat, Penedès, Empordà, Monsant, Conca de Barbera and Costers del Segre.
Most of the wineries visited during my 2016 visit were within an hour’s drive from Vilafranca del Penedès. Therefore Vilafranka, a good sized town about 1 hour west of Barcelona, became our base and every morning we would start for another vinous adventure.
The first winery we visited was Giró de Gorner, situated in Lleida at the heart of the Penedès. All the wineries we visited are represented by Excelling Food and Wines, a Spanish export company that offers a wide variety of Spanish viticultural products, from entry level to premium.
Since the 16th century, Gorner produces both very nice still wines and now great cavas.
The cavas come in Brut Reserva, Brut Nature Reserva, Brut Nature Gran Reserva, Brut Gran Reserva and a lovely Brut Rosé. The cava -- with the exception of the rosé that is 100% Pinot Noir -- is the traditional blend of Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada in percentages varying depending on the harvest and style of cava they wish to produce. All versions have 12% alcohol and are produced in medium and large quantities (5,000 to 30,000 bottles per style per year).
The still wines, both white and red, are either blends or monovarietal.
Some of the monovarietals, the Goner Muscat for example, are very dry but floral wines, and many see no oak. For the Muscat, fairly low alcohol (11.5%) makes it ideal for summer libations with hints of peach, apricot, pineapple and white flowers on the nose and a citrusy palate.
The Goner Rosé is produced from 100% Merlot grapes. It is medium cherry in color with a fresh and fruity aroma. I would consider it also a summer wine, to be drunk accompanying fresh bread, cheese, perhaps a salad and charcuterie on a hot day.
The barrel-fermented 100% Chardonnay is pale yellow in color with gold highlights. The long vanilla-flavored finish makes it a very desirable wine for Chardonnay aficionados.
There is a white still blend made of Macabeo, Xarel.lo, Parellada and Chardonnay in percentages that also vary with the harvest (the 2014 we tasted was 35% Macabeo, 45% Xarel.lo, 10% Parellada and 10% Chardonnay). Good body, clean aromas, fruity and fresh; it was a delicate, very pleasant surprise.
There are 2 red wines, a Crianza and a Reserva both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. The crianza is aged for 9 months in barrel; the reserva for 18 months plus 2 years in bottles, prior to release. Both are produced in medium quantity of 6,000 bottles per vintage. Elegant, ripe tannins and considerable complexity make both wines food friendly, especially when accompanying red meats and game as well as aged hard cheeses. The crianza, a younger wine, is a bit peppery on the palate and would pair well with lighter summer dishes and even seafood cooked in a tomato base. The older reserva, is a classic red meat and game pairing wine.
In the afternoon of the same day we visited Trias Batlle, another interesting producer that creates both still and bubbly wines.
The wine of this vintner that I liked best was Trias Batlle Blanc de Blancs, a white blend of 45% Macabeo, 30% Xarel.lo, 15% Parellada and 10% Muscat grapes. It was a fresh, clean white with aromas of fresh grapes, stone fruit and grass; the vintage’s production run was 20,000 bottles of this charmer. It is an exceptional wine to pair with fish and seafood, and would be also good with one of the fresh cheeses now produced and exported in large quantities from the region -- such as Urgélia, a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese. It is semisoft and creamy, with a lightly-tan colored interior and garlicky, meaty aromas.
Another white that I liked was the Trias Batlle Xarel.lo Barrica (barrel fermented). It is well balanced on the palate with smoky aromas and hints of stone fruit and almonds on the nose. In my opinion, it is another warm weather wine to be enjoyed with light meals and strong cheeses.
On the red side I liked the blend of Tempranillo (60%) and Merlot (40%) called Trias Batlle Red that is dark ruby in color with violet highlights. It has delicate floral aromas with blackberries and strawberries predominating and smooth, ripe tannins. Good foil to heavier meat and game dishes and strong flavored cheese.
Trias Batlle also produces an interesting Rosé that is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is a nice bottle, on the light and delicate side in the mouth, though the color is a bit darker than most other Catalan Rosés.
They also produce an 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine aged for 18 months in French oak barrels and 24 months in bottle prior to release. It has a limited production of 5,000 bottles per vintage. Though the wine is fairly smooth and silky, I think it would need more cellar time to make it truly stand out.
The Trias Batlle Brut Nature Gran Reserva Cava is a blend of the traditional Xarel.lo (40%), Macabeo (305), Parellada (20%) and Chardonnay (10%). It is aged for 4 years prior to release and I would consider it a typical clean and light in the palate sparkler. It makes for a great aperitif or to accompany seafood dishes -- think oysters and charcoal grilled octopus.
There is also a very traditional Brut Nature Reserva (40% Macabeo, 30% Xarel.lo, 30% Parellada) and a Brut Reserva (same grape percentages as the Brut Nature). The difference is that the Brut Nature is aged for 24 months and has no dosage, while the Reserva is aged for 18 months and tastes a bit more yeasty than the Brut Nature.
The final sample was of a Brut Rosé made from 100% Trepat grapes (Trepat is a Catalan varietal mostly used in making still wines and blended with Tempranillo or Garnacha). This cava is fresh, berry-flavored with fine bubbles.
The next morning we were off, following the Wine Route of Lleida to Celler Cercavins in the Costers del Segre D.O.
It is an interesting producer with approximately 50 hectares of vineyards near the village of Verdú.
One of the most impressive wines they create is called Guillamina, and is an aromatic and quite tasty white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha Bianca, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Albariño grapes. The nose has aromas of ripe apples and pears as well as tropical fruit – pineapple, banana, passion fruit – with an underlay of fresh cut grass. Light straw in color, it had a very slightly effervescent, lightly acidic palate. The production run is of 10,000 bottles; it is another summer libation that should be drunk while still young.
Another very nice bottle is Guilla, made from 100% Macabeo, aged in American and French oak barrels. Beautifully balanced and complex as well as fragrant, it has a long and intricate ending of ripe white fruit and vanilla. This wine is age worthy; it will mellow with 3 to 4 years in cellar.
There is a Lo Virol line of white, rosé and red wines that have all 13.5 ABV and are produced, in my opinion, mostly for restaurant sales. The white and rosé are both aromatic; the red, a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot is very food friendly, with aromas of wild dark berries over leather and spices.
Finally, two blended reds, Bru de Verdú and Bru de Verdú 14, are targeted more to gastronomes that are willing to cellar. They are aged in French, American and Hungarian oak and the two blends differ in the amount of Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot content. The Bru de Verdú 14 is aged for 14 months in casks, and then further in bottle. It is an extremely complex wine, with black fruit aromas and well integrated tannins. It has won multiple awards (Decanter, Peñin, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles) and has the capability of very long life, perhaps 15 to 20 years in cellar.
Next month I will be finishing the story of the 2016 trip with more wineries and exceptional wines.
For further info: http://www.excellingwines.com/eng/index.html
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