Communion wine and more…
Sunday 14 June
I haven’t got a religious bone in my body but you can’t avoid communion wine in Tarragona.
I’m afraid there still isn’t much to get excited about in this region. A 1954 sweet Moscatel and a 1964 dry version from De Muller winery were pretty delicious but oddities. Its £3.99 rosé (available in Morrison’s) is more mainstream and fab value for money: dry, zippy with lots of creamy raspberry and red fruit. Other than that, the wine scene seemed rather dull.
Things didn’t get much better in Conca de Barbera. The region is dominated by co-operatives who need to pull their socks up. Most of the wines here (70% ish, but don’t quote me) are sent to Cava houses as base wines to be made into the Spanish sparkler.
There’s so much diversity here and it lacks a clear identity. The wines range from boring boring Macabeo to pale Syrahs and meaty Cabernet Franc/Syrah blends. The highlight was Torres’ Milmanda barrel-fermented Chardonnay. It’s not cheap but it does show this region has the potential to make decent stuff.
And what about rosé? Why aren’t these guys listening to the market? Rendé Masdeu’s 2008 Rosat Syrah sells for three euro in Spanish shops. It’s great commercial stuff: dry, lots of fresh acid, light body and raspberry jolly ranchers. We’d lap it up. More of this please.
Native variety Trepat is thin-skinned making wines with pale colour, the light body of Pinot Noir, and the peppery spice of a northern Rhône Syrah. It has potential, but it’d be a hard sell.
Anyway, it’s time leave the serenity of our Priorat base (and the mosquitoes - little buggers have eaten me alive) to go back to London. I can’t contain my joy of returning to the sweaty tube and police sirens. Still lots of interesting stuff to cover but I’ll save it for another day…
Montsant: Priorat’s Little Brother
Saturday 13 June
The producers of Montsant call themselves the little brothers of Priorat – the wines are made in a similar style but are thankfully a little more affordable.
Montsant sits like a horseshoe around Priorat in southern Catalonia. In 2000, it won its independence from the all-encompassing D.O. Tarragona as a winemaking region. The manager of the D.O. told me: ‘Being a subzone of Tarragona wasn’t great. We wanted to be independent but it was a friendly divorce!’
Plantings are mainly red Garnacha and Carinena with a little splash of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Syrah thrown in.
With 54 wineries and the horseshoe stretching from the southern tip of Priorat to the north, styles vary but in general they high alcohol (around 14.5%), fresh acid, pale to moderate colour and juicy cherry fruit. Most aren’t as complex as some of the Priorats but, then again, a lot of the Priorats were equally forgettable and pricey.
Stand out winery of the day was Cellar Malondro. The young winemaker Ramon has already won 90+ points in Wine Spectator and He Who Shall Not Be Named (initials RP). He is making Garnacha/Carinena blends that have lovely concentration, fresh acid and elegance. He blends from French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. Bloody delicious.
The 2006 Malondro retails for just 10 euro in Spain. I gave it a whopping 18.5/20 (and I’m a mean marker). We all agreed it was an outstanding wine and we loved the price – now that’s something you wouldn’t get in Priorat.
Ramon told us the Malondro is only the second wine from the winery; Latria (18/20) is its third wine. The grand vin is only made in exceptional years so I’ll be back when that happens.
Tomorrow: a word about Tarragona and Conca de Barbera
Priorat day 2: Alvaro rocks
Friday 12 June
We kicked things off at Alvaro Palacios in Gratallops. Alvaro has been one of the figures that put Priorat back on the international wine map. And tasting his wines, I can see why. His Carinena/Garnacha blends are to die for: silky, elegant, refreshing, minerally, blackberry, red cherry fruit…(I could go on but I won’t). Unfortunately wines to try before you die, come at a price. Apparently Alvaro and Pingus’s owner Peter Sisseck are having a competition who can make the most expensive Spanish wine. In the UK, the wines are available at BBR. Try his ‘entry-level’ Camins if you can get hold of it. Although his Finca Dofi is good, it’s a very modern, international style of wine and not really representative of his top wines like L’Ermita (a cool £356.52 per bottle from BBR) and Gratallops.
Having had my faith restored by Alvaro, other unexpected highlights of the day included a fleeting visit to Barbara Fores winery in Terra Alta. The region is in southern Catalonia, behind an impressive coastal range which, thankfully, separate it from the tower blocks of seaside resort Salou. Without the backing of an illustrious name like Priorat, its wines are thankfully a little kinder on your wallet. Nevertheless, I gave its 2005 Coma d’en Pou, a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet and Syrah an impressive 18.5/20. Unfortunately the D.O Terra Alta generic tasting was less impressive but Barbara Fores shows the region has massive potential.
More later on Montsant but have to dash off to Conca de Barbera now for another marathon day…
Priorat: first impressions
Wednesday 10 June
I’m in Priorat with big hopes. The region became a big name in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with top class wines emerging from Alvaro Palacios, Rene Barbier et al. After just six hours here, I’ve been given the opportunity to taste more than 80 wines from the area. And I am underwhelmed.
There have been a few star wineries: Mas Doix, Sangenis I Vaque and Conreria d’Scala Dei. But there have been a lot of very average wines too. I reckon all the hype surrounding Priorat has set my bar way too high. Spanish expert, John Radford, told me that even in the best regions there was still a lot of crap - and his words rang true tonight.
Nevertheless, I have been astounded by the breathtaking scenery – it’s like the Douro Valley but without the Douro. And there’s definitely a style that could make me a convert to Priorat: elegant, fleshy fruit with a silky palate and mouthwatering acidity to finish. However, if I want to continue drinking these wines I’ll have to marry a rich man. Unless my lovely boyfriend wins the lottery (I bought him a scratchcard at the weekend: he didn’t win) the wines of Priorat will remain elusive except for on press trips. I am hoping I will have better things to report tomorrow…
Hasta manana amigos…
Tuesday 9 June
The world of fine wine is undergoing an internet revolution.
Fine wine trader Bordeaux Index launched Live Trade, a two way trading service for 60 of the world’s top wines two months ago, giving the public the power to bid and sell wine directly without a broker. The company claims it has recorded around £4m worth of trade in its first two months.
Now wine broker Fine+ Rare has launched a new web tool allowing users to value their fine wine collections and sell them at the click of a mouse. Users of the site can type in their portfolio to find out current market prices. It takes a 10-15% fee for brokering the wine if you wish to sell.
Hot on their heels is Berry Bros & Rudd. The London-based fine wine merchant is set to launch a new service that will allow customers to trade their reserves on the BBR site and set their own bid prices. Berrys takes a 10% fee from the sale.
So what does this all mean? The customer ultimately benefits from greater transparency of prices and gains greater control over buying and selling their own wines. The public have greater information than ever before about the quality of the wines on the market and their value.
However, this doesn’t mean the merchant is becoming obsolete. The public still need reliable advice and trusted avenues to buy and sell. Established names like Berrys, and Fine + Rare will continue to profit amid the proliferation of (sometimes untrustworthy) internet traders.
Let me know what you think about the changing face of fine wine investment.
Check out my Fine + Rare story and BBR article on decanter.com.