Priorat- Part II. Clos Mogador

 

Celler Clos Mogador

Celler Clos Mogador

 

Although the phrase ‘living legend’ is often flung about with the hyperbolic abandon of wedding confetti, it is genuinely hard to find a more apt title for René Barbier.  Few wine regions in the world owe its success to one winemaker more than Priorat does to the founder of Celler Clos Mogador.

Despite the Agricultural Ministry recognising it as having potential in 1932, a combination of phylloxera in the 19th century and political upheaval through the 20th saw most Priorat vineyards abandoned and the area heavily depopulated.

Coming from a long line of winemakers, René Barbier arrived in Priorat in the late 1970’s when the region was producing little more than bulk jug wine for the Barcelona market.  Determined that it had huge quality potential, René convinced seven* other winemakers to experiment on this parched, baked llicorella (local slate) soil.  These early pioneers formed a winery producing one wine from their collective grapes, but released under their respective names.

Their powerful wines quickly gained international attention for the concentration, minerality and purity of fruit.  They went on to become some of the best known wines in Spain: l’Ermita, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Mogador.  Old, abandoned vineyards were snapped up as investment poured in to Priorat, tripling the area of land under vine in 35 years.

This oenology revolution culminated in 2000 when Priorat was awarded DOQ status by the Catalan government; one of only two Spanish regions (Rioja the other) to achieve this premium accolade.

Despite his global recognition in the wine world, René Barbier is an immediately hospitable, approachable and likeable gent.  On a recent visit to the Clos Mogador winery he gave me a private tour of his vineyards in an old Mitsubishi 4×4.  He told me in his dulcet, deliberate manner (so even my elementary Spanish could keep up) that Clos Mogador was the first wine awarded Vi de Finca staus, recognising it as a single vineyard wine of unique character.  Using no pesticides or herbicides these steep terraced vineyards are teeming with insects, wild flowers and grasses; the oldest vines producing as little as 250g of exceptionally concentrated fruit per year.

 

 

Back in the winery I was entrusted to the next generation of Barbier winemakers, René IV, whose perfect English gave my miniscule Spanish a welcome break!  Working with his father for over 20 years, René Jr is as affable in manner and as he is passionate in winemaking.  Unwilling to simply grasp his famous sire’s coattails, René Jr is continuing to innovate with his wines, both in Priorat and neighbouring Montsant; full-bodied whites, ageworthy rosé, natural wines, and the use of large local amphorae are just part of his experimentation.

Drawn to wine styles of unique character- sherry, aged Rieslings, Tokaji- René makes a lot of wines that wouldn’t have mass market appeal.  Instead he makes the wines he likes to make and drink; a fortunate luxury when your name is René Barbier!  Luckily for us he is incredibly talented at what he does.  A morning (and well in to the afternoon!) spent trying his wines shows his impressive range of winemaking skills.  Each wine unique and crafted with consummate skill; the Barbier family, synonymous with quality, is in very capable hands to continue their impressive legacy of innovation.

 

* Although we now refer to them as the Big 5, René Jnr assured me there were originally 8!

Priorat- Part I

 

priorat

After returning home from an unforgettable Catalan wine trip last week, the holiday hangover (figurative and literal) has dissipated just enough to thank a few great people who made this trip possible.

We started the trip in the daddy of Catalan wine regions- Priorat DOQ.  One of only two premium-tier wine regions in Spain (alongside Rioja DOCa), this is a rugged, parched landscape, with steep, low-yielding vineyardsGarnacha and Cariñena (Grenache and Carignan to you Francophiles) make up the bulk of the production.  These are powerful wines with deep forest fruits and a minerality that comes from the slate and quartz soil, known locally as llicorella.  Generally high in alcohol, don’t plan on doing much for the rest of the day if you have a couple of glasses during the siesta!

Many thanks must go to Patrick Webb of Coast to Coast wines.  Together with his partner Anna, we spent our first day visiting fantastic wineries across Priorat.

The highlight was a trip out to Celler Burgos Porta– a remote organic winery, set in a steep valley, run by the indefatigable Salvador.  If you want to check your fitness level, try trekking around a Priorat vineyard in 30 degree heat after this guy! Still, the fantastic Mas Sinén 2008 at the end makes the effort that much more worthwhile!

Later in the day we spent an exhilarating, if bum-numbing, hour and a half travelling through Juan José Escoda’s (Jou) Prior Pons vineyards in his trusty, well-travelled ‘office’ (an old 4×4 stacked with files and rock samples!).  Growing on steep hillsides around the town of Vilella Alta, this unforgiving terrain is constantly threatened with drought; when we were there in June, they had not had any rain for over six weeks.  This low rainfall means the fruit gets great concentration of flavours, but the yield per plant can be as low as 300g in older vines, one-fifth that of neighbouring Penedès!  This is a key contributing factor why many Priorat wines can seem expensive compared to other Spanish regions.

Prior Pons’ Planets is available in O’Briens Off-Licences nationwide and offers a good value introduction to Priorat DOQ.  Well worth a try.

Check out the blog next Friday, when I’ll post about a morning spent with two generations of one of the biggest names in Priorat- René Barbier of Clos Mogador.  Until then, sláinte and enjoy the weekend.

HB.

Sunny Saturday Reds

The forecast says today is set to reach 20 degrees across parts of our fair isle (cue thunderstorms and egg on my face!). So if you plan on taking advantage of our 24-hour window of summer with a BBQ, here are a few suggestions to match your grub.

O’Briens have a fantastic summer sale at the moment, so if you’re in the mood for a juicy BBQ steak I recommend these two great reds. The first is from my favourite red wine region in Spain, Ribera del Duero, by one of its top producers, Torres.  Celeste Crianza is a staple on Miguel Torres’ lunch table at his private Mas Rabell restaurant; if it is good enough for him, surely it’s good enough for us mere mortals!

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.  O'Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Torres Celeste, Ribera del Duero.
O’Briens: WAS €21.99. NOW €17.99

Unlike the over-oaked behemoths that we sometimes find in northern Spain, this Tempranillo is full-bodied but fresh, delivering juicy blackberry fruit and a long peppery finish.  This is a great price for a terrific wine; I was in Catalunya last week and it was the same price in the supermarket there.  Considering Ireland’s scandalous wine taxation I would consider this a bargain.

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

Porta 6, Lisboa. O Briens: WAS: €12.99. NOW €9.99

For something a little lighter on the pocket and the palate is Porta 6, from Portugal.  A blend of Tempranillo (called Tinta Roriz in Portugal) and local varieties, this offers plenty of warm forest fruits and floral notes.  Like the Celeste above it has lovely freshness and acidity to balance the weighty tannins and spicy finish.  Excellent value and worth grabbing a few bottles at this price.

Travelling in Toro DO

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

 

Toro

Sitting high on the central plateau of Spain, north-west of Madrid, Toro has a viticultural heritage dating back over two millennia when the Greeks spread vines across the Mediterranean. The modern DO is named after the largest town in the region and spreads across the gently undulating boundary of the Zamora and Valladolid provinces, at an altitude of 620m to 750m.

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

Roman bridge over Rio Duero as seen from Toro

This region is steeped in the history of Spain. Its important strategic location, straddling the banks of the Duero River saw it play a key role in the Christian reconquest of Spain, subsequent wars of succession and later Napoleonic wars. Toro boasted the court of kings, the capital of the province and its strong wines filled the holds of the Spanish ships that conquered the New World. When phylloxera devastated most of the vineyards of Europe, Toro’s dry, sandy soil inhibited the spread of the louse and its wines were in huge demand in France.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, Toro was overshadowed by its more prestigious near-neighbours, both politically and vinous. Zamora became the political capital of the province while nearby Ribera del Duero became the benchmark for the red wines of Castilla y León. Today Toro peacefully sits atop its promontory quietly surveying the surrounding fertile plains, its skyline dominated by the Romanesque tower-domes of the twelfth century Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor.

Declared a Conjunto Histórico town, Toro is the biggest in the region and has the best options for eating and accommodation so should be the base for a wine trip. Getting there by public transport is difficult and unreliable, so I suggest flying to Madrid and renting a car from there. Toro is only a two hour drive on very good roads. Once you get to the region, you will certainly need a car to visit the diffuse wineries, as public transport is non-existent.

Wines
For much of the last century Toro produced too many overly extracted, heavily-oaked, rustic wines of little interest. Wine that was once coveted by Kings was brought low by lack of investment and antiquated winery techniques. Toro DO was founded in 1987 with only four members.

However, the potential was obvious for many to see. The region’s extreme continental climate is tempered by high altitude and the presence of the Duero River, creating a diurnal range (temperature difference between day and night) that keeps freshness during the dry, hot growing season. The local clone of Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro, is a thick-skinned, early-ripening variant that offers ageworthy, powerful wines.

This attracted investors from nearby wine regions, including Vega Sicilia and Marcus Eguren. Modern techniques were married to ancient vines to create wines of unique character and complexity that has attracted much attention from wine critics. The influential Robert Parker gave Bodega Numanthia’s wine, Termanthia 2004, a perfect 100 pts.

Where to Visit
The future for Toro wine looks bright, so now is the time to visit this wonderful region and explore its welcoming bodegas. There are over fifty wineries in the region now, but many have not yet fully embraced wine tourism, so make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment and ensure a guide in English if required.

NUMANTHIA Bodega Numanthia helped put Toro back on the wine map and should be included in any wine tour. Representing the tenacity of the Tinta de Toro grape in this inhospitable region, the winery is named after a Spanish town that refused to submit to Roman occupation for a century. Sold by the Eguren family to the premium LVMH group, it boasts a new state of the art winery and some of the best wines in Toro. Bookings must be made in advance. http://www.numanthia.com

bodegatesoFollowing the sale of Numanthia, Marcus Eguren set up Teso La Monja in the nearby hills. This is a stunning classical winery built around a wide colonnaded patio of local stone that is well worth a visit.  Tours need to be booked in advance. http://www.sierracantabria.com

logo Dominio del Bendito As good as the wines are in these premium wineries, they are not the reason I love wine tourism in more remote areas. To really experience the passion for terroir and the true potential for the wines of Toro, I recommend you organise a visit to Dominio del Bendito. Founded by a young passionate, eccentric Frenchman, Antony Terryn, Dominio del Bendito is a small production garage winery located in the centre of Toro in an old monastery. Having worked in many of the premium wine regions in the world, Antony bought a number of plots of old vines and settled in Toro.

The tour was an impromptu trip up to his ancient vineyards in his old 3-door Peugeot hatchback. Surrounded by rock and soil samples, we were serenaded by the potential of Toro wines. Back in the rustic winery we were treated to wines that were anything but rustic. Powerful and fresh with jammy forest fruits, these wines typify what modern Toro can offer. I highly recommend you get in contact before commencing your trip. http://www.bodegadominiodelbendito.com

Where to Stay
Although only recently opening up to foreign tourism in the last few years, Toro offers good quality accommodation to suit any budget.

Hotel Juan II is good value and offers spectacular views over the valley floor as well as the storks nesting in the nearby towers of the Collegiate church of Santa María la Mayor. Make sure you request a room with a balcony to fully appreciate this little gem. http://www.hotelesentoro.es

For those on a tighter budget Hotel Zaravencia is basic but clean and comfortable and overlooks Plaza Mayor in the centre of the town. http://www.hotelzaravencia.com

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

Valbusenda Wine and Spa Resort

If you are looking for something more luxurious, the five-star Valbusenda Hotel Bodega & Spa is 9 kilometres outside the town. Although quite isolated, Valbusenda offers absolute luxury in its deluxe rooms and spa, as well as unrivalled dining room views over the local valley floor. Enjoy breakfast while watching birds of prey hovering over the golden, sun bathed landscape. http://www.valbusenda.com

Where to Eat
Why not do as the Spanish and go on a tapas and wine trail? Begin in Plaza Mayor and continue towards the clock tower. There are plenty of good quality local bars that open until late. But remember the siesta, as most close during the middle of the day.

For something a bit more substantial, enjoy good quality, local fare on the patio of Hotel Juan II with its views across the plains below.  Or with a terrific wine list and a Gin and Tonic only setting you back €5, come for a perfect sundowner after a busy day on the wine trail.

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

Patio Hotel Juan II with view of Rio Duero

 

Information
A list of all wineries can be found on Toro DO website:
http://www.dotoro.com
Toro Local Government:
Plaza Mayor 1, Toro
http://www.toroayto.es
TORO DO Quick Facts
GRAPES:
Red (majority)/Rose: Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo), small amount of Garnacha
White: Malvasia and Verdejo
WINERIES: 54
PRODUCTION: 12,147,920 litres/yr
SOIL: Limestone/ Stony Alluvial

 

Wines to Try

 

 

 

 

Emilio Moro

This article first appeared in wineplus.ie- Ireland’s biggest online wine magazine. For your FREE monthly magazine: subscribe@wineplus.ie.

emilio-moroJosé Moro looks like the archetypal traditional Spanish winemaker. With his salt-and-pepper hair swept to the side and a face that could have been hewn from the rock of the meseta, he is a man whose very heritage is tied to the vineyard. However, there is a lot more than just tradition to the current head of Bodegas Emilio Moro, as Wine+ recently found out.

There are few names more synonymous with Ribera del Duero than that of Emilio Moro, whose family tradition in winemaking stretches back over 120 years. It was José’s grandfather, Don Emilio, who founded Bodegas Emilio Moro with a focus on selecting the best individual vines in the vineyard and grafting these on the next generation to produce the purest expression in the winery. This clonal selection is now common place, but in Don Emilio’s day it was cutting edge winemaking.

The efforts of his forefathers is not lost on José, who readily appreciates their commitment, ‘when you perceive this from childhood, this care, this sacrifice, you retain a warm feeling of pride in family’. The result of their dedication and hard work is the Tinto Fino clone; the purest expression of Tempranillo, claims José. But a good grape is nothing without terroir and in Ribera del Duero, this small, thick-skinned grape is perfectly married to the conditions. It is here, situated high on the Spanish plateau, with its extreme continental climate, varied soils and influence of the meandering Duero river that Tinto Fino produces some of Spain’s best quality, longest-lived and powerful wines.

But it is not only by looking to the past that the Moro family is driven forward. When asked about the philosophy of the winery, José answers in his deep, heavily-accented deliberate manner that it is ‘necessary to establish a balanced triangle on three fundamental pillars: Tradition, Innovation and Social Responsibility’.

The traditions of the family run deep, with José eschewing the practice of blending his beloved Tinto Fino grape with the Bordeaux varieties allowed in the DO. Instead he strives to retain pure varietal character in all of his wines. Each of these wines is supported by the other two pillars of José’s philosophy. Through their socially responsible vineyard techniques they refuse to use fertilisers with heavy metals, avoid irrigation and harvest grapes by hand to ensure they are in the best condition when they reach the winery. Bodegas Emilio Moro firmly believe the quality of their wines is directly related to their commitment to sustaining the land.

José knits together this commitment to Tradtion and Innovation seemlessly, ‘I learned everything from my father and grandfather but of course we have many universities to study modern techniques. In associaiton with the University of Valladolid we have developed GPS systems to look at many aspects of our vineyards’. This system allows José to identify problems with individual vines in the vineyard and address any deficiencies in the plant. Targeting individual vines reduces the need to interfere with the development of healthy plants.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero.

In 2007 José’s core philosophies came to fruition when the family opened Bodegas Cepa 21. Located outside the town of Peñafiel on 50 hectares, this brand new winery complements and enhances the landscape. Two years ago I arrived at the winery door without an appointment. Instead of turning me away, I was warmly welcomed like an old friend by enthusiastic staff and given a private tour of their state of the art facility. We tasted their beautiful wines in the intimate tasting room overlooking the ageing cellar; accompanied by the sweet and sour scent of younger vintages patiently ageing in oak.

Not content to simply replicate what they were doing at Emilio Moro, José and his team carefully selected old-vine clones of Tinto Fino for planting on the cooler, north facing vineyards of Cepa 21. José explains their philisophy. ‘We chose north facing slopes, less hours of sunshine. The growing cycle is longer; this produces totally different aromas- more freshness, a high aroma’. This attention to detail produces an elegant range of wines with lovely freshness and aroma, very different to those produced at Emilio Moro.

However, José doesn’t like to call these modern wines. Instead he refers to them as a different expression of the same fruit, ‘I do not like to use traditional versus modern but prefer to talk about the different terroirs that produce different wines’. As at Emilio Moro, these wines are aged in a mix of French and American oak and abandon the traditional terms of Reserva and Gran Reserva. This gives the winemakers freedom to innovate with ageing terms.

Cepa 21 creates innovative wines that encapsulate José Moro’s core philosophies- Traditional Tinto Fino clones used by the family for decades married to the very best innovative vineyard and winery practices, and a firm focus on a respect for the land and enviornment that produce the unique conditions of the Duero valley.

And all this effort and attention to detail is certainly worth it. Today José’s wines are stocked in fifty countries on five continents, regularly winning awards and top marks from critics. His family owns almost 170 acres in one of the most exciting and beautiful wine regions in the world and his company is growing at about 15% per year. As well as this, Bodegas Emilio Moro just became the first visually impaired accessible winery in Castilla y Léon, carrying on from labelling their wines in braille, and also run a successful charitable foundation. The future looks very bright for the Moro family.

‘Wine is an art. If you know how to listen it speaks to you… It is like a living being that you have to understand, look after and care for.’
-Don Emilio Moro.

Great Value Spanish in Aldi

Paniza

Paniza Crianza, Cariñena DOP, Spain, 2009.

Aldi, €6.30.

It’s very hard to find a good bottle of wine in Ireland for under €7 these days.  When you consider the government slap €3.18 duty on every bottle of wine imported into the country, the value of the actual wine in the bottle becomes increasingly  squeezed at the lower end of the market.  On top of this the price of the bottle of wine, including the duty, is subject to 23% VAT.  So, of the €6.30 I paid for the wine above, €4.35 goes straight to the tax man!  As disgraceful as that it is (I’ll deal with this again), it is incredible that this wine can be so good.  The costs of producing this include the land for growing the grapes, wages for a team of pickers, paying for the material and permits of running a winery (including expensive oak barrels), storage for 5 years, glass bottle, label and shipping costs from Spain to Ireland.  On top of this the winery owner and the supermarket have to make a profit.  All out of the remaining €1.95.  So to say this wine is a bargain is an understatement.

It comes from Cariñena, a wine region in the north east of Spain, that was first planted by the Romans.  It is believed Carignan, a grape widely grown in southern France was first cultivated here.  The region is quite high- 400-800m above sea level, and this altitude is crucial to growing good grapes in central Spain.  The Summer heat, which can reach 38 degrees, is tempered by cool nights and a brisk northerly breeze known as the cierzo, allowing the grapes to relax at night after a day of sun baking.  It is this diurnal temperature variation that is responsible for the quality wines of  Rioja and Ribera del Duero further west.

It was my father, always with an astute eye for a good bargain, who picked up this wine yesterday.  I opened it and tested it through the Vin Aire to see what it was like with a little decanting, and perhaps needed it (a decanter would do just as well).  An unusual blend for Cariñena, it is 60% Tempranillo and 20% each Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is brick red in the glass, still fresh and fruity on the nose, despite it being five years old.  Lovely aromas of blackberries, cherries, vanilla from the American oak and a little smokey- very inviting.  In the mouth it is full bodied with nice tannins.  The blackberries, cherries, oak are still there on the palate, but there is a lovely spiciness that complements the tobacco and chocolate flavours.  The alcohol is evident on the finish though and I reckon it could well be higher than the 13.5% abv it says on the label.

This really is fabulous value and if you like robust Spanish reds with plenty of fruit and lots of character, you will not do better anywhere near this price.  I’d advise you to pick up a few bottles quickly though, as it seems to be a once off.

Rating: VERY GOOD 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5