10-10-2016 ~ 1 Comment

Catalan Carignan & The “Best” Catalan Wine

Last Friday the winners were announced for the 4th edition of the Vinari Awards. This is the main wine award for all of Catalonia and this year I participated as one of the judges. So, when the Vall Llach – Mas de la Rosa of DOQ Priorat was announced as the co-winner with Vinyes d’Olivardots Vd’O 1.10 of DO Empordà, I wasn’t terribly shocked.

I have to say that when judging a competition, you taste a lot of bad wine as people are just fishing for awards–thanks for Catalan Rosés from Merlot guys :( But when this wine passed my table, despite our tasting blind, I knew immediately what it was as it leaped out of the glass and I, as well as the other four judges put it down for 95-96 points. It’s a tremendous vineyard (one of the eight Vi de Finca) that makes a tremendous wine, and 2013 was a tremendous year. My hat goes off to Albert and crew for really just letting the vineyard speak directly and lovingly.

That said, the Vd’O 1.10 is a beautiful wine as well from the opposite end of Catalonia. In the past, I’ve tasted it and the others made by Carme Casacuberta and her family, finding them to really show what is brilliantly possible from Empordà. I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to taste this wine during the judging as it probably went to another table or was tasted during a session I couldn’t make it to. Again, much like Mas de la Rosa, it just jumps out at you and screams, “I’m fantastic, suck it!” Both of these wines give me plenty of reason to stay in Catalonia.

Of course, it begs the question as to how there was a tie? In raw numbers, it could be possible that they tied in the “Best Aged Red Wine” category. I don’t however understand how they tied as “Best Overall Wine” as when you factor in whatever makes a wine “best” in all categories it would seem that one would get knocked down a peg and by awarding a tie it starts to feel a lot like a competition for Millennials where “Everyone is a winner!” Basically, I feel that even if there was numerical a tie, someone in the organizing committee should have performed the function of the Vice President in the 100-seat United States Senate and said, “I voted. Tie broken. Boom.” I would have loved to see Joe Biden do that while dropping the mic and walking out of the chamber during these last eight years, but alas, it’s never happened.

All Hail Catalan Carinyena

Beyond general musing about awarding points to wines (which sucks even when it’s done perfectly) there is something else interesting in these two tied wines: they’re both 100% Carignan or, Carinyena as it’s known in Catalonia.

Some people may be asking, “What the hell is that?” because this is a grape that is either very much unknown or very much unloved due to the cheap wines produced in Languedoc, France a few years back. Well, things have changed and Carignan is very much where it’s at. Admittedly, both of these wines’ tiny, 1,000 bottle productions come from small, old, bush-trained vineyards and when that happens, Carignan changes from being an overproducing watery beast to being one of the finest red wine grapes on the planet.

Ironically, when these vineyards were planted decades, if not a century, ago after the plague and ruin of Phylloxera the peasants weren’t thinking, “Jaume, [70% of all old peasants are named Jaume] today I’ve planted Carinyena because I have a vision to make one of the finest, most elegant red wines in the Northern Hemisphere.” to which Jaume would have answered, “Bullshit Francesc, you planted it because it puts out like Dolores in Calatayud.” They would have then had a laugh, high-fived a time traveling Donald Trump (yeah, be afraid), gone on to grow oodles of kilos out of those vines, and then blend them in to oblivion at their local winemaking cooperative.

These days have long-passed and the history that we’re left with in Catalonia as well as Languedoc, Roussillon, Israel, and even Morocco is a situation where we have these wonderful vines that people are just starting to take advantage of.

Does the future potentially look bright for Carignan? I damned well hope so.