08-07-2016 ~ 2 Comments

The new “institutional wines” of DO Montsant

DO Montsant has just announced their new “institutional wines”. In brief, these are a red and white wine that will be used for the next 1-2 years to demonstrate what is seen to be the true character of Montsant wines. They pour the wines at events as well as educational sessions to help explain what defines DO Montsant as there are still too many people who simply view it as “cheap Priorat“. DO Montsant does a good deal of outreach because of this and I find them to be only of the more proactive DOs in Catalonia.

The white that was selected was the Acústic Blanc 2015 from Celler Acústic. The red was Les Sorts Vinyes Velles 2013 from Celler El Masroig. Normally, that would be the end of such an announcement on a site such as this, but as I was invited to be part of the selection panel this year, I happened to get a good deal more information on the process.

There were in total about 12 of us judging. While I wrote the book on Montsant, there were others who have shops in the region, or are sommeliers, or local enologists. Essentially, it’s a group that’s very familiar with the wines and are all people I know well given that Priorat County (where DO Montsant resides) is pretty damned small place. Seeing a few faces from further afield in Spain or even France might have been even more engaging, but as we all donate our time, it can be a tall order for people to attend.

All of the wines were tasted blind and there were five whites from the 2014/2015 vintages followed by 15 reds from the 2013/2014 vintages. Immediately you can see that this wasn’t a sampling of all the wines in the region, of which there are around 250 individual labels. Part of the selection process was that for the whites, the wine needed to be a minimum of 70% from White Grenache and Macabeu which the Acústic met via its blend of 60% White Grenache, 25% Macabeu, 10% Grey Grenache, and 5% Xarel·lo. For the red, there needed to be a minimum of 70% from Grenache and Carignan which is easily seen in Les Sorts with its 85% Carignan and 15% Grenache.

The other issue is that if a cellar’s wine is selected, then they’ll need to give samples of it for various tastings. This is the cost of the bragging rights and you can see that for a small cellar, this just isn’t possible due to absorbing the cost as well as not really having enough bottles to spare. That’s a bit problematic as it limits the selection process to larger producers but there’s not really any way around it that I can see.

The tastings at Vitec, which are managed by my friend, Enric Nart, are a always work in progress. By that I mean that they’re constantly working on better and more scientific ways to grade wines which is no small feat given the great subjectivity it engenders. One facet that was great about this tasting is that we all tasted the wines in a different order. So say, I was tasting the wines 1,2,3,4,5, someone else was getting them as 2,4,5,3,1 so that it helped to balance out palate fatigue.

It didn’t matter the order as Wine #1 in the whites was heads and shoulders above all the others for me and indeed it turned out to be the Acústic Blanc, which has been given notice recently and really, Albert Jané is just crafting a damned fine white in Montsant with this wine.

For the reds, it was more difficult and I saw massive variation. While one would be aromatically complex, it was lacking in the body, or the acidity would be off, or the barrel work wasn’t well-integrated. There were a couple in there that generally floated my boat well but I didn’t actually select Les Sorts Vinyes Velles as one of my top picks. Despite the flack I’ve been getting from cooperatives for some recent articles, my top pick was the Mas Tortó from Celler de Capçanes, one of Montsant’s cooperatives. So to anyone who says I only like small producers, I kindly show this as proof to the contrary and I will resist thumbing my nose at you. This selection was followed closely by the Jaspi Negre from Coca i Fitó (that’s an excellent price-quality ratio) and then of course a smaller producer with the Mas de l’Abundància which has shown great evolution in recent years.

Overall, I wasn’t surprised by most of my choices, although the Tortó I wasn’t expecting simply because I haven’t tasted the wine before. I feel that the panel did a fine job however and if you do indeed want to understand Montsant in just two bottles, these two that were selected will go the distance for you.