The tastes of Priorat
I’m often in the Catalan comarca of Priorat. A large part of the reason is due to the Priorat book, new Montsant book, or taking small groups of visitors around on the occasional wine tours. Naturally, this means I get to sample the region continuously on a regular basis which I freely admit I’m very spoiled to be able to do, although I’ll also freely admit that I never get enough of it.
For most people though, it’s usually the case, if they live in Catalonia that they’ll visit maybe 2-3 times a year if big fans. If they live further afield, maybe it’s just one trip a year at most. Like a Swedish fellow who lives in Kuala Lumpur learned long ago, the little secret that everyone should know is that while there are events year-round, if you want the most extreme, maximum taste of the region possible, visit at the very beginning of May. I laid all of this out in a recent article but this year, due to not having to promote a book, I was actually able to take some of my own advice and visit most all of these events. In the end, perhaps it was a bit much, but I mostly blame that on Pep and Patri who, if given the chance will thoroughly ruin you with good wine from their cellar Comunica or the Priorat cellar they consult for, L’Infernal.
But it all started on the first Friday of May. This year, the weather was in fine form for all who made their way down to these old, Medieval lands. I had missed it the year before, but I was able to stop in to the Tast dels Blancs which is organized by the Aguiló brothers that have the two main wine shops in Falset. This event has grown year after year and this one was no exception. It was quite packed as the evening went on and it provided a really great glimpse in to the whites that the region has to offer and most people don’t often taste given the stellar-ness of the reds.
But speaking of reds, while I passed through the Nit de Les Garnatxes in Capçanes to say hi to friends, my trajectory was the Nit de les Carinyenes organized by the Cellers de Porrera. Why? If you’ve tasted Carinyena from Priorat, you know why. Josep Roca of Celler de Can Roca has and it’s one of the reasons this specific wine is one of his favorites in the world. But what I love about this event is that it gives you the opportunity to taste a whole smattering of single grape Carignan bottlings prior to any blends and all from the village of Porrera which, despite what some grumpy peasants in the next village over might say, is not only for growing hazelnuts. Of course trying to remember everything that you drink the next day, even if you got off to a late start like I did can be a daunting exercise. Most of the winemakers are enjoying a late coffee in the morning at Café Antic if you need a refresher though.
Saturday starts with the Tast amb Dones in the morning and Tamb amb Llops at night in Gratallops with the Videnit at Mas Figueres on the outskirts of Marçà. It’s hard to pick a favorite between these three. Tast amb Dones is a great setting in the outdoor patio of Clos Figueras and if the sun is nice, like it was, offers one hell of a way to pass the morning.
Tast amb Llops, at the top of the village, is equally charming and while maybe a touch expensive for some, the food is excellent and the wines are seriously top notch. I believe that it’s one of the only venues where you can taste the Álvaro Palacios wines during the fair.
Of course, for fantastic settings, Videnit set beneath the huge old pine in front of the hotel with little lanterns strung about it is as warming to the soul as the wine served. In fact as they happen at near the same time, oddly enough, a lot of the cellars are the same. But, many of the winemakers know that there are plenty of diehards out there who do indeed make it to both events and they’ll change things up a little from one event to the other like Sara Peréz and René Barbier who have something like four or five different wineries/projects and can pick and choose what they want to pour at events happening during the same time. I only found this out as I was unencumbered by book presenting and so I was trying to make it to absolutely everything this year. I think for the sane/more sedentary wine lover, you’d be none-the-wiser.
Then of course we come to Sunday. I only made it to one of the two main tasting events, Tast del Cal Compte. I can’t really say enough good things about this event. For starters, the wines of Torroja are just flat-out excellent. Second, I find it to be the most picturesque of the Priorat villages, even if it is a bit without life outside of the fair season. And third, the Cal Compte setting with a balcony that overlooks the river and small valley that spreads out from Torroja is singularly blissful.
The other event that happens just a touch later if Tast de les Mines down in Bellmunt. I didn’t make it there because of the aforementioned Pep & Patri “problem” of being invited to lunch at the cellar with a slew of other people and enjoying this, that, those, and a heap of this. And this was of course after having a lot of this during the tasting.
It’s blurry memories like these and fleeting memories of discussing the cats in the next village over while sipping a strong coffee that make Priorat such a special place during this time.