Sea to Sky: Ramping it up in Tarragona

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The single most striking aspect of the geography of Spain is its mean altitude, the highest in Europe after Switzerland. With nearly 5,000 miles of coastline, this translates to a steep rise from coastal plain to interior, as typified by the Catalan province of Tarragona—home to the controlled wine regions of Tarragona, Montsant and Priorat (in ascending order of altitude).

In June we climbed this 2500-foot “ladder to heaven” (Scala Dei—literally ‘God’s Ladder’) in a single day, visiting four stellar family estates producing individualistic and world-class wines.

Vinyes del Terrer, Vila-Seca (all of THIRTEEN FEET elevation…)

Vinyes del Terrer: Lumaquela soils, maritime Mediterranean climate and dedicating wine growing.

Vinyes del Terrer: Lumaquela soils, maritime Mediterranean climate and dedicating wine growing.

Just over a mile from the Mediterranean in Tarragona’s Baix Camp (low fields) is the vineyard estate of the Morell family, 18 acres planted in 1989 to Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Low-yield sustainable viticulture is followed by natural winemaking and sensitive use of French oak. Local soils of fossil limestone (local: lumaquela) combined with the salty, fresh sea breezes result in astoundingly expressive and polished wines, now joining the top ranks of Catalan reds. ‘Terrer’ is Catalan for terroir, but interestingly, the localized lumaquela outcropping has historically carried this moniker.

Celler Dosterras, Marçà (ONE THOUSAND SIXTEEN FEET…and rising)

L. Celler Dosterras at Mas Figueres in Marça. R. Josep Grau in his centenarian Cariñena vineyard 'Aiguasals.'

L. Celler Dosterras at Mas Figueres in Marça. R. Josep Grau in his centenarian Cariñena vineyard ‘Aiguasals.’

After several years winemaking in the Rhône, Josep Grau returned to his native land to create an estate from the region’s most treasured heirloom Garnacha and Cariñena vines. He settled on the villages of Marçà and Capçanes at the southern boundary of Priorat where he continues to find remnant centenarian parcels in need of conservation. Taking its name from the dual chalk/clay terroir of his ungrafted three-acre centenarian parcel ‘Les Taules’, Celler Dosterras is producing wines in the biodynamic manner that offer huge fruit impact with freshness, depth and a well-mannered, subtle oak component.

Mas d’en Gil, Bellmunt del Priorat (ONE THOUSAND THIRTY-SIX FEET)

Marta Rovira and her father Pedro with vistors on their organically-farmed Mas d'en Gil Estate. Insert: Ancestral Masía Barril, house and winery.

Marta Rovira and her father Pedro with vistors on their organically-farmed Mas d’en Gil Estate.
Insert: Ancestral Masía Barril, house and winery.

New in Fall 2013 to Classical Wines/Bonafide® Wine Estates is Mas d’en Gil, a preeminent Priorat estate that we initially represented in the late 1980s as Masía Barril. The Barril family had purchased this 300-plus acre property in the 1930s and was, along with Scala Dei and De Müller, the progenitor estate for this prestigious and historic appellation. In 1998 the Rovira family, deeply rooted in the Spanish wine business, acquired the property and has since lovingly and meticulously conserved and updated the grounds and facilities. Mas d’en Gil is the most maritime of Priorat estates, and while it has no problem producing red wines of deep color and hefty alcohol content, its style is fresher and more minerally transparent than is typical of the appellation—powerful wines that retain an element of grace. Great wines by any standard!

Celler Pasanau, La Morera de Montsant (TWO THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE FEET!!)

Left: Celler Pasanau overlooking La Morera de Montsant and the entire Priorat. Right: Finca la Planeta and the Sierra de Montsant.

Left: Celler Pasanau overlooking La Morera de Montsant and the entire Priorat.
Right: Finca la Planeta and the Sierra de Montsant.

One cannot climb any higher in Priorat—Pasanau’s bodega is located at the trail head to the summit of the Sierra de Montsant and the great, biodynamic Finca la Planeta site abuts the sierra’s rock precipice that forms the northern limitation of D.O.C. Priorat. In contrast to Mas d’en Gil, Pasanau is Priorat’s most inland and highest estate. But as at Mas d’en Gil, refreshing breezes reach these mountain heights and increase diurnal temperature variation, maintaining fruit freshness and acidity. But make no mistake—these are MOUNTAIN WINES of serious proportions!

Author: shm

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