Wine of the Week 69 – a sumptuous red for winter

Winter seems to be in the air, so my thoughts are turning to red wine again.  I am still hoping for a late Indian Summer though, which would give me a chance to get out some of the mouthwatering white wines that are sitting in the rack looking up at me expectantly.

Regular readers will know of my love and fascination with all things Iberian and Spanish – especially the wines. Recently I presented a tasting of the less usual wines of Spain and everything I showed went down very well. Indeed a couple of the wines have already been Wines of the Week and they are really good – click here and here.

Many of you will know about Priorat, one of Spain’s – and the world’s – greatest wine region and certainly one of the most expensive. This amazing, rugged landscape specialises in producing richly mineral red wines that are usually made from blends based on Grenache, or Garnacha as the Spanish call it and Garnatxa as the Catalans call it. A few of the red wines are Carignan  / Cariñena / Samsó dominated blends, while a small number of producers craft superb white wines from grapes like Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo, as well as Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

Wine map of Spain, see Montsant in the north east - click for a larger view

Wine map of Spain, see Montsant in the north east – click for a larger view

Priorat is one of only two regions to hold Spain’s highest classification, Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) – it is Denominació d’Origen Qualificada or DOQ in Catalan. The only other region to have this so far is Rioja.

Priorat is tiny and the wines expensive, but luckily for us it is almost completely surrounded by another wonderful wine region – Montsant. This region is only a relatively humble DO or Denominación de Origen – but then so is Ribera del Duero – but it can produce wines of real quality. Recently I tasted a superb Montsant, that was so good I showed it at my tasting and everyone loved it so much that I decided to make it my Wine of the Week.

Montsant's rugged, but beautiful landscape.

The Joan d’Anguera estate in Montsant’s rugged, but beautiful landscape.

Joan and Josep Anguera.

Joan and Josep Anguera.

Planella2012 Planella Montsant
Joan d’Anguera
D.O. Montsant
Catalunya, Spain

The story here is an old and familiar one, the d’Anguera family have farmed these wild hillsides for centuries, scratching a living by providing grapes for the cooperative. However in the 1970s Josep d’Anguera decided to get more ambitious, perhaps he was influenced by the Priorate pioneers, or perhaps he just realised the potential of his land, but he planted Syrah and that had a really positive effect on his wines. It certainly made them easier to sell, but also tamed and softened the more rustic grapes in the blends, although now they are reducing the amount of Syrah in their blends in favour of the traditional local grapes. Today the estate is run by Josep’s sons, Josep and Joan and they too are forward thinking and ambitious and from 2008 to 2012 they were in conversion to biodynamic viticulture – 2012 was their first biodynamic vintage.

50% Cariñena / Samsó / Carignan, 45% Syrah and 5% Garnacha / Garnatxa / Grenache. Fermentation in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts. Aged for 12 months in old French oak barrels.

The colour is rich and opaque, while the nose gives lifted aromas of sweet dark fruit, warming spice, wild herbs and smoke. The palate is mouth filling, mouth coating and wondrously smooth. The texture is very seductive, as is the intense ripe fruit, blackberry, mulberry and nuggets of raspberry and cherry.  Savoury, spicy, smoky characters balance the fruit, together with a light touch of spicy oak and a seam of slatey minerality. The tannins are very smooth and ripe, adding to that seductive, sumptuous feel. This is a terrific wine that will wow anyone who tastes it – 91/100 points.

This is a lovely food friendly style, try it with anything meaty or hearty, especially cassoulet, pot roasts or slow roast garlicky lamb.

Available in the UK for around £13-£16 per bottle, from James Nicholson (NI), Forest Wines, Harvey Nichols, L’Art du Vin, No 2 Pound Street, Prohibition Wines, Salusbury Wine Store, St Andrews Wine Company.
For US stockists, click here.

Wine of the Week 47 – a great experience and a great Rioja

This week I throw caution to the wind and celebrate tasting – and drinking – a rare gem from my cellar. It is most certainly not cheap, it isn’t widely available, but it was very, very good, so it is my Wine of the Week.

I was teaching a WSET level 2 course and none of my students had ever tasted a really mature wine, so we cooked up a plan to share an old bottle from my collection.

I spent a happy hour browsing through my bottles, wiping off the dust, and eventually I chose something really exciting. It had sat in my wine rack for well over twenty years just waiting for its moment and I crossed my fingers that it would live up to the hopes that we had for it.

Actually I just hoped it was still alive and not corked.

The bottle was a Rioja, but not just any old wine from that region. No this was the single vineyard 1970 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva from the great Bodegas López de Heredia in Haro.

Looking south across Rioja's vineyards from the Sierra de Cantabria mountains.

Looking south across Rioja’s vineyards from the Sierra de Cantabria mountains.

López de Heredia are unapologetically old fashioned even now, with long ageing and even producing oaky whites and rosés, but this wine was 45 years old. Franco was still dictator of Spain when it was made and Ted Heath was the UK Prime Minister. It was a very different world back then, without computers or the internet, cheap air travel or mobile phones – what’s more The Beatles hadn’t even officially split up and the first Moon landing was only the year before!

I have visited the bodega once, a long time ago, but it always stays with you as the place is one of the iconic wineries of Spain and their story is pretty good too. Still family run, they were founded in 1877 by Don Rafael López de Heredia Landeta who was actually born in Santiago, Chile. However he was Spanish and when the family returned to Spain in 1869 he went to nearby Bayonne in France to study business. While he was there he must have seen the problems the French were having with their vines – this was in the depths of the phylloxera crisis – and the business potential of applying Spanish wine to French producers who had no wine of their own to sell – click here to read about this period of Rioja’s history.

Rioja Map 2013

Map of Rioja – – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Don Rafael established his winery in Haro, in the barrio, near the railway station – this area is home to a great concentration of the fine old established Rioja producers, including CVNE and Muga, as the railway made exporting the wines much easier than it was in the past. At first the winery was pretty small, but as demand grew he sought to expand – in every direction.

First they set about digging cellars into the local hillside and then he wanted to enlarge the bodega buildings too. He did this by employing Galician stonemasons to turn the excavated stone into building material and then got an architect to design him an up to date winery that was much larger than he needed to allow for future growth. Amazingly it is still larger than they need, although they have expanded several times in to vacant buildings that Don Rafael put up back in the nineteenth century.


The beautiful López de Heredia winery, complete with the Txori Toki tower. Photo courtesy of the bodega.

As if developing downwards, by digging cellars, and outwards with more buildings was not enough, the winery was finished off with a lovely art nouveau tower that dominates that part of Haro and makes it impossible to miss the winery. This tower is known as the Txori Toki – bird tower in Basque – and its picture graces their wine labels to this day.

López de Heredia is a lovely bodega to visit, the buildings are beautiful and seem to capture the spirit of a time and a place in Rioja’s early history. The cellars are simply amazing with cavern after cavern opening up as you walk through them and you briefly like an explorer from a different age. At the heart of the cellars is a huge tasting room with an enormous round table and enjoying a tasting there is an experience that you never forget.

Unusually for Rioja their production has always been based upon their own vineyards and the core of their range is a series of single vineyard wines such as Viña Gravonia, Viña Cubillo, Viña Bosconia and most importantly the famous Viña Tondonia. This large, 100 hectare vineyard is so synonymous with the company, that its official name is Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia. This extraordinary site produces some of the most iconic and traditional Rioja ones in the form of their great reds, whites and one of the very last of the old style long barrel aged Rosados.

The tasting room deep in the cellars, photo courtesy of the winery.

The tasting room deep in the cellars, photo courtesy of the winery.

vina_tondonia_19701970 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva
Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia
Haro, Rioja
The blend is something like 75% Tempranillo with 15% Garnacha and some Mazuelo and Graciano.  It fermented in wooden fermentation vats, before being aged for 10 years in 225 litre American oak barrels before being bottled.

Opening wine as old as this is always a gamble and a bit of a worry, but I had stored it well in my small cellar the Big Yellow Wine Storage in Fulham, so I should not have worried and as soon as I sniffed it, I knew it was good.
The colour was a real tawny orange and it had become transparent with age. The aroma was deep and savoury with leathery, earthy, meaty, mushroom notes together with some dried fruit – cherry, raspberry, prune, raisin – as well as orange, walnuts and rich coffee, it was really exciting sniffing this.
The palate too was extraordinary, with plenty of life in it still. There was a nice refreshing, elegant cut of acidity and even a little smear of tannins on the finish, but everything was superbly integrated and had become a whole entity with a silky mouthfeel. The flavours were overwhelmingly savoury with smoky, meaty tones, dried fruit giving that glimmer of sweetness and an intensity that totally dominated my senses. Whats more I have never had a dry wine that had such a long finish, it went on for around 2 minutes!
This was a great wine by any measure and what’s more showed no sign of being tired yet. Probably the finest old Rioja I have ever tasted – 95/100 points.

I don’t drink, or even taste, anything like this very often, but when I do it reinforces my joy of wine and excites me enormously. The sense of history I get when I taste old wine is a real part of the pleasure, so if you ever get the chance to taste a really old Rioja, do give it a go.

Wine of the Week 38 – a real winter warmer

I don’t know how it is where you are, but this winter feels pretty cold here in the UK. Not Siberia cold, but at between 0˚ and 2˚ C in the night and hovering at around 7˚ in the day it’s quite cold enough for me. In fact it makes me want hearty stews and rich red wines. Well, the other day I tasted a red wine that is a real inter warmer and indeed I did make a hearty stew to accompany it.

It was a delicious wine and what’s more it was a Grenache, or Garnacha as they call it in Spain – after all it is really a Spanish grape. I seem to like Grenache more and more in all sorts of styles and Spain certainly produces some stunning examples. I was came from Spain, from a region that is not very well known, but that really ought to be as to makes some excellent wines. The region is Madrid, or as the wine region is called, Vinos de Madrid and I have written about the region here as well as wines from nearby here and here. It might seem strange that Spain produces a wine that I can describe as a winter warmer, but do remember that Madrid is the highest capital in western Europe and it can get pretty cold there. What’s more, this wine comes from just to the west of Madrid itself and is really grown in the eastern fringes of the Sierra de Gredos and they get pretty high, 2592 metres at their highest point, so it can be pretty cold up there in winter too. This wine though is produced in the town of San Martín de Valdeiglesias and the vineyards sit at 850 metres above sea level, which is pretty high.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

That height is a good thing too, because although winter around here is cold, summer is blisteringly hot, so that altitude ensures the grapes are growing in cooler air which means the finished wine will be fresher than it would otherwise be. The town is about 70 kilometres west of Madrid and the name, Valdeiglesias, means Valley of the churches because there are a great many churches there. The region has made wine for centuries and Goya’s cartoon called The Grape Harvest is thought to depict the area. the wines of the place also get a mention in Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s swashbuckling novel.

Vineyards at Viñedos de San Martin.

Vineyards at Viñedos de San Martin.

I really enjoyed the wine, especially after it had been open for about 6 hours. It was very drinkable and I thought that lots of people would enjoy it, so made it my Wine of the Week:

las_moradas_de_san_martin_senda_20092009 Senda Las Moradas de San Martín Garnacha Crianza
Viñedos de San Martin
DO Vinos de Madrid
100%  Grenache / Garnacha, hand harvested and aged for 10 months in French oak.
The nose was rich with fruitcake aromas of raisins and spice. You do notice the 15% alcohol, which gives a touch of a dry Port like character – smelling a wine like this you can see why the aussies used Grenache to make their ‘ports’.
The palate delivers the sweetness of dried fruit, especially prune and fig, some fresh strawberry and cherry fruit too, spice, quite a punch of warming alcohol, touch of white pepper, leather, tobacco, an earthy minerality and a touch of brown sugar or caramel. The palate is very smooth, almost creamy and mouth filling with soft tannins that have a sweet ripe, fine grain character.
I like this wine, you can taste the heat, but the palate recovers its balance and the finish is long.
It really quite is quite delicious, a bit of a monster and not my normal style at all, but it has bags of personality and I think a lot of people would like this very much indeed 89/100

Try this with a heart meaty casserole or cassoulet type dish.

Available in the UK from Grey’s Fine Foods at £11.75 per bottle. Greys also sell a wonderful range of Spanish foods, so you could always order some Jamón too!
Available in the US from Saratoga Wine Exchange.

Wine of the Week 36 – an amazing sweet Muscat

There’s always a time for a dessert wine, they are often the most popular wines at tastings and that proved to be the case recently when I tutored a tasting on Navarra wines at Dulwich Wine Society – although all the wines met with great approval actually.

By the way, if you live anywhere around the Dulwich area by the way, it is well worth joining this august wine tasting group. They meet weekly, which is very impressive, I don’t know of any other such society that meets more than once a month. They are nice people, full of enthusiasm and they seem to like having me round to tutor tastings. This my 18th tasting for them in 22 years, I was only just 28 when I first presented to them and have recently turned 50! How that time has flown.

So, my topic was Navarra, that wonderful, half forgotten wine region that neighbours Rioja in the north of Spain. I visited Navarra not long ago and was very impressed by many of the wines, excited about them even and am still astonished that so few are easily available to the UK wine consumer.

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

If wine drinkers have a mental picture about any sort of wine that Navarra produces at all, it is probably the rosés / rosados made from Garnacha / Grenache, but that is just a tiny part of what Navarra produces. While I was there I tasted magnificent Chardonnays – like this one and this one too, superb Cabernet and Merlot blends – like this one and this one, and tasted stunning Tempranillo blends – like this one and this one.  I also got taste wines that I was not expecting at all, like the wonderful old vine Garnacha / Grenache wines that they make in Navarra. They grow these vines high up in Navarra, in the mountains, where the air is cool and the climate is dominate by the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean. I found this created the most amazingly different Grenache with freshness, acidity and elegance, they really are something special and I have written about different examples here and here. So, there is lots going on in Navarra, many different styles and a big variety of grapes being grown – the list above barely scratches the surface.

Perhaps it is this very diversity that is Navarra’s problem? It is possible that because people do not know what to expect from a bottle of Navarra? That they don’t look on Navarra wine as an old friend as they often do the products of neighbouring Rioja. That’s only my theory, but it might in part account for Navarra’s lack of visibility on wine shop and supermarket shelves.

Whatever the reason, it is a great shame as Navarra produces superb wines in a wonderful array of styles – even dessert wine and one of those wowed the good people of Dulwich Wine Society the other night, and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Capricho de GoyaMoscatel Capricho d’Goya
Bodegas Camilo Castilla
D.O.Navarra Ribera Baja sub-zone
This wine is bonkers! It is amazingly concentrated and ripe with deep prune, fig and raisin characters, rum, caramel and nutty toffee too. It is made a bit like a Madeira, being aged for 3 years in glass demijohns on the roof of the winery. They leave it out in all weathers, to concentrate in the searing summer heat and the snows of winter. After that it spends a further 4 years in barrels developing rich, figgy, molasses-like characters before being bottled.

Capricho d'Goya ageing in old barrels - permission of the winery

Capricho d’Goya ageing in old barrels – permission of the winery.

Capricho de Goya ageing in glass demijohns outside

Capricho d’Goya ageing in glass demijohns outside – permission of the winery.

This wine is so, so lovely, like sticky toffee pudding in a glass – who needs the dessert? In style it is like a joyous cross between Pedro Ximénez (PX) and Rutherglen Muscat with more freshness and salinity. It is intensely sweet, but also has an intense savoury richness, a seam of refreshing acidity and great complexity that makes it a joy to just sip and contemplate. This truly is a great wine – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK from Greys Fine Foods @ £15.755 per half litre / 500cl.

This is a superb sweet wine, one of the best Muscats that I have ever tasted, probably the very best in fact. It deserves to be more widely known and appreciated, as does the Navarra region and all the wonderful wines that it produces.



Wine of the Week 11 – a great barbecue wine

Nekeas Valley.

Nekeas Valley.

It’s turning out to be quite a good summer here in the UK, so I thought it would be nice to have a Wine of the Week that would be delicious with a barbecue in the garden.

Yet again it is a wine from the Spanish region of Navarra, which is a place that I love as it produces a dazzling array of very different, but good quality wines. Sadly this diversity means that UK retailers have not really taken Navarra wines to their hearts, so although there are some wines available they can sometimes take a little seeking out.

This week’s wine though is not only easy to buy, but it is really delicious, great value for money and massively over performs for its price.

It is produced by Bodegas Nekeas who claim to farm the most northerly olive groves in Spain, from which they make some superb olive oil by the way. Once upon a time it was a cooperative for the Nekeas Valley, but is now a privately owned winery. The area had a tough few decades in the twentieth century and with no market for their wines most of the vines were grubbed up, but some of the Garnache / Grenache vines were very  hard to reach, so they just left them alone. Which is a really lucky break for us and Nekeas, because these 100 year old vines have now been brought back to life and produce this superb wine.

The vines form a single block, interspersed with olives, growing at between 450 and 650m above sea level. No only does this height make the area pretty cool for Garnacha, but the place is influenced by the Atlantic. Concha Vecino is the winemaker at Nekeas and she is one of the most engaging and charming winemakers that I have ever met. Her passion for this land clearly shows when she speaks and she described these Garnachas as the ‘Pinot Noir of Garnachas’ and explained that Navarra produces the only Atlantic Grenache in the world.

Concha Vecino winemaker at Nekeas.

Concha Vecino winemaker at Bodegas Nekeas.

These local conditions make the wines feel fresher and more elegant than I normally expect Grenache to be and I was totally won over by the style of the Nekeas Garnacha as well as some of the other examples that I found in Navarra. By the way Concha also makes some lovely Chardonnays and Tempranillo blends as well, so if you are in Spain and see anything made by Nekeas I would highly recommend giving them a try.

Old Garnacha vines at Nekeas.

Old Garnacha vines at Nekeas.

1115583x2012 El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Old Vine Garnacha
Bodegas Nekeas
Añorbe, D.O. Navarra, Valdizarbe sub-zone

The vineyard this wine comes from are at the highest point of the valley – the high plain or chaparral – and the vines are between 70 and 100 years old. The wine has a short time in French oak to give it a dusting of spice and touch of complexity. It gives rich aromas of vibrant red fruit with caramel, vanilla together with black fruit and spice. The palate is rich, smooth, supple, savoury and a little liquorice-like. The tannins are gentle, but firm while the palate delivers a lively mix of lovely intense rich sweet red and black fruit, while there is lovely freshness, balance, purity and cut of clean acidity that makes the wine dance across your palate.

Do try it, it would be perfect with a barbecue – perhaps lightly chilled even – and in winter it will go just as brilliantly with richer stews and hearty meat dishes – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouses @ £9.99 per bottle.

This is a lovely and great value wine and I urge you to rush to Majestic to try a bottle as soon as you can.


Wine of the Week 2 – Domaine Lupier El Terroir


2009 Domaine Lupier El Terroir Garnacha
Bodegas Domaine Lupier, San Martín de Unx
Navarra, Spain
At first glance this wine might appear to be French – Domine Lupier might imply that – but actually it’s Spanish, from the under appreciated region of Navarra. What’s more, although it doesn’t say so on the label it is from the cool and mountainous Baja Montaña sub-zone.

The highpoint of Domaine Lupier, vines at 700 metres.

The highpoint of Domaine Lupier, vines at 700 metres.

This producer only makes two wines, but they are both great. Both are red and both are Garnachas, but Garnachas with a difference. These are mountain Garnacha / Grenache, cool climate, Atlantic influenced Garnacha / Grenache and the difference shows. I have written about their top wine before, their Domaine Lupier La Dama – read about it towards the end of this long piece about Navarra – and it is a magnificent wine. Their ‘second wine’ El Terroir is also superb though and is more affordable too.

Navarra with watermark QS

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

Since I first wrote about their wines I have met the owners – Enrique Basarte and Elisa Úcar – and they are as delightful as their wines. You can see their passion for their vineyards and their wines when they speak and that passion clearly ends up in the bottle. It is an amazing story too,  Enrique and Elisa wanted to create a winery project of their own. Both have a deep appreciation of Garnacha and dreamed of finding a plot of old vine Garancha that they could nurture back to productive life. Spain has more old vine Garnacha / Grenache than anywhere else, but they are sadly declining. Eventually the search brought them to San Martín de Unx where the altitude and conditions really excited them and they managed to buy 27 tiny parcels of all but abandoned vines, some of which were planted in 1903 – the average age of the domaine is 76 years old. These were free standing bush vines growing at different altitudes between 400 and 750 metres above sea level, on different soils and with different orientations.

Elisa and Enrique in their vineyards.

Elisa and Enrique in their vineyards.

Enrique and Elisa really wanted to ensure the vines were returned to perfect health and a balance with nature, so decided to farm using the  biodynamic approach. This is sustainable and ensures that the vines get the attention and care that they need and personally I think that is the secret with biodynamics. I really do not know whether farming by the biodynamic calendar, or using various biodynamic preparations really works, but am willing to bet that the fact that it is so labour intensive that Enrique, for he is the viticulturist,  is working in their vineyards everyday, inspecting and nurturing every vine, makes a massive difference to the finished wine. I have certainly never tasted Grenache like these and 2009 is only their second vintage released.

El Terroir comes from the lower slopes, between 400 and 600 metres above sea level, everything is hand picked and the wine was aged for 14 months in mixture of 500 litre, 300 litre and more normal 225 litre French oak barrels.

The wine
The colour is deep purple, but bright and vivid, not dense and not totally opaque.
The nose is fragrantly rich with sugar plums, fresh plums, sweet spice, earth and chocolate, while the palate is a joyful mix of rich plums and cherries, cherry stones, clove, anis and spicy oak. The fruit is succulent and juicy, but not even slightly jammy, in fact it is like succulent fresh fruit, red and black cherries with some raspberries thrown in that mingles perfectly with the earthy mineral characters. Also there is a lovely freshness and balance about the whole thing that makes it feel bright and elegant.
I have a sneaking suspicion I drank this a few years too early, as for a Garnacha it is very tight and firm in the tannin department, but hey it’s already delicious. If you want it softer give it 2 to 3 years more.

We are always told that old vines produce more intense flavours. Well this kind of proves the point, but it also proves another point, which is that old vines also have better inbuilt balance as they ripen with less sugar than younger vines – don’t ask me how, I’m not a scientist, but it is the balance that makes this wine so exciting and so delicious. A triumph – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £15 per bottle – stockist information is here or from Fields, Morris & Verdin, their UK distributor.

Spanish Delights

As many of you are aware, I love Spain, Spanish culture and Spanish wine. I really do think that Spain is one of the most exciting wine producing countries right now. It isn’t all Rioja or Rioja look alikes either, the place makes wonderful wines from so many different regions, in so many different styles and from a broad palette of grape varieties that there is bound to be something for everyone.

Recently I have tasted a few very exciting Spanish wines that I thought I would share with you.


Bruce Jack -  - photo courtesy of La Báscula

Bruce Jack – – photo courtesy of La Báscula

La Báscula – which means weighing scales – is a range of wines sourced across many Spanish regions and was created by Ed Adams M.W. and winemaker Bruce Jack. I have bumped into Ed a few times in my time and he is a likeable guy who knows Spain like the back of his hand, while Bruce is one of the most interesting and engaging winemakers I have ever come across. I first met him in his native South Africa, where he is the founder and winemaker of  the excellent Flagstone Wines. He always makes good wines, so I was thrilled when he teamed up with Ed and spread his wings to make wine in Spain too.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

The range seems to tour the country taking in many famous and some not so well known wine regions. They produce wines in Rioja, Rueda, Jumilla, Yecla and Alicante as well as Terra Alta, the amazing region in Catalunya’s deep south, inland from Tarragona and the more famous Priorat and Monstant. From the examples I have tried recently, this region really deserves to be much better known and positively sought out as a source of great wines at good value price points and great quality too.

The rugged Catalan landscape.

The rugged Catalan landscape.

Terra Alta means High Land and is a place of extremes, searingly hot in the summer and often freezing cold in winter. It is dry, mountainous and rugged, with the extreme heat of the growing season tempered by the altitude and the influence of the Ebro River, although the vineyards are only moderately high at 400 metres above sea level.

Excitingly the region has made the Garnacha Blanca, white Grenache, its speciality grape and I think this – along with Grenache Gris – can make delicious white wines. Terra Alta claims to produce 90% of the world’s Garnacha Blanca / Grenache Blanc – Grenache is originally a Spanish grape, so really ought to always be called Garnacha in my opinion.

Pepe Fuster (centre)

Pepe Fuster (centre) – photo courtesy of La Báscula

Both of these wines come from Terra Alta, although you will look in vain for the D.O. on the red, indeed they both come from the Celler Comes d’en Bonet winery in Gandesa some 90 km inland from Tarragona. This 30 hectare estate has been owned by the Fuster family for over 60 years and viticulturist Pepe Fuster is a passionate champion of this land and its traditional grape varieties, but is equally keen to experiment and do something new. Around half the estate is currently farmed organically with the rest in transition.

catalan-eagle-white_bg-2012-22013 La Báscula Catalan Eagle Organic Garnacha Blanca & Viognier
DO Terra Alta
60% Garnacha Blanca, 25% Viognier & 15% Rousanne with no oak.
I have tasted a previous vintage of this and although I liked it I was not overly excited, but with the 2013 this white has really come of age.
The nose is clean and mineral with enticing apricot and nectarine, blossom and honey notes.
The palate is soft and textured with a fine balance of acidity making it fresh and lively, but not crisp, while the fruit really dominates the mid palate and the finish has a minerality and purity to it that kept me coming back for more. Delicious, versatile and so very drinkable – 89/100 points.

£9.99 a bottle in the UK from D.Byrne & Co, Highbury Vintners, John Hattersley WinesNoel Young WinesWoodwinters Wines & Whiskies, more stockist information available from Boutinot.
Distributed in the US by Fairest Cape.

no-stone-unturned_bg2012 No Stone Unturned Old Vine Garnacha Tinta & Cariñena
DO Terra Alta (but not mentioned on the label)

62% 50 year old Garnacha Tinta, 23%Cariñena & 15% a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah all aged 10 months in French oak.
The deep, opaque ruby red colour is very enticing.
Rich lifted brambles, damsons, blackberry, dark cherry vies with sweet spice and fresh red earth notes on the nose.
The palate is intense, but smooth with supple tannins and a soft texture, almost creamy.
The sweetly ripe fruit is a blast from start to finish giving rich plums, morello cherries and blackberries with a rich inky intensity, delicately smoky oak and a firm, but gentle tannin smear on the finish. there is sweet spice and liquorice and a lovely freshness. The wine is rich and interesting, but pristine too.
This is one of those wines that you could keep for a while, but the fruit and supple texture are so delicious now, why would you want to? Very food friendly wine that would go with almost any meal, grab a bottle and take it to your local BYO …91/100 points

£15.99 a bottle in the UK from D.Byrne & Co, Noel Young Wines, Viader Vintners, more stockist information available from Boutinot.
Distributed in the US by Fairest Cape.

If you like Rhône Valley wines then you will enjoy these, but they are not copies of anything else, but exciting and beautifully made wines in their own right. What’s more they are deliciously modern, vibrant and full of fruit.