It took almost 20 hours of travel to arrive, but I finally got here.
I am in Spain with Europvin, which is an importing company that occasionally brings sommeliers and wine buyers on trips. That means that this week I’ll be traveling back and forth all around Spain, visiting vineyards and wineries, and sampling the local wares. I’ve never been to Spain since I started studying wine.
This, coming from a guy who purportedly knows a lot about Spanish wine. A guy who opened a Spanish restaurant and wrote the Spanish wine list. A guy who teaches other people about Spain sometimes. So I guess I’ve really been faking it this whole time. I am stoked to learn, taste, and soak it in.
Once we landed in Barcelona, we got on the bus and headed straight for the hills of Montsant. Montsant and Priorat are landlocked, mountainous regions about two hours inland from Barcelona. The terrain is crazy dramatic. High mountains, canyons, lush green valleys.
We pulled into Celler de Capçanes, a large co-operative winemaker that unites dozens of farmers who all pool their resources and grapes to make wine branded with the co-op’s stamp. Jurgen the winemaker greeted us and took us on a quick tour of the facilities. Then we did a soil tasting of Grenache from four different vineyard sites: sand, limestone, slate (llicorella), and clay. This is something I’ve done before, but what was cool about this was that every single aspect of the winemaking was identical, except for the soil origins. The sand was soft, red-fruited and aromatic. Limestone soil has high pH and encourages the vines to produce more acidic grapes, so the limestone wine was tart, brisk and structured. Clay soil’s water-retentiveness helps grapes thrive in dry climates, so the clay soil vines flower sooner and end up ripening earlier. This wine was more stout, chunky and rich on the palate. Much has been written about llicorella, the famous slate soil of the Priorat/Montsant region. It is a dark, black soil with a friable, crunchy appearance. The wine from llicorella (sounds like “liquor-ay-uh”) was smoky, intense and brooding, with crispy tannins and finely-etched acidity.
We then piled into two small SUVs and took a harrowing, pulse-pounding ride up the mountain to a small cottage, where they served us lunch. On the menu was something I’ve been dreaming about eating since I saw Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode about Spain a few years back: Calçots (cal-sot). Take a spring onion, char it in coals until it’s black, then wrap it in wet newspaper to steam. Pull off the charred exterior, dip the tender shoot in romesco sauce, then gulp it down in one or two bites. Absolutely delicious. We are on the tail end of calçot season here but I was so glad to get a chance to taste it. Also on the table: morcilla (blood sausage), llongonissa (lamb sausage), white beans with olive oil, tomato conserva, and fresh almonds and oranges. A special feast.
Four hours later we were eating again, a chicken/lamb mountain paella at Jurgen’s house. Plus manchego cheese, jamón, and preserved peppers. Spanish people can eat. I’m probably part Spanish, cause I can too. Later we headed to a party at the winery. About 800 people showed up to drink Garnatxa, listen to live music, and party. Then we all decided we needed to sleep, cause damn. More to follow tomorrow.