I’ve been spending some time in the Priorat as of late, drawn there by both the addictive majesty of that rocky terroir and by my impending thesis deadline. Back in March I paid a visit to my old friend and colleague at Terroir al Limit and stayed in the Cal Compte guesthouse off and on for around a week. During this time we did the things that one does in Priorat, brunching at La Venta and dinner at La Cooperativa, driving along curvy mountainous roads from one town to the next, visiting winemakers and tasting what they’re working on. At Cellers Scala Dei, for example, we tried the 2016 Mas Deu finishing up in concrete and the already spectacular 2017 St. Antoni coming along in oak. At the Porrera wine fair we ran into Josep Maria Llaurado from Mas del Boto, who invited us to visit his family winery and vineyards, located in the Cortiella Valley of Alforja, in the DO Tarragona. So we met him in Porrera and he took us in his truck on a rugged path past the vineyards of this village, pointing out along the way some of the oldest vines and historical terraces now overgrown with forest.
Upon arrival, we first took a walk through the rows of Grenache, arranged in a terraced amphitheater at an elevation of around 600 and 650 meters. As Josep explained, the soil here varies from the classic licorella schist of Priorat to graphite, which gives the wines from here their signature character. Before heading back down to the winery we also climbed up to the top of a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, which reaches around 700 meters. We happened to be there on an uncharacteristically cloudy day, though this area doesn’t get too much precipitation year round and instead enjoys a Mediterranean dryness, coupled with a great variation in day and night temperatures to produce fully concentrated wines.
The modern cellar at the bottom of the hill was constructed in 2007 and allows for a gravity-fed winemaking process, while also including some surprisingly modern features, like an elevator. Just across the courtyard, the original cellar is still there, a structure built of brick that used to house the historical “cups” (fermentation rooms) of the property. I somehow always have a difficult time imagining these ancient cellars as fermentation vats. Yet, a close look at the ceiling reveals a square-shaped hole (since filled in) where the grapes used to enter, and a hole on the bottom of one of the walls where the fermented must once drained out. Still, it’s difficult to imagine the massive quantity of wine that once flowed through these rooms, but then again, this was back when Priorat produced mostly bulk and lots of it. In this historical space Josep also points out a variety of antique tools – ceramic jugs, baskets once carried by mules and a kind of manual scythe with which to tend the weeds around the vines, back in simpler times when organic and manual was the widespread convention.
After seeing all that, Josep invited us to try his wines in the tasting room, located in the third building making up the complex. Remembering my affinity for no-fuss authentic local nomnoms from the first time we met almost 4 years ago at the Pataco festival in the town of Alforja, Josep surprised us with a few treats from the Forn de la Caretera winery in Les Borges del Camp. According to the very impressive online reviews this place has on TripAdvisor, they are known mostly for their coca (traditional Catalan flatbread) with a variety of toppings, including onion or calçots, anchovies or tuna, sausage or blood sausage, goat cheese and escalivada (a combo of grilled eggplant, bell pepper and onion). I’ve had these on several occasions. What Josep chose instead were panadons, which are a kind of stuffed bread originally from Lleida nearby, and prepared according to a recipe which is specific to each family. They are typically made around Easter time, which is when we had them, in the last week of March.
He brought us two different types of panadons to try, each with a traditional type of filling. My favorite was the one stuffed with a mix of tender spinach, pine nuts and chewy, sweet raisins – a classic combination. I really enjoyed the texture of the – what I assume was – unleavened dough. This flaky, crunchy and thin layer of bread offered the perfect contrast to the creamy, smooth filling. I really enjoyed the flavor combination too – nutty, sweet and slightly bitter and deeply green from the spinach. In the second, the dough was a bit smoother and less crunchy. This one came stuffed with a combination of flaky tuna, roasted red peppers and egg, which made for a hearty and moist mouthful. These treats paired very nicely with Mas del Boto, a fresh and fruit-forward blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in inox on lees, with notes of balsamic and herbs, along with expertly integrated alcohol. I ended up buying a bottle to bring home with me to Bordeaux and enjoyed it immensely just a few days ago.
We also tried the Ganagots from Mas del Boto, which is name after the Christian conqueror who reclaimed the fortress of Siurana from the Moors and was rewarded with a sizable chunk of land just nearby. This tri-varietal blend is matured in French oak for a year before bottling and then aged a few months in bottle before release. A tad boisé for my taste, this wine nevertheless went very nicely with the beef empanadas from the same bakery. We finished these before I managed to get a photo, so I’ll have to invite you to use your imagination. The crust was flaky and nicely tanned, with a crumbly, well-seasoned meat filling. Empanadas that even got the approval of my friend, a proud Argentine expat, these went beautifully with the notes of ripe cherry, licorice and toast in the wine. A very enjoyable tasting overall, intimate and in great company, a chance to really take time and learn about the winemaking (and food tradition) in the Priorat-adjacent DO Tarragona.