Top cavas from Gramona

130 years ago, the Batlle family started a business to export to a phylloxera-ridden France the wines they were producing since the beginning of the 1800’s. Also in that moment they built the Celler Batlle, concentrating wine production there, in the centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

In parallel, the Gramona family were well known wine sellers through several pubs.

In 1913 Bartomeu Gramona and Pilar Batlle married and started what has become one of the most celebrated Cava companies. In 1921 they started Cava production under several names, and finally in the 40’s the Gramona brand was developed.

In 2001 a new winery was built in the surroundings of Sant Sadurní, with state-of-the-art winemaking facilities. Nowadays all wines are produced there, but the noblest Gramona Cava bottles still go to the underground corridors of the former Celler to age until they are ripe for the connoisseur.

Gramona have around 150 ha of vineyards, either directly owned or closely controlled, with fifteen different varietals, to produce not only Cava but also a vast range of still wines, from a premium Sauvignon Blanc to remarkable sweets including Eiswein-type Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The Cava offering is also broad, but I will concentrate on the top bottles.

In the old Celler Batlle five Cavas are aged. You may know that the typical Cava grapes are Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada. The latter is mainly used for the younger Cavas, as it is fresh and aromatic. But for the long-aged Cavas Gramona use mainly Xarel.lo and Macabeu, along with the classical Champagne varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

While for the bulk of Cava production the processes of riddling and degorjat are automated, for the longer aging Cavas Gramona still use manual riddling, cork stopper for the second fermentation and degorjat by hand.

Another distinctive trait of Gramona is the expedition liquor. Secret recipes involving ranci wines and brandies, elaborated in soleras in their own cellars, give a finishing touch to Gramona Cavas, which are mainly Brut, not Brut Nature as some of the other top Cava companies.

Soleras for expedition liquor

The five top Gramona Cavas:

Argent Rosé, a 100 % Pinot Noir Gran Reserva Brut Nature, with the base wine partially fermented in oak. Onion skin colour, lots of red fruit and floral aromas, with some pastry and butter notes.

Argent, Gran Reserva Brut 100 % Chardonnay. Pale straw, with golden streaks and fine bubble. White fruit in the nose, along with citric and balsamic aromas. Crisp, creamy and well structured.

Gramona Brut Imperial Gran Reserva: 50 % Xarel.lo, 40 % Macabeu and 10 % Chardonnay, with at least 3 years of aging. Pale yellow, with white fruit and citrics.

III Lustros Brut Nature Gran Reserva: 70 % Xarel.lo and 30% Macabeu. At least five years of aging, with gas perfectly integrated, tiny and persistent bubble. Lactics and bakery notes, with white fruit and aniseed.

And last, the jewel of the house: Celler Batlle Brut Gran Reserva. The base wine is the same as III Lustros, but aged at least eight years and with the finishing touch of expedition liquor. Complex in the nose, with the full pack: ripe fruit, butter and bakery, toasted overtones. Wide and creamy in the mouth, with refreshing acidity and long finish. One of the very best Cavas around.

What to eat with these Cavas? They are not ideal for a slight refreshment (try them anyway), but are perfectly equal to the task of pairing with a full meal. In the picture below you can see my menu for my last birthday’s dinner at home: not exactly a light snack, but the pairing was great!

Birthday dinner


Wine in restaurants 1.3: Coma Vella and Cérvoles negre at Cal Joan del Batlle

This last weekend, a long one in Catalonia because Monday was a holiday, my wife and myself escaped the city and climbed up the Pyrenees (in our car) to Cal Joan del Batlle, a small but well appointed hotel at 1’250 meter height close to Sant Llorenç de Morunys. Contrary to most surrounding restaurants, that serve straightforward, nourishing mountain food, Cal Joan del Batlle’s menu is made up of rather elaborate recipes cooked very competently.

Cal Joan del Batlle courtyard

Going more in detail about their wine service, the wine list attracted me immediately. It is not very long; adequate in my view for a remote place with less than a dozen tables. But with a nice balance of Catalan / foreign wines and mainly filled with carefully selected bottles from smaller cellars, it gives a compelling backdrop to the restaurant’s cooking with enticing proposals to the wine lover.

There is a good selection of dessert wines by the glass; the wine temperature was adequate; and a wine pairing was offered with the tasting menu.

On the minus side, glasses are certainly substandard. They know and are considering how to address the issue.

A mark-up of around 50% over shop prices is in line or lower than many comparable restaurants and rounds off, in my opinion, a very attractive offer.

We had dinner on Saturday and Sunday, and both bottles were worth mentioning.

Coma Vella 2006 is a red from Mas d’en Gil, based in Bellmunt, DOQ Priorat. This winery has over forty plots with different grapes; its wines show this complexity. They also produce excellent virgin olive oil and vinegar.

It is a coupage of 40 % garnatxa, 25 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 % Carinyena, 10 % Syrah and 5 % Merlot., Harvested by hand, with a first selection in the vineyard, grapes are collected in 20 kg boxes and taken to the winery, where they undergo a second selection. The wine is aged for twelve to fourteen months in French and American oak and clarified with egg white before bottling.

Dark cherry red, with a lot of fruit both red and black, balsamic, the minerality common in Priorat and some spicy overtones. In the mouth shows big structure, noticeable acidity, with fine tannins and long finish.

It paired perfectly with my veal entrecote with goat cheese fondue.

Cérvoles negre 2006 is a DO Costers del Segre red from Cérvoles Celler. Handpicked and manually selected grapes from Ull de Llebre 38 %, Cabernet Sauvignon 32%, Garnatxa 18 % and Merlot 12 %. Vine planted ca. 25 years ago in loamy soils at around 700 m over sea level.

Aged for twelve months in fine grain, slow growth French oak. Not-too-deep cherry red, with fruity nose and medium structure in mouth. Fine, fresh, elegant. A great match for my cêpe-stuffed pigs’ trotters.

I would like to end this entry, one year and forty-five posts since I started this blogging adventure, thanking my readers for their patience and menacing with more posts to come. Salut! Cheers!



Clos Martinet vertical: today may be a great day…

The lyrics of the song by the local folk singer Joan Manel Serrat were dancing in my head as I drove towards Priorat. This may be a great day…will it? The first steps were clear and had its roots some months before.

When I was visiting Mas Martinet in March, Josep Lluís Pérez, while discussing with him his first wines, made a remark: “We must make a vertical tasting of Clos Martinet!” I agreed heartily, and, with the help of Oleguer from Vins Noè, gathered a group of twelve fortunate wine lovers, including some top bloggers like David González (Adictos a la Lujuria), Jaume Aguadé (Vins de Catalunya) and Ricard Sampere (Els vins que vaig tastant).

Josep Lluís Pérez

We first met in Mas Martinet with Josep Lluís and then visited his Serra Alta vineyard. I had been there in March; the sight was more astonishing then, with all the iron rings plainly in view, but now it was beautiful with all the green shoots blooming.

Serra Alta in March

Serra Alta in May

There, by the plot, we could enjoy an impromptu master class about vineyard management by Josep Lluís. His absolutely scientific approach (he had figures and ratios for everything) left us speechless, especially those with scientific background. He spoke, among other things, of vigour, production limitation, watering, leaf surface, bag-in-box wines…always with this scientific yet practical approach.

Some of the happy participants
A phone call from his daughter Sara pulled us back to reality and the winery. There we met her laying the last glasses for the tasting.

The grapes-to-be
I (most of us, perhaps) had several goals in mind:

  • The most obvious, enjoy a bunch of excellent wines 
  • Meet Sara and Josep Lluís and benefit from their knowledge and personality 
  • Last but not least: check whether great Priorat wines age well. This was a big discussion from the beginning of Priorat’s new era, and many voices had cast doubts on the aging potential of wines with a high proportion of Garnatxa.
Let us start with the wines.

The first was 1990. This was in fact still a wine made together with Rene Barbier, Alvaro Palacios and Carles Pastrana, and bottled under different labels for each of them. Very much alive, with utter elegance.

The second bottle was 1993, the second year than Josep Lluís made his wine independently. I was a little bit disappointed; I had looked forward to tasting again a 1992, the first Clos Martinet I had, but never look a gift horse etc…And 1993 did compensate: big, flowery, long, one of the best.

1996, said Josep Lluís, was his last wine. Sara answered back instantly: “It was my first, not your last. You still have a lot of wines in you!” It was great to witness the play between the two personalities, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not; after all, as explained in my previous post, if he is the scientist, she is the philosopher, or perhaps the mystic (thanks, Oriol!).
The lineup
1998 was a wine in turmoil. Sara explained that, after some 12 years, their wines undergo a transformation from big, youthful puppies to more elegant, sedate adults. 1998 had just done this, and showed still many primary and secondary aromas, but the tertiaries had started to appear. A great wine nevertheless; racing with 2000 in the preference of many.

2000 was perhaps the most appetizing for me. Still young, very fresh, fruity, big, but starting to migrate to the senior status.

2004 was in comparison young and, although it showed plenty of potential, needed time to show its hand.

As Sara and Josep Lluís explained, with aging, after the twelfth year transformation, wines smoothed the differences between vintages and tended to homogenize, showing the minerality and common terroir underneath. 

I have now little doubt that Priorat wines can age well, and will have to seriously plan ahead to be able to taste these memorable wines at a riper age than I am doing now.

Explanations by the two winemakers were both precise and emotional. They remembered the details of each year in terms of weather and coupage (there was a trend to increase Carinyena and decrease Cabernet) and seemed very happy to share these memories and their wines with us. It was a real pleasure to be invited to this event, which will be one of my most remarkable wine memories so far.

Sara and Josep Lluís

But the day was not over. In the afternoon, after a quick but rewarding visit to Mas Sinén to taste, just before bottling, their Coster 2009, Mas Sinén Negre 2009 and a surprise they have up their sleeve (I am looking forward to it!), I was back home in time to see FC Barcelona beat Manchester Utd to our fourth Champions League title.

It sure was a great day!!



Lo Jaume's wines at Topik

Ten days later, in the Topik restaurant in Barcelona, I had another pairing led by Lo Jaume.

Topik is a restaurant with a blend of Catalan and Japanese cuisine. The owner, Adelf, having trained in Japan for some time, is able to dish out surprising combinations and a master rice cook.

The wine list shows a fair balance of Catalan and rest of the world wines, with many well chosen labels from small producers or less-than-glamorous zones. Prices are perhaps at a 50% premium over wine shops. Adequate service and glasses.

The white Vall Novenes blanc, from Algramar Celler in DO Terra Alta, was the first wine. A coupage of Garnatxa, Sauvignon blanc and Chenin, it was fruity and crisp.

The Parellada 100 % 2010 from Celler Carles Andreu, one of the leading wineries in DO Conca de Barberà, is rather unique. Parellada is often waved aside as the lesser part of the Cava trinity (Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada). But properly grown, with lower yields, and using carbonic maceration and batonnage, this white shows a very fruity nose, acidity and creaminess in the mouth, and is a wine to have in mind.

From the same winery, Carles Andreu Rosat Brut, a rosé Cava with aging for fifteen months, made with Trepat, a red variety typical from Conca de Barberà that gives elegant, medium bodied, spice-scented wines. Perfect for the spicy dish it matched.

Later came Clònic 2008, a DO Montsant red from Celler Cedó Anguera. Carinyena, Cabernet and Syrah aged for eight months in new Allier oak. We tasted with the same dish Gènesi 2006, also from Montsant, the older brother to Petit Gènesi mentioned in the previous post. Old Garnatxa and Carinyena vines, aging for twelve months in French and Hungarian oak give a wine with more elegance but less structure than the Clònic.

The last course, rice with duck, also featured two reds. La Guinardera 2006 from Celler Balaguer Cabré is already described in my previous post. Celler Aixalà-Alcait from DOQ Priorat was represented by Destrankis 2009, Garnatxa and Carinyena with nine months in oak. Red fruit, chocolate, balance.

The sweet Algramar Dolç, again from Algramar Celler in Terra Alta, comes from overripe Syrah grapes, with a controlled fermentation and twelve months in oak. Not too sweet and with noticeable acidity.

An evening to remember; with a avocado-raw blue fin tuna-caramelized foie combination as culinary highlight and the balance of the wine choice.