Grape gathering at Mas Sinén

Last Saturday, in the highest of spirits, I drove to Poboleda in DO Priorat, to the friendly Mas Sinén winery, to feel what cutting grape feels like.

The winery ready to receive the grapes.

Salvador was just leaving the winery to climb the hill with his four-wheel-drive and join the people already working up in the vineyard. When we arrived, they stopped and sat down to breakfast. My timing was perfect!

I was offered a piece of delicious coca de recapte, a precursor, some say, of Neapolitan pizza (in the Middle Ages, Naples and Catalunya were ruled by the same family for some time), and a drink of … not wine, but rather water from the fountain close to the winery.

Mas Sinén winery from the vineyard.

Refreshed, we turned to the vines, not before a patient Salvador explained to me the principles of proper grape cutting and selection. It may look easy, but to avoid harvesting gatolls (late-maturing clusters that are still unripe) requires attention. By the way, this is one of the advantages of manual harvesting; machines do not discriminate, but take everything, ripe or otherwise..

At the beginning, all was very well; it was fun, it was relatively early, and friendly clouds obscured the sun.

Carinyena clusters freshly cut.

However, after two hours of bending continuously to reach the grapes, my back started to remind me of several things: my overweight, my sedentary habits, and having left behind my 50th birthday. To compound things, the clouds cleared and the sun started to shine down on our backs.

Tough work ahead (at least for me!)

One hour later, to my shame, I had to sit down in the shade, utterly exhausted, while my fitter, leaner and younger colleagues clicked on merrily. Fortunately, lunch time was near, and I could make a relatively honourable retreat to the winery.

The Montsant ridge protects from Northern winds.

There Salvador was entertaining some visitors, who looked curiously at my rather battered appearance and agreed with me about the high quality of the wine they were sipping: the new Petit Mas Sinén. After they left, Conxita and Salvador prepared lunch: fresh, real tomatoes (nothing to do with the somewhat similar fruits found in the cities’ markets) and lettuce, small Arbequina olives, coca de recapte, Catalan sausage and fried white beans, sweet coca with dark chocolate. Excellent! Some friends of the winery came for coffee, and we sat for some time discussing the harvest and future projects of this dynamic pair.

Skins float to the surface to form the cap.

After coffee it was time for work (light this time – or perhaps the lunch had given me extra strength): a small tank of Merlot was fermenting, and the cap, formed by the skins and pips that float to the surface, had to be broken and mixed with the must below. In the process, the gas foams through the must showing off the beautiful pink colour that contrasts with the dark cap.

After breaking the cap, the gas foams up showing the beautiful colour.
This process is called pigeage, and is done by mechanical means in bigger tanks, but has to be performed manually five to six times per day in the smaller containers.

Manual pigeage.

Bloodstains? Wrong! Merlot juice!

Suddenly it was seven in the evening. I had to drag myself to my car and leave Poboleda, thankful to Conxita and Salvador for an amazing, if exhausting, day. I must come back next year, but better trained!

Happy, tired me.


Wine in restaurants 1.4: wines in Mas Mariassa

This year’s holidays we did not fly abroad, but rather spent ten days in a small hotel (seven rooms) in the Catalan countryside. Mas Mariassa, a former farmhouse perched in the Serra de Llaberia hills that separate Priorat from the Mediterranean, is a haven of peace and silence. The nearest village, Pratdip, with picturesque remains of walls and castle, was haunted by vampire dogs (the dips) in the Middle Ages, until heavenly intervention rid the village of the scourge-or so say the legends. Anyway, the dogs in Mas Mariassa showed no vampirical inclinations, but were extremely friendly.

Not a vampire!

I can recommend Mas Mariassa for the place, the nice premises, the excellent cooking, and the personalized, professional service, but this blog’s focus is on wine. The wine list is a very good introduction to the wine zones around the hotel (DOQ Priorat and DOs Tarragona, Montsant, and Terra Alta), featuring a nice blend of well known warhorses and more independent, out of the way wines. In addition, a sprinkling of interesting wines from other zones.

Francesc, the owner and chef, is very knowledgeable and gives sound advice. Good glasses and prompt decanting in many cases. Temperature perhaps a little on the warm side.

We enjoyed several remarkable bottles, including a Cava one while in the candle-lit outdoors Jacuzzi, late after dinner under the stars and with strawberries. Here some details about them.

L’Heravi criança from the Vinyes d’en Gabriel winery in DO Montsant is a blend 50/50 of old vine Garnatxa and Carinyena, organically farmed. After one year in oak, l’Heravi is deep cherry red, with red fruit still dominant over cedar and spicy notes. Fruity and well balanced in the mouth.

From the relatively undistinguished DO Tarragona, Serra de Llaberia is a winery not far from the hotel. A family project. Their Elisabeth 2003 red has mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a little Garnatxa and Syrah. Twelve months in French oak. Deep red, shows little evolution in the rim. Ripe red fruit in the nose, cocoa and balsamic herbs. Big in the mouth, with well-rounded tannins and long. A Pleasant surprise.

Clos Nelin is one of the greatest whites of Priorat. Crafted by the master hand of René Barbier of Clos Mogador, he mixes, on a base of Garnatxa blanca, small parts of Viognier, Macabeu, Pinot Noir, Marsanne, Escanyavelles, Roussanne and Pedro Ximénez. The varietals are processed separately and in different types of container (stainless steel, concrete, oak) and aged for nine months. Pale yellow, with noticeable legs, shows a very full palette in the nose: white flowers and fruits, the mineral touch of Priorat, citrics, butter, hazelnuts. All these come again in the mouth, with a velvety yet crisp sensation.

Another interesting Montsant was Terròs, from La Cova dels Vins of winemaker Sisco Perelló. Garnatxa, Carinyena and Syrah aged for fourteen months in French oak, giving a deep cherry red wine, with lots of red fruit, minerality and tobacco and leather notes. Wide and long in the mouth.

The Cava in the Jacuzzi was Agustí Torelló Mata Gran Reserva. The testing conditions were not what could be termed scientific, but this is a great wine from one of the best Cava producers. A Brut Nature with no less than 36 months of ageing, and from a blend of the three classic Cava grapes: Macabeu, Xarel•lo and Parellada. Comparatively light and flowery (for a Gran Reserva), perfect for the moment.

A perfect place to make trips to the wine zones around and then relax and, with a good dinner, enjoy a nice bottle.