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Our Visit to DO Montsant and the Spanish Bodega – Laurona

laurona

D.O./D.O.C/D.O.Ca:DO Montsant
Address: Crta. de Bellmunt, Sort dels Capellans Pol. 21, 43730 FALSET, Tarragona
Telephone: +0034 977 83 17 12
Fax: +0034 977 83 17 97
Email: laurona@cellerlaurona.com
Webpage: www.cellerlaurona.com
Bodega Founded:1999
Wines Elaborated: Laurona and 6 Vinyes de Laurona
Importers:Europvin Importers

Approximately a year and half ago, Ryan and I made a quick jaunt down to the Priorat to visit Bodegas Ficariavins before heading north to attend Alimentaria in Barcelona. Our trip was short, lasting only two days, but the crash course in Priorat and Montsant wines gave me the necessary foundation I needed before our second visit last week with Tim from Winecast.

Leaving at the crack of dawn, which for Spaniards translates to approximately 8am, we jumped in our rental car and stumbled our way south of Barcelona on Highway E-15 / A-7 through Vilafranca in DO Penedes, a region gaining international notoriety for its big reds made with Tempranillo, Garnacha and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, and eventually to the tiny little town of Falset, in DO Montsant. Our mission was to not only give Tim a brief introduction to both DO Montsant and DOC Priorat, but also to finally make good on a promise we made to Christopher Cannan to visit his bodega, Laurona.

Bodegas Laurona is the brainchild of both Renee Barbier and Christopher Cannan, two men for whom I would have liked to have met, but were unfortunately not available. From my understanding, both men are sincere, sharp and absolutely passionate about wine, willing to go to the farthest lengths to elaborate only the highest quality wines in the least likely locations. After touring the region a second time, I am still under that impression that DO Montsant and DO Priorat should no more be used for agriculture than should the Rockies. Both are steep, albeit the Rockies have a little edge over the mountains in this region, and both appear impossible to either plant or harvest when considering the length field workers need to go through just to reach each vine. To give you an idea of how treacherously steep this is, when we drove through the back roads to see the half dozen 2 – 3 acre plots owned or rented by Bodega Laurona, we found ourselves unconsciously shifting our weight instinctively hoping that the car wouldn’t fall off the road into the ravine below. Good Tip: Take Dramamine before tasting wines followed by an hour tour of DO Montsant!

barrel sample

As for the wines, they were spectacular! Bodega Laurona was founded in 1999, using grapes from 12 different plots of land worked by the locals under the watchful eye of Rene Barbier. The objective was simple, Rene wanted to take advantage of the unique terrior available throughout DO Montsant. From the floral notes and deep rich color of the Garnacha to the big expressive qualities of both the Merlot and Shiraz varietals, offering both structure and balance, Rene searched tirelessly to find the best terrior to express these characteristics in both of his wines: 6 Vinyes de Laurona and Laurona.

The name, 6 Vinyes de Laurona, describes the six vineyards which elaborate the wine containing 60 to 80 year old vines of both Garnacha and Carinena. Aged 5 weeks in French oak before spending 2 to 3 years in bottle, 6 Vinyes de Laurona is a big, bold, fruit forward wine. Having tasted both the 2002 and the 2003, I found myself enjoying the 2006 slightly more for its intoxicating, exotic and spicy bouquet followed by lush and dark berry flavors such as fig and plum on the palate. And although we were told that the 2004 was considered a better vintage, I didn’t find it nearly as well structured or expressive as the 2006, making me curious as to how this wine will flush out in a few years.

Laurona was the innovation of both Rene Barbier and Fernando Zamora, the Dean of Enology for the Universidad Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona. Made with 55 % Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 15% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, Laurona is fermented in a mix of 2 and 3 year old French Oak and aged for 13 months in bottle. Overall, it is an incredibly sexy and elegant little wine. To me, it is like tasting an enormous black cherry bomb with an undercurrent of coal, pepper and dark green herbs. Both the 2003 and 2004 vintages showed well, but I found the 2004 more intriguing despite its tightness. Maybe I love it because of the bright sage, earth and antique showroom aromas I picked up during the tasting, or possibly because I was so smitten with it the second time when I paired it with my pan seared bacalao at lunch. Whatever the reason, I found it to be a wonderful wine, and a bottle that I would easily seek out again.

montsant vineyards

When reflecting upon the difference between my experience a year and half ago versus now, I honestly feel that part of the reason why I found this experience to be more enjoyable is not only because I have a slightly better wine knowledge base, but also because I live here now. Would I ever call myself a Catalana? No. Would I dare call myself a Spaniard? Heavens, no! But I would say that as a result of spending the last year immersed in the Catalan culture, I have been able to appreciate more of what it means to be a Catalan, and more importantly, what it means to have both pride and passion for your wines.

When I think back to our guide Miquel, I distinctly remember how we looked at each bottle with such care when he opened them. His elegance and finesse when he tasted his wines a second time during lunch, paying special attention to how each ingredient intermixed with each wine. His pride when he explained his vocational transition from being a government official to a wine exporter for both Bodegas Laurona and Bodegas Clos Figueras was as a result of his feeling of tranquility and peace whenever he was around the vines. Growing up on a vineyard, I sensed that the vineyards produced a type of nostalgia for him; maybe one could even say a type of therapy for the soul. I honestly belief that the pride of creating wine in such impossible terrains blended with one’s pride to produce wine of only the highest quality is what makes these wines so great.

Take a moment to consider the lengths Rene Barbier had to go through to even consider this land viable for wine. At the end of the 19th century phylloxera devastated the vineyards, which were replanted with almond, hazelnut and olive trees. The decimation of nearly all the grape vines in the region led the impoverished population to emigrate away from the area, leaving the land neglected and barren. Replanting, with the intention of elaborating wines of the highest quality, began only in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1985 when the DO stopped all bulk exports to concentrate solely on high quality wines.

carinena

Interestingly, as a result of both hazelnut and almond trees being planted after the devastating wave of Phylloxera hit Catalonia, vines planted near them are dying. Both trees require an enormous amount water that deprive the vines in close proximity from retrieving what little water there is in the region. Whereas, olive trees only appear to support vine growth, providing wineries the unique opportunity to utilize their knowledge of winemaking to the elaboration of olive oil.

Therefore, the region demands a certain tenacity in an individual to look past the potential hardships and barricades intrinsic to the land to see the future opportunities. DO Montsant forms a horseshoe around the Priorat, but the wines here have a clear identity of their own. The issue that still remains in this region, as it does throughout Spain as a whole, is the lack of tourism available to wine lovers. If, however, there can be a push towards bodega visits, wine tastings, and generally an overall acceptance of wine lovers coming from all corners of the planet to see how Montsant makes their wines, my sense is that in another year and a half, I might see a completely different region.

Cheers,

Gabriella

Ryan’s Tasting Notes

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