Editors Note: Last year, we published a book review for Valencia Land of Wine, composed of translated articles by John Maher and written by Joan C. Martin. Each story is straight from the pages of El Pais’ Valencian edition. Each one highlights an aspect of Valencian wine history through the story of one wine. After realizing that this book was not most likely receiving the attention it deserved, we ask John if we could publish some of the chapters here for you to read. We hope you enjoy this series which will be going up through the month of August, and that if you like what you are reading you might consider buying a copy with this link:Valencia Land of Wine.
Please let us know what you think. Cheers, Ryan and Gabriella Opaz
Carlota Suria: From Dom Pérignon to Cavafy
Pago de Tharsys, Requena (DO Utiel-Requena)
At the Benedictine abbey at Hautvilliers in Champagne the apocryphal story is told of how a monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon, called to his fellows: “Come quickly, brothers! I’m tasting stars!â€ on tasting the sparkling wine produced accidentally when a second fermentation occurred in the bottles in the abbey’s cellar in spring. The abbey was founded by the Benedictines in 650 ad in the Dark Ages, as a result of Irish monks coming to return the classical culture which had been lost with the fall of Rome at the hands of the Barbarians.
The world was still young and, as Cavafy described in “Waiting for the Barbariansâ€, our own people returned from the border when we expected the Barbarians.1 As the Irish monks showed when they rescued our civilization, the end depends on the beginning. This must have been what it was like for Vicente García twenty-something years ago, when, as a winemaker for several Cava producers in the Penedés, he and some friends founded a Cava winery in “his Requenaâ€.
Vicente García is the man behind Pago de Tharsys, his most cherished project, and he has made, as we knew he would, an exquisite Cava: Carlota Suria Brut Nature, chosen by Enoforum 2005 (in a blind-tasting by members of the wine trade), as the best Cava in Spain. Carlota Suria has tiny bubbles, as after fermenting on their sides in bottle (“en la rimaâ€) and being clarified by being inclined on a special rack (“pupitreâ€) it is aged a further fifteen months on its lees. Carlota Suria is an elegant dry “natureâ€ (meaning it has from 0 to 3 grams of residual sugar and no addition of reserve wine), with a touch of acidity and a luscious bouquet of salted almonds, making it ideal chilled as an aperitif, although it is a good idea to breathe it in after each sip, and enjoy its scent, like the luxury perfume of a dowager duchess. Pago de Tharsys is an all-in-one bodega in which grapes from their own surrounding vineyards are used in making, developing and bottling the wine. It is a model chÃ¢teau, the most fully realized in the whole of the País Valenciano, embodying this winemaking philosophy in the same way as the best producers in the Médoc. Pago de Tharsys also produces a rarity that is full of Hellenic wisdom: a naturally sweet wine from the Greek grape variety Thomson-Schiller, harvested when the grapes are nearly raisins and producing a very delicate, feminine, milky nectar. Vicente García is endlessly creative, and he has added a “Blanc de Noirsâ€ – a white Cava from the red Bobal grape. Just as Dom Pérignon did when he stumbled on Champagne, in which the predominant grape is Pinot Noir.
I recommend visiting Pago de Tharsys, as sacred ground – just like the abbey at Hautvillers with its cellar, its relics of St Helena and tomb of Dom Pérignon, despite the fact that the abbey and its vineyards are a shadow of what they were in the nineteenth century (the result of revolutions and the battles of Verdun and the Marne). The legacy of Dom Pérignon has been wisely followed by Vicente García and other “mestres xampanitzadorsâ€, who followed for love of the search itself, as in Cavafy’s lines:
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have set out on the road.
Joan C. Martin
Label: Carlota Suria 2003
Type: Brut Nature
Approx. price: €9–10
Bodega: Pago de Tharsys
Address: Paraje de Fuencaliente s/n (Ctra.N-III, Km. 274),
46340 Requena, Valencia
1 Constantine Cavafy (1864–1933), “Waiting for the Barbariansâ€ (1904). The quote at the end of this chapter is from “Ithacaâ€ (1911).