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Vinyes dels Aspres: Redefining Sweet Wines in the Emporda

To be different takes courage! I appreciate that which cannot be defined and those who fail to fit a description. As long you express yourself authentically, it’s absolutely irrelevant to me if you have 3 eyes, adore Coors Lite, or have a house filled with a half dozen ferrets. Individuality is interesting.

This same theory holds true for wine. Those wines that make me stop in my tracks and say “whaaaaat is that?!” are typically wines that I won’t forget. Like the homeless fellow in Barcelona who grabbed me by the hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “Eres el sol!” then promptly kissed me on the cheek and went on his way, showed an unforgettable sense of genuineness, warmth and spontaneity. A wine that stops the racing mind, and surprises me is a wine that will forever be apart of my mental and emotional map.

This brings me to a sweet wine that fell into this magical category. A little over a month ago, we were invited to the region of Emporda, located just north of Barcelona by approximately 2 hours, with a handful of wine and food bloggers. Our day was long and incredible, filled with family wineries, traditional foods and loads of storytelling. It’s a tale I’ll reserve for a future post, but for now, I’d like to focus on the last winery of the day called, Vinyes dels Aspres.

Vinyes de Aspres is nestled in the tiny village of Cantallops located in the interior of Alt Emporda, just north of Figueres. Cantallops can be literally translated to “singing at wolves” in Catalan, but as few of us know people that actually lull wolves to sleep with our docile tones, I’m betting that its Latin translation “wolve’s rock” is where the money is. As the winery is propped on a massive stone outcropping, its said that wolves used to inhabit these parts, forewarning their presence with a rather unsettling howl. Canines aside, its a location that settles you into a lulling calm with its sultry, earthy aromas of rosemary, mineral and pine. On this particular day, the breeze was soft and slightly chilled, and the sun dappled its last remaining balls of glowing orange light upon the dusty earth. The scenery was stunning in front of the 2 story winery with gigantic demi-johns of sweet wines lines across the upper terrace, precariously placed in a Humpty Dumpty like fashion.

Can Batlle is the familiar estate that houses Vinyes dels Aspres dating back to the 17th century when olive oil, cork and wine production were commonplace. But time moved on, and wine slowly waned from the family’s priorities. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when they began renovating the winery with pneumatic presses, stainless steel vats, temperature controlled cellars and French oak barrels. As eloquently stated on their website, “The wood, our production techniques and, undoubtedly, the history impregnated in the cellar walls help us to define the characteristics of each and every one of our wines.”

So what makes these wines so unique?

First of all, beyond Samso (Carignan) – a typical native grape to Catalunya – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, they have planted 3 different varieties of Grenache: blanc, noir and gris (Catalan: Garnatxa Blanca, Negra and Roja). I trust most of you are familiar with both Grenache blanc and noir, but gris (gray) is not a typical variety by any stretch. Keep in mind, you might encounter Grenache under its regional name “Lledoner gris/blanc/negre”. In total, Vinyes de Aspres owns 30 hectares of its own vines in the Emporda. (Photo b Vinissimus)

Here’s where the interesting part comes to play. This winery produces some stellar table wines that are absolutely worth checking out, but it’s their sweet wines that scream “unique”.

Vinyes dels Aspres crafts 3 sweet wines: a white made with Grenache blanc called Vi de Panses, a red called Negre de Panses and an aged wine called Bac de les Ginesteres.

Panses literally translates to “raisins” in Catalan, which is exactly what you taste when you sip upon the Bac de les Ginesteres. The grapes are handpicked and then dried by the blustery Tramuntana wind for a total of 54 days; whereby allowing the flavor to concentrate in each and every grape. Afterward, the grapes are pressed and then fermented in stainless steel tanks before they are transferred into 20 liters glass demijohns where they sit along the second story ridge for 54 months, gaining a killer suntan. As you can see from the picture above, this is not a gentle process. No, this is the true definition of “tough love” and is part of a style of wines called “Ranci”.

When we hear Ranci, we tend to think of the word ¨rancid¨, which may not be the ideal marketing campaign, but is the ideal term to describe the process the grapes go through in order to craft this amazing fortified wine. The wine is literally oxidized, or maderized, by placing small glass “demijohns” of wine in the hot summer sun, but can also be made in wood barrels in warm attics as with Madeira wines. And depending where you are in Spain, temperatures can top well over 100 degrees in direct sunlight. Consequently, this process gives the wine a tawny color and a rich, almost amontillado sherry like flavor. Ranci wines are generally quite high in alcohol, but they tend to be fortified, and are classified as such.

Mind you, the local terminology for a ranci wine is Sol i Serena, which I’ve been told by the winery means, “not only a process ‘heat’, but at all times, day and night, during sun and rain, throughout summer and winter.”

Vinyes de Aspres does not fortified these sweet wines, and believes that they may be the only one who refrains from this process, “similar to the Banyuls area, most of the sweet wines in Empordà are VDN (with alcohol added), and we might be the only winery elaborating VND (No alcohol added).”

Consequently, the Bac de les Ginesteres is a rich, nutty wine that is highly reminiscent of Pedro Ximenez but contains layers upon layers of spice, dried fruits, plum. A profound, seductive and sumptuous wine, it will literally kick your senses into high gear, churning your brain to come up with anything even close in comparison. Leaving me in a pensive and quiet state, curled up against the bus window on our 2 hour ride back to Barcelona, I was literally licking my lips in hopes of retrieving just one last drop. It’s odd, peculiar, delicious and indescribable – a perfect combination.

Ironically, Bac de les Ginesteres is named after the traditional Catalan dance, La Sardana, which is as exciting as watching paint dry….very, very slowly. So despite its namesake, I’m happy to announce that not only is this particular wine exciting, vibrant and knock-your-socks-off amazing, but so are the majority of the wines produced at Vinyes de Aspres.

When asked what foods pair with these wines, Export Manager, Ricard Zamora Isanda, suggested, “To avoid the immediate link people establish between sweet wines and dessert wines, I would propose a mid-morning or mid-afternoon “snack” with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, and some Carquinyolis (regional almond biscuit), with any of the sweet wines. In regards to food pairing, they are all magic with cheese (especially various types of blue) and black and white chocolate.”

In part, I think their success is as a result of the owner, David Molas Albertí who is not only bottling, aging and selling the wine, but he’s also passionately behind a massive enotourism project that should be completed this year. Add a highly detailed website, and you have a recipe for success.

Vinyes dels Aspres is only producing 40,000 bottles of which approximately 850 are designated for Bac de les Ginesteres. This means that the likelihood of you getting your hands on these 50ml bottles (priced around 35 euros in shop) might be challenging, but it shouldn’t deter you from checking out any of their line-up!

What Iberian wines have left an indelible impression on you?


Gabriella Opaz

Vinyes dels Aspres
Requesens s/n
17708 Cantallops
Alt Emporda, Catalunya
+34 900 600 006
[email protected]

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