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Part 12 of the Spanish Series: Terra Alta and Wines from Celler Pinol

terra alta label logoWe continue our Spanish series in Cataluyna, or what is better known as Catalonia in the U.S.  More specifically we are in Terra Alta, which is one of the seven recognized denominations of origin (DO) within Catalunya, and likely not one of the ones you have heard of.  Several of the seven you likely have run across, including Priorat, widely known for high end, world class reds, and Penedes, home of Cava (which is one of the best values on the planet and will be the focus of a future article or two).  The reds of Priorat can be breathtaking, and quite expensive.  The bubbly Cava from Penedes is captivating and generally inexpensive.  What then of Terra Alta?

We’ll give you some background here, but you can learn much more about the region at http://doterraalta.com/en/.

The production and vinification area of the DO “Terra Alta” is situated in the south of terra alta mapCatalunya, between the River Ebro and the borders of Aragon, and includes the 12 municipalities of the county of Terra Alta. The landscape has all the features of an interior region near the Mediterranean Sea: pre-coastal mountain range, small rivers, oak and pine woods and, above all, the agricultural soil marked by typical Mediterranean farming (vineyards and almond and olive groves). There are three agricultural landscapes that are clearly defined: the plains, plateaus and valleys.  Here the Mediterranean coastline is rising into the central plateau, and the climate is somewhat a mixture of both the milder Mediterranean and the harsher continental climate.

terra2The soil is consistent in its limestone richness and its lack of organic material.  Another feature of the character of the transitioning interior is the climate.  Abundant sunshine and little rainfall are the two defining characteristics: a unique balance between NW winds from the plateau and seawinds from the south.  Add in a cold winter that is typically continental.

While red wine certainly shines in Terra Alta, the area is perhaps more identifiable through its preeminent white wine, that being Garnacha Blanca, or white Grenache.  Some of the Garnacha Blanca vineyards are very old, tended by generations of families.  This area is the heart of Garnacha Blanca, and Terra Alta’s beautiful, panoramic landscape is home to 35% of the world’sceller-pinol-vinos-terra-alta-catalunya_11 - Copy (2) Garnacha Blanca vineyards and 70-75% of those in Spain.  This grape can make a profound white wine, one of structure and body with balance and finesse.  We get to review one of these below!

For our foray into the wine world of Terra Alta, we are lucky enough to have four wines from Celler Piñol.  As with many top Spanish wineries, the wines are not released young and have some age on them.

celler-pinol-vinos-terra-alta-catalunya_6

Juanjo Galcera Piñol

Cellar Piñol was founded in 1945.  Today, the fourth generation of the family is continuing the tradition.  Juanjo G. Piñol and Toni Coca are the winemakers, while Juanjo’s mother Josefina remains in charge of the family cellar.  They are based in Batea (DO Terra Alta), and use organically grown grapes from their own estate vines.  The majority of the vineyards are old vines, and treasures in themselves.  You can read more about Cellar Piñol, their family and their wines, on their website: http://www.cellerpinol.com/index.php/en/.

Let’s see what’s in the bottles!

2012 L’Avi Arrufi Blanco – from 100%, organically grown Garnacha Blanca grapes, this wine is made in small quantities, with only 300 cases of the 2012 produced.  The vines are over eight years old and are completely dry farmed.  Vineyards sit at about 1500 feet of elevation.  This white see IMG_1169seven months of aging in French oak.  L’Avi Arrufi translates to Grandfather Arrufi, after the man who founded Celler Piñol in 1945.  Our thoughts:

The color is a beautiful golden yellow.  The nose is rich with ripe citrus, including grapefruit, lemon and blood orange.  If you were blindfolded and took a quick sniff you might think a good German Riesling, but that is all ripe fruit and not petrol at all.  There is also a stony, mineral quality, and a touch of apple.  On the palate there is more apple, and clearly lemon.  The wine has some texture to it, and a great acidic balance that keeps it fresh.  It finishes very long, with a flinty minerality.  This is interesting, fresh, tangy and very different than your usual white wine.  It is really amazingly long.  It’s not inexpensive at SRP of $49, but it is world class and we loved it.  This is a good counterbalance to that bottle of white burgundy you were planning to serve.  Open both and compare and contrast!

2012 L’Avi Arrufi Tinto – also from organically grown and dry framed vineyards, this wine is a IMG_1147blend of 60% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha and 10% Syrah.  It is aged for 14 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  This wine gets 90+ scores every year it is released.  Our impressions:

The color is a dark red to purple, and richly hued.  The nose packs a suitcase full of dark fruit berries, herbs and spice.  On the palate the berries are there, and the wine is full bodied, rich and structured.  This has all the pieces of a top notch wine.  The tannins are firm but approachable, and the wine finishes very long.  Outstanding red here.  It also carries an SRP of $49, and is a well made, high end red wine we liked very much.

2010 Mather Teresina – here we have the flagship red wine of the estate, and another which receives consistently high scores from the wine rating community.  The blend is spearheaded by Garnacha, at 50%, followed by 30% Cariñena and 20% Morenillo.  The Morenillo grape is almost IMG_1145extinct, and indigenous to Terra Alta.  Its presence makes the wine unique.  Twenty to twenty four months in mostly French oak barrels completes the process.  Another wine from old vine fruit, the vineyards are between 60 and 75 years old.  What did we think?

This is a rich, deep ruby red in color, and comes with a huge nose of berries.  There is a little blueberry in here, as well as currant.  Complexity abounds and you can pick out spice, leather, vanilla and wet stones.  The nose is superb.  On the palate it is full bodied with tons of fruit, herbal notes and some spice.  The wine has an amazingly fresh acid component to it, which keeps it balanced in spite of its weight and intensity.  The tannins are somewhat subdued, but the wine still carries an edge.  It finishes very long.  This is a complex, wonderful, world class red that is going to last a long, long time.  It is worthy of any table, and any glass.  SRP is $68, and it is a value wine at that price.  Bravo!

2007 Josefina Piñol Tinto – and now for something totally different.  This wine is made fromIMG_1229 90% Garnacha and 10% Syrah, both late harvested.  The wine is fermented naturally to 13% alcohol.  The skins are distilled to make a Grappa, and this is used to increase the overall alcohol content of the wine to about 15%.  It spends five months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  They compare it to a high end port.  It also comes in a very unusual and beautiful, squarish cross section bottle.  Let’s see:

It is a deep purple red, but still transparent.  The nose is full of very ripe dark fruit, including IMG_1228berry, plum and prune.  On the palate the prune comes through clearly, almost giving you a hint of molasses as it is very ripe.  This is rich and somewhat sweet, but not very sweet.  It has a great balance, is simply delicious, and is a great substitute for either a high end ruby port or a young vintage port.  I absolutely love this wine.  Cheri loved it as well, and she is not a port drinker. T his is a great choice for a dessert wine to please everyone.  SRP is $33, and I think it is a steal there.  Value list for sure.

Wow! This was an impressive group of wines, right from the Garnacha Blanca to the port-like Josefina.  If this is indicative of what Terra Alta has to deliver, then it is a very underappreciated wine region.  We can see why Celler Piñol get such high marks from the international wine press.  They really do deserve the praise.

The wines from Celler Piñol are imported to the U.S. by our friends at Olé Imports.  You can see more of their portfolio on their website: http://www.oleimports.com/.

To read the previous article in the Spanish series click here.

Next we’ll likely take a quick trip back to Rioja, and then head to Penedes for some bubbly Cava.  So much wine, so little time.

A votre santé!

 

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