AMONG the wine regions that blanket Spain like a patchwork quilt, the names run from the famous, like Rioja, to the fashionable, like Priorat, to the emerging, like Bierzo, to the unknown — choose from many. Skip to next paragraph
Multimedia Wines of The Times: Montsant Reds from SpainInteractive Feature Wines of The Times: Montsant Reds from Spain Related Pairings: For a Drink That’s Sometimes Elegant, First Invent a Burger (July 11, 2007)
The Pour Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for The Times, discusses the pleasure, culture and business of wine, beer and spirits.
It’s that unknown quality that makes Spain so exciting for wine lovers who prize a sense of discovery. You are never quite sure what you are going to get. Yes, it could be a wan, insipid wine that deserves never to see the spotlight, even at $8 a bottle. But just as easily it could be something delicious and surprising, a wine that captures your imagination.
The wine panel recently had the pleasure of tasting 23 bottles of red wine from Montsant in northeastern Spain. This largely anonymous region, which was recognized as a separate wine zone in 2001, seems poised to make a name for itself.
The wines varied widely in style. Some were juicy, instantly pleasurable and exceptional values. Others were clearly more ambitious and expensive — bigger, richer and meant for longer-term enjoyment. All were linked by a distinctive mineral component that gave them depth and identity.
For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Ron Miller, the general manager of Solera, a Spanish restaurant on the East Side of Manhattan, and Rafael Mateo, the former managing partner at Ostia in Greenwich Village, who is planning to open Pata Negra, a ham, cheese and wine bar, in the fall. We all were impressed and surprised by the wines.
“These were the best of both worlds, New and Old, plush and silky, not just jammy and overblown,” Rafael said.
It’s impossible to talk about Montsant without looking at its neighbor Priorat, and at the Catalan region as a whole. Despite centuries of wars, shifting alliances and dictatorships, Catalonia, and its capital, Barcelona, have struggled to maintain their independence and cultural identity. In the early 1930’s Catalonia achieved a tenuous self-rule within Spain that was quickly lost in the Spanish Civil War. Only after the death of Franco and a new constitution in 1978 were Catalonians granted autonomy and permitted legally to speak their own language.
One confusing result for outsiders is a profusion of nearly matching words, rendered in either Castilian Spanish or Catalonian. The word Catalonia itself, for example, is the English variation of what the Castilian speakers call Cataluña and the Catalans themselves call Catalunya. Similarly, Priorat is the Catalonian word for what Castilian speakers call Priorato.
In a way, the creation of the Montsant region is a microcosm of Catalonia’s battle for self-determination. For years it was part of Tarragona, known for the sort of atrocious fortified wine called Poor Man’s Port by the optimistic few and Red Biddy by everyone else. Only one area of Tarragona, Falset, made wines that rose above the others.
In fact, this subzone had more in common with Priorat than the rest of the Tarragona region. Priorat made a name for itself in the early 1980’s when ambitious young winemakers imagined wines that could be made from its ancient yet neglected mountainous vineyards. Their success inspired producers in Montsant, which surrounds the Priorat hills and which, like Priorat, traditionally uses garnacha and cariñena grapes, better known to English speakers by their French names, grenache and carignan.
After years of campaigning, the Falset subzone was separated from Tarragona and awarded the Montsant appellation in 2001, making it simultaneously one of Spain’s oldest and newest regions. Families that have grown grapes for centuries have only in the last decade or so begun bottling their own wines.
This is a roundabout way of saying that the wines of Montsant resemble the wines of Priorat. They are not as powerful, and they don’t yet strive to be as profound. They are easier to enjoy young. But they share a thread of minerality that binds them rather than separates them.
In addition to garnacha and cariñena, growers have planted a fair amount of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, as they have in Priorat. Indeed, our No. 1 wine, the 2003 Mas de l’Abundància, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, garnacha and cariñena. It showed balance and a firm structure yet was enjoyable now, with flavors of minerals, berries and cocoa. Our No. 2 bottle, the 2002 El Bugader from Joan d’Anguera, is 80 percent syrah and 20 percent cabernet, and though it is rich, ripe and spicy, it too has that characteristic stony, earthy flavor to it.
To read ful article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/11/dining/reviews/11wine.html?_r=1&ref=spain
Read Full Post »