First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 19th January, 2019
The idea for this week’s article came about by chance; on a cold wet miserable January evening, I found myself yearning for something rich and warming to accompany a spicy stew I had cooked. I have been quietly suffering from a serious (aren’t they all?) bout of man-flu, and with my sinuses blocked, I couldn’t taste very much. This was not the time to sip at delicate light wines. I came across four wines, each from a different part of Catalonia in Spain. All shared two common traits. They were rich, full-bodied and powerful, perfect for cold weather drinking. All were 15 per cent or 14.5 cent (which could mean 15 per cent). It was a case of fighting fire with fire. I tried them out with various robust dishes, and not only did they actually taste of something, they also improved the food (and my mood) immeasurably. Back to lighter wines when the weather improves.
All of these Spanish wines come from different mountainous sub-regions of Catalonia, back from the coast. They seem remote when you visit, yet most are only an hour or so from bustling, busy Barcelona. The second common trait in all four wines was a streak of refreshing acidity, not often found in full-bodied red wines. This is down to the varied soils and climate of these mountainous regions. The acidity provides a unique balance to the power and richness of the wines.
If you do intend heading to Barcelona this year, avoid the crowds for a few hours and head up into some of the most spectacular vineyards of all. Whether it is the soaring, rugged mountains of Priorat, with their steep slate slopes, or the wild coastal hills of Empordà, these are areas well worth visiting. A trip last year with Catalan producer Torres to their new winery in Costers del Segre (with the wonderful name of Purgatorí) reminded me of the unique beauty of this part of the world – and how good the food can be.
If you are visiting, Torres has estates in many of the sub-regions of Catalonia, including Priorat, Conca de Barberà, Penedès, and Costers del Segre, most of which offer tours and tastings.
Pirorat (or Priorato in Castilian) is the best-known region, and certainly produces the most expensive wines, some of which sell for hundreds of euro, although the Mosaic below is an exception at an offer price of €15. The regions surrounding Priorat mentioned above produce wines that are usually far less expensive and can offer far greater value for money.
As you will have gathered, these are not wines for sipping before dinner. But with substantial dishes such as curries, barbecued meats and winter braises, they deserve a place at your table.
Oriol dels Aspres Negre 2014, Empordà, Catalonia
Powerful and earthy with maturing ripe red cherry fruits, and a rounded soft finish. With a rich hearty beef stew. Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; JJ O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, jjodriscoll.ie; Deveneys, Dundrum; The Hole in the Wall, Dublin 7.
Mosaic 2016, Priorat, Catalonia
14.5% €23.99 (€15, February 14th-March 4th)
Powerful, muscular with savoury licorice and spicy dark fruits. It went well with my spicy Mexican beef and bean casserole. Stockists: SuperValu, supervalu.ie; Centra, Centra.ie.
Petit Saó 2015, Mas Blanch i Jové, Costers del Segre, Organic
Inviting and fragrant with blackcurrant fruits, a seam of refreshing acidity and a good dry tannic finish. Swarthy, full-bodied and warming. Great with lasagne. Stockists: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Braó 2015, Montsant, Acústic Celler, Catalonia
Full-bodied but deliciously smooth and opulent, with rich dark fruits, plenty of spice, and well-integrated tannins on the finish. The Acústic red (€22) is also well worth trying. With barbecued beef. Stockists: Bubbles Brothers, the English Market, Ballintemple, Cork, bubblebrothers.ie; Urru, Bandon, Urru.ie; J.J. O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, jjodriscoll.ie.