By Diane Davidson, Key Account Manager, Nick Hillen, Key Account Manager, Sean Beveridge, Business Development Manager and Jo Draper, Key Account Manager.
Getting up at the crack of dawn to take two trains and a bus to Luton Airport may not seem like everyone’s idea of a good time but if you add the caveat of a trip to Catalonia to see some of the world’s most spectacular wineries the situation looks markedly different. That is the scenario myself and three colleagues found ourselves a few weeks ago when we were invited to visit Codorniu and Torres vineyards.
On our first day we headed straight from the airport to the majestic headquarters of Codorniu nestled in the region of Penedes. Producing 43 million bottles of still and sparkling wine every year, one of which is Spain’s biggest selling cava Anna de Codorniu, they are still family owned and run. The tour began in a building designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a contemporary of Gaudi, evoking the history and vision of the family. A highlight of the tour was a trip round the cellars, which cover an area of 200,000 square metres, regarded as being overly ambitious at the time as production was nowhere near that level, the decision has been vindicated over the passing of time as they cellars are now brimming with bottles undergoing the secondary fermentation process, adding the spark to the sparkling wine. In fact they are so expansive the tour round the cellars has to take part aboard a train, which seemed delight at least one member of our party.
The tour ended with a tasting of the full Codorniu range, hosted by head winemaker Bruno Colomer. Participating in side by side tastings is most beneficial as it allows you to compare and contrast the different styles that can be created during the winemaking process, much easier than tasting wines individually. The crowd pleaser amongst them being the Raventos, the elegant, typical cava style being enriched by the addition of Chardonnay, plus tremendous value for money. It was an excellent first day with only one drawback, a rainstorm that would have made Noah nervous!
We wake on Day 2 to a quick breakfast and leave the hotel to drive straight to the Torres Winery in Penedes, luckily the Sat Nav combined with Nick’s great directions and Sean’s exemplary driving skills get us there safe and sound.
We are greeted by the delightful Marta who was to be look after us for the day and we couldn’t have been in safer hands. She takes us to the obligatory Cinema room (apparently most wineries have these now) to watch a video on the Torres family which sets the scene perfectly. We then move on to join a large group of tourists on to the Torres train (I won’t lie I was quite excited about it) which took us around the vast winery and through an interactive sensory tunnel. We then left the group and were taken to the laboratory where the level of technology really was amazing. They can analyse the chemical compounds of specific aromas and I suspect Nick secretly wants to work there (don’t tell his boss)
As the rain began we ventured up to the Nursery where you really begin to appreciate what the Torres family are doing to create more sustainable, environmentally friendly vine cultivation. We witnessed their experiments with new irrigation techniques, recovering traditional varietals, trying a longer planting season, and obtaining charcoal from old vine stock. They are also working with more environmental packaging and alongside the University of Seville on an experimental project using an algal bed to absorb CO2.
Marta then took us to the Torres family restaurant for a fantastic tasting which included Majestic favourites:
• Vina Sol 2010, Vina Esmerelda 2010, Vina Sol Rose 2010 and Sangre de Toro 2009, but also...
• Milmanda Chardonnnay 2008 - a wine they have been making for 20 to 22 years which is fermented in new oak barrels for 9months and a personal favourite of mine
• Gran Sangre de Toro 2007 - 100% new oak and 1 year ageing and finally Celeste Roble (Roble means oak) 2010 – From the Ribero del Duero and made from 100% Tempranillo
We were then treated to a delicious lunch and were very lucky to meet the legend Miguel Torres himself who was given a lifetime achievement in 2011 for his commitment to the environment.
The afternoon was running away with us and we hadn’t been to Jean Leon yet so we finished on a Torres brandy (not for poor Sean who was the designated driver) and set off for the final visit in the day.
We arrived to breathtaking views and an extremely modern Winery but with a charming story to the wines history. Jean Leon left home when he was 19 to Paris, New York and finally on to Hollywood. He eventually became business partners with none other than James Dean and opened the famous La Scala restaurant where the stars of the time flocked to (Marilyn Monroe, Sinatra, The Kennedys et al) try and rave about his amazing food and exemplary wine list. This led to him purchasing 150 hectares of land in Penedes and started to produce his own wines.
A brief tasting led to us all wishing we could have met Jean Leon and shared in some of his stories and we set off back to the hotel brimming with so much new information we were very much looking forward to our dinner that night and more wines from Penedes.
Day three and at last some sunshine as we head to the Torres property in Priorat, literally in the middle of nowhere. The journey was pretty hairy at times as we wound round the mountains on a road little bigger than a cycle path! Our efforts were certainly rewarded when we arrived at the winery where the views are nothing short of spectacular. The rural Priorat region is made up of beautiful medieval villages nestling in ancient vineyards that are difficult to cultivate. The winery, designed with the authenticity of the wine and the countryside of El Priorat in mind, provides a perfect vantage point to view this beautiful landscape. The vines are grown on terraces cut out of the hard, dark slate soil known locally as licorella. These soils and the extreme temperature variation between day and night, provide exceptional, highly concentrated wines made from the traditional red varietals. The vines themselves are up to 100 years old with deep roots and very limited production. Only two wines are made at the winery and we were lucky to be treated to a vertical tutored tasting of both wines with the oenologist.
The first “Salmos” is made from Carinena, Garnacha and Syrah. After a 25 day maceration it is fermented for 7-10 days in temperature controlled stainless steel vats and malolactic fermentation in French Oak barrels. Finally it is aged for 16 months in French oak barrels. The result is a dark red with touches of violet and an intense mineral aroma with dark, jammy fruits, notes of cacao, brown sugar and toast with a fresh, floral touch of violet and thyme. We tried 3 vintages of this beautiful wine (2006, 2007 and 2009). As expected the 2009 was still very austere but what potential!! The other two were drinking very well but had very different characters.
And so onto the second wine with its enigmatic name “Perpetual” Made from predominately Carinena with some Garnacha, this was one of the best examples of the grape we had ever tasted. With an approximate annual production of between 6,500 and 10,500 bottles this is indeed a wine to be savoured; a deep colour with intense aromatics of cherries and plums with notes of smoke, thyme and eucalyptus. It has a concentrated palate with velvety supple tannins and an intense, elegant and lengthy finish. Divine!!
The winery feels like such a special place and hugely different from the vast Torres winery in Penedes. It is very modern with a real commitment to the environment with the use of solar panels, rainfall collector and the responsible management of other natural resources.
Our visit of course ended with another mammoth lunch accompanied by a few bottles of the delicious Salmos!!!
Our thanks go to everyone involved for making these 3 days in this beautiful part of Spain so interesting and enjoyable.