Sicus, when wine is made in the vineyard
Driving forty five minutes covers a lot of ground in the wine world. It affords a 41km view of the entire Côte d’Or in Burgundy. Similarly, it will see you go from the top to the bottom of Catalunya’s DOQ Priorat, although only covering 27km (17km as the crow flies) due to the stomach-churning roads. Napa Valley’s Carneros to Calistoga is also doable in this time frame if you don’t get snarled in 45km of tasting room crawl. Lastly however, 45 minutes will take you from the corner of DO Penedès just next to Barcelona to the other end while seeing your odometer flip 60km in the process.
This last bit of driving alacrity is brought to you courtesy of the AP-7 because without the highway, it would take an hour and a half to traverse the massive entirety of DO Penedès on regular roads. Curiously, the southwestern corner opposite Barcelona is a small snippet of DO Penedès that slips into the neighboring Tarragona Province. Most of this is comprised of the village, Bonastre and it’s not so much ironic that it’s been tacked on to DO Penedès, but that all three of the small cellars (Partida Creus, Cal Lluïsot, and Sicus) don’t bother to certify their wines as DO Penedès.
You have a decent degree of time to ponder the meaning of this if heading to Bonastre as it’s a little world unto itself. While only a 15 minute drive inland from the coast, you leave all beachiness behind while winding your way along the small, wooded road, following the meandering stream of the Aguilera. While the journey will see you passing under train tracks and attempting to avoid kamikaze bicyclists, there is a tranquility to the village which is a lot of what attracted Italians, Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa to start Partida Creus as well as encouraging local, Eduard Pié to start his venture, Sicus.
Eduard appreciated that Massimo’s striving to make wines in the micro region as those with vineyards had just sold off the grapes previously. He decided to take over his own family vineyards and start his own cellar called, Sicus in 2012. The first wines were purely experimental and his goals were simple in premise but quite striking in application as he uses no oak aging in the production of his wines. This is not a shock if one is just making young wines in stainless steel tanks but he’s producing higher-end wines with longer aging and none of the fruity, simplistic hallmarks of young wine.
Working and believing in full organic production (which for anyone within the bounds of Penedès can sometimes just be a marketing gimmick) Eduard has taken his desire to show terroir to a level that few others reach. For his top “Sons” wines of Xarel·lo, Xarel·lo Vermell, and Monastrell (called Cartoixà, Cartoixà Vermell, and Garrut respectively by locals) he ages them in amphorae that he’s buried in between the rows of the vineyards. The advantage he finds is, “I can be assured that all the yeasts come directly from the vineyard, without any interference from anything else that might be in the cellar. It’s a purity of terroir.”
While many in Catalunya are making use of natural, ambient yeast fermentation as opposed to store-bought selected ones, his vineyard-ferment I’ve really only seen by those who make wine with the traditional kvevri vessels in Georgia and even there it’s just in the central region of Kartli where it’s done. What Eduard is doing is a tricky and incredibly risky method which is why most prefer the pied de cuve of bringing in a starter from the vineyard to the cellar. When out amongst the vines, with no ability to do temperature control, Eduard has to let the amphora go on whatever ride it wants. Given this he admits, “At times there are amphorae that are faulty and I simply don’t bottle them in the final blend. Volatile [acidity] can be a real problem.”
The resulting wines aren’t as wild and woolly as one might expect. They are in fact, nuanced, delicate and textured. The Xarel·lo has an ethereal, floral aspect. While more rustic than one that’s only seen stainless steel aging, it has incredible definition and overall integration. The Monastrell takes to the amphora even more as despite its wanton desire to make wines that are rustic and need years of aging (see AOC Bandol), Eduard’s result is layer upon layer of flavors. Herbal notes play with meaty, chewy tannins, and a brooding burst of dark and red fruits. These wines as well as his monovarietal, single vineyard wines constantly show an evolution when tasted year after year that’s impressive for such a new project.
Below is a selection of his most recent vintages that are worth seeking out, even if one has (like me) been burned by natural-ish wines in the past. Also incredibly delicious are his two Xarel·lo passion projects of the dessert wine, Meliterrani and the Cru Marí that’s a lovely ancestrale. Why is it lovely? Because he degorges it to get the funk out, that’s why!
Sicus - Sons Cartoixà 2015
Yellow apple, cured orange peel, dried green cherries, wealth of dried herbs, chamomile, thyme, tea leaves, light of almond blossom, and a general citric overtone. Big and fleshy on the palate, grapefruit and dried orange notes, wealth of acidity and medium plus finish. Definitely a serious Xarel·lo backing this wine but with considerably lighter alcohol.
100% Xarel·lo · 11%
Sicus - Sons Monastrell 2014
Very dark fruited, cherry, prune, lavender, violet, mushroom and earthy notes that blow off, black licorice, and molasses. Nice brace of tannins and acidity on the palate, wild, unbridled fruit profile but with a great deal of length and the tannins to keep driving the wine.
100% Mourvèdre · 15%
Sicus - Garrut 2017
Red and dark fruit, red cherries with prune notes, wild forest berries, and an underlying green pepper note on top of orange peel and cloves and this strawberry compote character. Big structure on the palate with defined yet still surprisingly fresh fruit despite the wealth of tannins. Nice, underlying acidity with fresh length. Definitely one to sit even a bit longer for more integration.
100% Mourvèdre · 14%
Sicus - Sons Cartoixà Vermell 2016
Yellow peach, light cider notes, softer honeysuckle blossom notes, and a touch of white pepper. Citric dominant on the palate with brisk acidity but lacking a bit in terms of overall palate attack and finish.
100% Xarel·lo Vermell · 11%