12-12-2018

The wines of Terroir Sense Fronteres

I’ve not been seen outside my tasting room much this year as it was one of those periods when I again took on all the wines of both DOQ Priorat and DO Montsant. The end result is a digital supplement of 400 tasting notes available for free to anyone who buys the print books. While it was a great deal of work, that’s a pretty serious scoop of added value for anyone looking to be in the know about these wonderful Catalan wines.

When it comes to the two regions, people often wonder if there’s a difference between Priorat and Montsant? Is Montsant “declassified” Priorat? Or, is it just simply “cheap Priorat“? I’ve banged on about these topics for some time so I won’t bore you more here other than to say that there is so much shared DNA between the two regions it’s more like someone in France who makes Châteauneuf and Gigondas or an Italian who makes Valpolicella and Amarone. They are two faces of the same coin that are different expressions of a joined base which is no better shown by the fact 18 of the 65 active “projects” in DO Montsant (not all have their own cellar) are linked to projects in DOQ Priorat. Apparently we now need to bump up that total to 19 now that, “Terroir Sense Fronteres” (the very wordy translation of “Terroir without borders”) has fully come to fruition.

As is often the case, I’m told it wasn’t an immediately intentional project as the main DOQ Priorat winery, Terroir al Límit had been renting some DOQ Priorat vineyards and as part of the deal, additional vineyards came along for the ride in DO Montsant. One thing let to another and now the wines are being released, having been produced in a secondary cellar that Josep Grau built but hadn’t been using near the village of Capçanes.

These wines hold a similar intent as what’s seen in parent, Terroir al Límit which is have less skin contact and no new oak, while picking earlier at lower alcohol and thus producing a “fresher” style of wine. To some extent, if one is pursuing such winemaking, DO Montsant is a better place to do it. While the vineyards lie in the flatter and thus, more sunny zones of the Priorat county, DO Montsant allows lower minimum alcohol levels across all styles of wine. They clock in at 11.5% for whites and 12.5% for reds as opposed to DOQ Priorat’s 13% for whites and 13.5% for reds which Terroir al Límit is generally just reaching but not exceeding by anymore than 0.5% at most with the wines.

In terms of how chasing lower alcohol levels affects the final wines in this DO Montsant project, amazingly, it doesn’t. The white, at 12% is still very expressive. The reds, ranging from 12.5-13.5% also don’t suffer any ridiculously green, underripe notes and indeed stay very fresh. With Terroir al Límit there can be a dogmatic insistence on keeping the alcohol low which I’ve found doesn’t work with every vintage. It’s interesting to see that DO Montsant’s more open environment allows for a better overall ripening. This gets back to what another winemaker with cellars in both DOs once told me, “In DO Montsant, I’m not fighting anything in the vineyard like in DOQ Priorat.”

Terroir Sense Fronteres’ Blanc and Negre offer up a great introduction to the wines and if the 16€ price is maintained, I find them to be a very good value. Vèrtebra is a curious wine and the 2017 is still quite closed. There’s a lot to like in that wine however and I’m a tremendous fan of Grenache so I’ll enjoy seeing the evolution. And, if 28€ seems “high” for a DO Montsant wine, welcome to the current and correct pricing of DO Montsant where good, quality wines are more or less in the same ballpark of pricing as those in DOQ Priorat. Beyond the base price of the grapes, there’s little additional variance when it comes to the cost of making proper wine in the region at large.

Guix Vermell (“red chalk”, a soil type typical of DO Montsant) is a quite, quite different wine and it hasn’t been released to the market yet. The intended price tag of 250€ is bound to raise a lot of eyebrows, mine included. These kinds of prices always beg of two questions: First, is it a good wine? Indeed, I enjoyed it a great deal and scored it below as such. Second, is it worth the price? My general response is that as soon as you cross the boundary of about 100€ a bottle, you’re mainly paying for scarcity. If you happen to have the money and find this little problem to pay, you’ll definitely be getting an enjoyable wine although it needs at least 1-2 more years in the bottle to fully mature.

But the other aspect to Guix Vermell is the general profile of the wine. This doesn’t taste like what you typically find in DO Montsant. The only other wine that nears this price point is the Espectacle at around 110€. It too is 100% Grenache, but it tastes like an excellent, fine-boned, example of what this grape is capable of in the region. Guix Vermell, while lacking a touch of the floral rose aspect, tastes and presents a lot like an upper-end Barbaresco from Italy, which is of course based on the Nebbiolo grape. It may sound hard to believe but it’s true and taking the wine as simply by what you find in the bottle, it’s great for what it is.

Here’s the problem though: one can go and buy a great many Barbarescos of a similar stature for far less. But I’m sure this will be lost on certain other wine critics who seem to have a sexual epiphany when they come across wines that are very good but bear no resemblance to the region from whence they come and score them with absurd scores simply due to their “unicorn-ness”. If this gets 99 or 100 points from others, I won’t be surprised and ultimately it will then add to the mystique as well as the scarcity and well… a cult classic is born–that’s how you do it in case any young winemaker was keeping notes.

Blanc 2017
Golden apple, very floral, chamomile, field flowers, very expressive. Rich and structured on the palate, medium plus finish, balanced and fresh on the palate.
75% White Grenache, 25% Macabeu 12% 16€
** Q 91+

Negre 2017
Fresh red cherry, raspberry, lightly sweet fruit, violet, apple blossom, light, drifting mineral notes. Fresh and fleshy on the palate, medium plus acidity and length. Bit of bitter tannins in the finish although stays overall fresh.
75% Grenache, 25% Carignan 13.5% 16€
** Q 90

Vèrtebra 2017
Exceedingly light color. Red, right fruit, fresh crisp herbs, tea leaves, bit of red bell pepper, herbal spice. Medium acidity, very closed, stays fresh but very lacking in length.
100% Grenache 12.5% 28€
** 91

Guix Vermell 2017
Crisp red cherry fruit, touch of spice, flecks of pepper, baking spice, compacted, wet earth. Delicate on the palate, stays fresh, surprising high wealth of tannins, long finish.
100% Grenache 13% 250€
*** 93+94