Wines from the wind
It’s not terribly easy to explain the Tramuntana, this northern wind that blows heavily across the Empordà counties in Catalonia, the northeast corner of Spain. Sure, it’s a wind, but it’s not just any wind. During the winter, it can gust up to 200kph wreaking all manner of havoc in the area. In the summer, while not as strong, it can whip up fires and either decrease or amplify the heat depending on its devilish mood. But, about the only way to see it in action is in a video like the one I shot some time back during a tranquil summer day in Figueres. While it’s running about 3x normal speed, you can see how the Tramuntana blows down from the mountains (on the left), across the plain, and out to the sea (on the right).
But, this isn’t a website about meteorology, it’s one about wine and this Tramuntana wind is a defining aspect to the wines made in the Empordà and Costa Brava region. We saw it firsthand with visiting the vineyards of Hugas de Batlle when we were nearly knocked off the slopes. But, that wasn’t the only time as whenever you visit one of these wineries in DO Empordà, you’ll most likely find this wind blowing.
It was a constant narrative thread while we were writing the enotourism guide (which is now available in print and digital) for the region. Of course, while you can taste a different type of soil that vines feast upon, can you really taste this wind? In an indirect way, most definitely. You see, it helps the winemakers to grow higher quality grapes without the use of chemicals and other screwy, less than awesome things that many modern wineries do. Many of them are organic or even biodymanic (like Mas Estela) because this massive degree of wind keeps down pests and tosses the leaves around, helping to prevent mildew. Martí Fabra and Roig Parals are two other excellent wineries that take advantage of this as well.
Sometimes it can be a hindrance as it will snap the vines just as the grapes are at their fullest. Or, in the case of Can Sais, it can thwart the intentional onset of Noble Rot, thus making it impossible to create a specific type of dessert wine. Of course, it’s a decent trade off if that means you don’t have to be out in the vineyards, flooding them with pesticides.
The Tramuntana doesn’t guarantee that the wines will be perfect. Naturally, a great deal is left to the winemaker. But, it goes a long way to helping build a very solid foundation and uniting the wineries that call Empordà home.
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Terroir Sense Fronteres - 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% · 250EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR