The winery of Alta Alella, Tell Me If You Still Care in D.O. Alella

188/365 – Catalonia – D.O. Alella – Alella – Alta Alella – Merla 2012

Tell Me If You Still Care……,

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Merla 2012, (Natural Wine)

Cherry coloured wine with good aromatic intensity which highlights fruit aromas, amongst which blackberry’s stand out. Some nice licorice notes of well integrated oak ageing and slight woody notes but not at all overwhelming. On the palate, its acidity makes the wine fresh and again, loads of fruity notes. Soft tannins that are very pleasing, long and persistent after taste. The Cavas from Alta Alella are some of my favourite Cavas but this is certainly a great and different natural wine! Lo and behold the crux of the issue and the great secret of Merla: the raw material with which this wine is made. ​​Interspecific grape: a hybrid designed from clones crossing a few varieties that have proven resistant to various vine diseases. A grape-name-in-time, resulting from genetic engineering but is capable of delivering a very noble expression wine with rich fruit load (blackberries, plums) on a mineral background, delicate tannins and with fresh acidity and generous mouth. I LIKE!!!

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I have to say that Alella was something that I never heard of during my first year and a half here in Catalonia. I guess I was fully busy covering Priorat, Montsant and the “famous” wine making regions here. Opened my eyes when I first came in touch with wine makers from Alella during a wine fair in Barcelona. Off course all of them were raving about their own region of Alella and the wines produced there. That is and will always be the case with wine makers, my region is the best and my wines are certainly the very best. No need to drink anything else! Full stop!

Alta Alella vineyards

Here in Catalonia and the rest of Spain, as well as most, if not all Mediterranean countries, local products are the best! Originating from Croatia, having a mother that always held to her principles of all things from my island, as well as the island it self, is the best in the world! That’s it! No discussion! Mother dearest, have you been to all other parts of the world? Have you tried products made in other parts of the world? Truth being, my parents always spent their summer vacations in Croatia and in their opinion, why bother going anywhere else when the best was right there?

My kid brother (with the best baseball cap) with my dad. In the best boat, in the best waters in the best country in the world!

Now, I grew up in Sweden. Whole different ball game. In Sweden, you can’t say that all things Swedish are the best, it’s a rule! Stick with it! Good thing about Swedish alcohol politics (having a state monopoly on alcohol), is that the Systembolaget provides wines from all over the world. And due to this fact, I dare say that Swedish consumers are knowledgeable and picky when it come to wine. This is my background, now back to D.O. Alella!

Alella Vineyards

I keep discovering wineries all over Catalonia. I have been enlightened when it comes to the DO:s and know most of them quite well. I do not know all the producers and I guess it will take another lifetime to visit them all and try their, in most cases, wonderful wines. Is Alella the best in the world? Well, the day you are there, the day you sit in the sun outside the winery, you are visiting that day, having a glass of wine or Cava in your hand, YES! That very day, Alella s the best wine growing region in the whole world!

A glass of wine in the sun

D.O. Alella is conveniantly located only  15 km to the north of the city of Barcelona, which makes it the closes wine making region to this bustling city and perfect for a day trip. It is one of the smallest DOs in Spain as the vineyards have been encroached upon by urban development. Presently it only covers one third of the area that it covered in 1956 when it was established.

Alta Alella Winery

Wine production has existed in the area since the time of the ancient Romans, mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia and by Martial in his Epigrams, during this time known as vins laietans. Structures have been found at the archaeological site of Veral de Vallmora, near Teià, showing that wine was made there from the 1st to 4th centuries AD. During the Middle Ages Alella wine was served at the court of the Kings of Aragón. As all wine making regions in Europe, Alella to suffered from the phylloxera at the end of the 19th century but the vineyards were successfully replanted using rootstock from the New World.

New World Rootstock

During the 1920s the region was famous for its Cava. In the 1980s new varieties were introduced and the wine-making methods modernized. The wineries are urban mansions that are built on the slopes overlooking the sea. The height above sea level of the vineyards determines the variety grown and thus the type of wine produced.

There are two distinct areas within the DO:

Maresme, on the foothills overlooking the sea, is influenced by the sun and the Mediterranean breezes. The hills protect the vines from the cold winds and condense the humidity caused by the sea. The wines from this area are smooth with low acidity levels.

Alella in the lower left corner

Vallès, on the interior slopes facing inland, has a more continental climate. The wines are stronger and more acidic.

The most interesting feature of the D.O. of Allella is the distinctive topsoil which is known as sauló in Catalan. It is basically a white granite-based sand which is very porous and retains heat very well. This helps the grapes to ripen, while the low water retention properties are compensated by the local humid microclimate. The older vines grow freely while the newer vineyards have been planted on trellises. Planting density is between 2,000 and 3,500 vines per hectare. 

Alta Alella Vineyards

The winery of Alta Alella is a family business project that started in the early 1990’s. Wine entrepreneur and enologist Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets and his wife Cristina Guillén began this winemaking adventure with enthusiasm after purchasing the art-deco Can Genis Estate, located in the agricultural part of Serralada de Marina Natural Park between the towns of Alella and Tiana.

The family at Alta Alella

In 1991, Alta Alella planted its first vines alongside the other traditional variety of Alella, Pansa Blanca (Xarel·lo), followed by a diversity of grape varieties, including  the long forgotten Mataró grape which had not been cultivated since the phylloxera epidemic. During the 1990’s the winery and the laboratory were built and the main house was renovated.

The Mataró grape

After a period of ten years, in 2001, Alta Alella was about to produce its first still wines, the fruitful result of the 6 hectares distributed over terraces and slopes. Currently, in the DO Alella, Alta Alella has 17 hectares situated at an altitude of 100-250m above sea level. Since the undertaking the entire production of Alta Alella has been based on certified organic farming, consciously preserving the biodiversity of the surrounding Natural Park. Therefore, many of the techniques used are as ancient as winemaking itself. The harvest is carried out manually — the grapes are carefully selected– over a period of about two months.

The new barrel room at Alta Alella

Today, Alta Alella has evolved into a highly mature vineyard and as a prestigious brand. The newly-built Visitor Center where wine lovers have a chance to discover Alta Alella’s privileged location while tasting the still and sparkling wines. This beautiful site is overlooking the magnificent view of the Mediterranean Sea.

193 to go!

Catalan Wine 365 and the SweetEasy Lifestyle

Ton Rimbau, Natural Born Lover in D.O. Penedes

85/365 – Catalonia – D.O. Penedes – Vilobí del Penedès – Ton Rimbau – Porcellanic Vi Xarel.lo 2011

Natural Born Lover…..

by Muddy Waters, did he make natural wine? If there is such a thing as a perfect wine, which one is it? Please let me know, so that I can avoid it! Progress might lead to perfection and yes, Spotify, digital music and so on, it’s all very handy, dandy and good in every way. But sometimes, you just want to hear that scratchy 78′ on the record player. For all of you out there, reading this, younger than 30 I guess, look it up! The sounds that you don’t like, the scratches, are there to provide that additional dimension. There are wines, similar to music that come from old records. Is it perfect? Don’t know, but what I do know is that I don’t mind listening, because it is damn good!

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Unnatural, natural wine! Do I like it? Do I resist it, just for the sake of it? Do I agree with the philosophy? You know what, try it yourself and decide. Don’t let me or anyone else tell you that natural wines are better or worse, due to the way they are made or the thinking behind it. Oh, and if you feel, after reading this post, that its unstructured, you’re absolutely right. But how can it be anything else, the man has colored balls in the vineyards, according to the instructions from his color consultant, because the colors affect the vines in different ways. I agree, unstructured and crazy! But then again, I’ve said ti before, crazy is good!

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Many years ago I heard a story. If it’s true or not, is really not the point. A businessman from Sweden had, during his lifetime, collected an impressive number of Single Malt Whiskies. As a treat to himself and other whisky lovers, he decided to open them all on his sixtieth birthday. Now, amongst the bottles was a very rare MacAllan and as the story goes there were only two other people in the world with the very same bottle. Very rare!

Most likely, not the one!

Most likely, not the one!

The word spread, that indeed they had indulged themselves and enjoyed this very fine beverage. One of the other two men called the man in Sweden, as he heard about what had transpired and posed the question “So, how was it?” To which the businessman replied, “You’ve got one of your own, why not open it?” Alas, whether true or not, I know one thing. Beverages were made to be enjoyed and not to collect dust. Opinions and tasting notes were meant to be written and shared, if you feel you’ve got the time and interest to read them, that’s totally up to you. If it’s called natural or something else, I really don’t care. Give it a name, call it what you wish and if it is a good (or even semi-good) wine I for one will try it. If I’ll enjoy it, remains to be seen.

Manel Avinyó, Porcellanic oenologist In full emergence of organic wines.

Manel Avinyó, Porcellanic oenologist In full emergence of organic wines.

Out of all the wines I have written about, this one is probably the most exciting and the most disturbing at the same time. I can’t really put my finger on it and I don’t really know if I want to classify it as a wine, but yes, sure, it is a wine. I guess it’s just that feeling in my backbone, or that I just want to be different in my opinion?

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With the organic and foodie movements, it was only a matter of time before it moved into wine. Organic wines have been on the market for several years, following the same ideals as organic food: the absence of chemicals during growth and production. But while the organic label is a legal certification, involving several rules and regulations, the natural wine movement is a horse of a different color, cropping up all over the world. Some of us have been subjected to natural wines all our life, just not knowing it.

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Natural winemaking, unlike organic or biodynamic winemaking, is not a legal certification, but rather a term applied to wines made only using native and natural yeasts. Sulfur dioxide is usually used as both an antimicrobial and an antioxidant in winemaking; it has been an important part of winemaking for centuries. The resulting sulfites can, however, cause allergic reactions in some people, and the natural winemaking movement seeks to eliminate its use in the making of wine. While natural wines can be organic, biodynamic or both, these criteria are not required.

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The starting point for a good wine (natural or not) is the vineyard. The first thing that strikes me at Ton Rimbau’s vineyards is the difference between surroundings vines and vineyards, the difference between the crop that nowadays is called “conventional” and the “alternative viticulture” (conventional in the past). At first sight these vineyards may seem neglected because the are not ploughed, herbs grow everywhere, everything is wild and human intervention is limited to mowing the grass or pass over with a roller to flatten them and make a cushion that retains the moisture below.

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In these vineyards fauna and flora life coexist with the vine, in harmony. As a matter of fact, the importance of flora and fauna is immense. All living things, birds, boars, fox and so on, coexist with the vineyards at some time during the day or night. Ton is helping out by creating bats nests, as they help to keep mosquitoes under control. Balanced nature, that’s the basis of the vine and its success. Chemical treatment is reduced to a minimum. Artificial fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides are just not welcomed in these surroundings.

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Purpose being, for the wine to reflect the terroir, and the vintage as far as possible. As an additional part of the philosophy, the wines are not filtered or clarified, as to not change its characteristics. Apart from this and continuing with the idea of preserving the wine from all that can affect it, the wine is stored in ceramic bottles, opaque, thus protects it from light. And to preserve the wine from temperature changes, it’s stored in old dipping winepresses filled with water, as it keeps the temperature stable.

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Ton Rimbau produces three wines: a natural sweet wine, a Xarel.lo and a Xarel·lo sur lie, all of them organic. In addition to the still wines, he also produces sparkling wines. The wine is fermented with the fine lees in French oak barrels during 9 months. After this, the wine is bottled in ceramic bottles to preserve the wine from the effects of the light and the aging process is done, bottles being submerged in water.

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Porcellanic Vi Xarel.lo 2011

It’s appearance is unclear, misty carrying a orange-gold color. The tearing is slow and fatty. The first aromas indicate well integrated wood and in great harmony with the white fruit aromas of the Xarel.lo grape. Citrus notes appear, the lees are high in presence and if I didn’t know it was wine I might be fooled to think it was cider. The palate is balanced, integrating elegant and soft fruit such as pear and apple with oak. This is now, how it will be in an hour or a day, nobody knows. That’s the catch of natural wines. One day it’s great, the next undrinkable, make sure you pick the right day!

295 to go!