This is part I of a III part series on DO Montsant. The intention of the three part series is to get a before, during and after reporting of the experience. Also in this article I am attempting to showing a majority of pictures or maps that I found online to share what I utilised to orient my understanding of DO Montsant.
I was invited on a tour of the DO Montsant with several of my wine writing friends early March 2018.
- Ward Kadel – drXeNo / Vinopanion
- Joe Roberts – 1WineDude
- Frank Morgan – DrinkWhatULike
- Christina Portz – Just the Bottle
- Cindy Rynning – Grape Experiences
- Amy Corron-Power – Another Wine Blog
- Joe Power – Another Wine Blog
- Becca Yeamans-Irwin – The Academic Wino
- Instructors from the Napa Valley Wine Academy and MW Students/Candidates
I was excited to be around people that I like to spend time with as well as uncover and discover DO Montsant with a ‘Foot-on-Ground’ tour.
DO Montsant is in the same county of DOQ Priorat (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada) one of only two of Spain’s highest quality designation, in fact, the county where Priorat and Monstant exist share Falset as it’s capital. But DO Montsant is it’s own appellation and in writing and I do chagrin when I see people write that DO Montsant is a baby “Priorat.” While the Vitis vinifera variety sets are essential the same ones—one region is overwhelmingly well known and the other an undiscovered wine country that is being discovered. DO Montsant is relatively new as a DO since 2001 but plantings are not just a few generations old but has been producing wines for millennia since the Romans–so to diminish Montsant as a “baby” region fails to acknowledge the long wine making tradition in Montsant.
I was anticipating what would I find, what would it look like, feel like, sound like, taste and smell like—yes the senses experience is not just an investigation but the course of falling in love with place. I had seen many pictures prior to landing my foot on the ground in DO Montsant. What struck me was the mesmerizing landscape of rugged mountains, crisp ridge lines and jutting mountain peaks. There is patchwork quilt of woven textures of green trees (both evergreen and deciduous), exposed mineral and rocks and the pulse rises seeing the evening sun play with the folds of shadow and texture. When I saw the images of the mountains and exposed rock it lend me to research some top line notes on the geology. Montsant is in this red block (in map below) where the Catalan Coastal Range from the Paleozoic meets with the Ebro Basin from the Cenozoic period.
The soils are a gift of time and particular intersections of time. The three main soil composition are 1) Calcareous (Limestone) where material is a result of erosion and the reddish content is from clay; 2) Granitic Soil – when conglomerates erode and 3) Slate.
Montsant sank quickly with me just from a photo survey. How might I understand the wines and the influences which is decidedly a Mediterranean relationship for the prizes of Garnacha/Garnatxa and Carginan/Carinyena. The answers were notions I had based on my experience with Priorat and I knew that I could not compare to other Garnacha producing regions like Aragon, Terra Alta, and Empordà. I have a great love Garnaxta and find this variety in the Iberian Peninsula to be that which I long for. A beautiful expression of an original and ancient variety stemming from as it has long been assumed to be from Aragon (spread by the old Kingdom)–two distinct thoughts–it came from Aragon and spread east and another school that says it came from Sardegna and spread west. Regardless of where it originates it has a long heritage in Montsant, Priorat, Terra Alta, Empordà and all of the Aragon appellations. But a defining point in say Aragon and Montsant is that the weather is quite different. Montsant is much closer to the Mediterranean has a cool touch especially during summer evening than say the Aragon DOs which is very hot during summer and a more continental climate. What is true about Iberian and Italian Garnacha is that it is significantly older than Grenache in France which arrived later much later (the 17th century). There is no doubt that Garnacha is much older and had been part of this world much longer than France.
Here is what I do when I embark on a visit to wine region – I lean on online research as well as books in my collection to understand a place and I look at each source to build my minds impression of place:
I looked at Google Maps and Google Earth to look at the DO Montsant
- What will I learn about the topography?
- What are the fundamentals and uniquely features of geography of place
- How are the vineyards placed?
- A massive floor of vineyards or rarer placement of vineyards?
- What other vegetation/agriculture is around the vineyards – (the image below shows a section of trees either Olive, Almond or Hazelnut trees or all of them)
I viewed Instagram and Pinterest for a pictorial framing of landscape, vineyards, fruit, harvest, winery facilities and the communities in that region and anything I could locate.
Also, I looked at a text like Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition) and there was no entry for ‘Montsant’ (I did search ‘Priorat’ to see if by chance there might be a mention and there was not). I also leaned on the Wine Grapes book by Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz to see how much in depth there is a conversation about Montsant or at least Catalunya about Garnatxa (Garnacha) and Carinyena (Carignan) – the flagship red wine grapes of Montstant. The only mention was that in Catalunya, Carinyena (Carignan) also goes by the name of Samsó.
There are approximately 1,906 Hectares /4,709 Acres of vines planted; a majority of this is planted to red wine grapes 1,803 Hectares and 65% of this is devoted to Garnaxta and Carinyena; and remaining grape varieties include Ull de llebre (Tempranillo), Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha Peluda “Hairy Grenache”, Garnacha Roja, Monastrell, and Picapoul Negre.
White wine grape varieties are planted at 103 Hectares and 54% are planted with Garnaxta Blanca and remainder is Macabeu, Chadonnay, Moscatell de Gra Petit, Xarel-lo, and Parellada.
My snapshot is to get a cornerstone of where a wine countries story begins and I am carried forward to tell more of this story once my heel first sets foot on the ground. DO Montsant is not just a story of about variety, history, people or cultural context but all of them. I have more to tell as wines from each wine growing region represents a unique story that can only come from a particular place. I am a huge proponent of individuality of region and the beauty they offer.
Without the opportunity of place/terroir wine grapes would not show their uniqueness of where they are cultivated. Weather, geology, viticulture, and viniculture each help to craft what wine will taste like and in DO Montsant’s case – a region with compelling soil content, weather and winemakers who bring it all together to create memorable wines.
Please stay tuned for my second article about DO Montsant (will be published sometime in April 2018).
James the Wine Guy Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd Edition) – Jancis Robinson
Wine Grapes – Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz
Dossier Montsant – DO Montsant
Geology of Spain: A history of Six Hundred Million Years – I. Melendez Havia
© 2018 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, drawings, art work, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy. James the Wine Guy is also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.
Images courtesy of DO Montsant and Wikipedia Creative Commons PePeEfe and Google Earth/Maps.
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