Holy Sh*t Moment

As I sit on a flight from Boston to San Francisco, tolerating a can of airplane wine (don’t judge) while reading Wine Enthusiast magazine, I come across this short article and I smile widely as I experience certain kismet.

You see, I’m on my way to California to celebrate my birthday with a road trip through key appellations known for Zinfandel: Lodi, Amador County, and a quick stop at one winery in Napa before spending the last night in Healdsburg in Sonoma. About 20 years ago, I had my very own holy shit wine moment with my first taste of Zinfandel.

I’m not talking about White Zinfandel, folks. I’m talking about Zinfandel the red wine. While some might consider it America’s grape, its origin is in Croatia, where it’s called Crljenak Kaštelanski. In Italy, they call it Primitivo. I’m my house, I usually call it delicious. Google it if you want a complete history.

When I was in my mid twenties and a real life grown up with a budding career, I started to drink wine occasionally at work dinners or when I traveled. Like most novices, I drank what I recognized on the wines-by-the-glass list which usually meant Merlot. Like most novices, I neither loved nor hated what I was drinking. I thought all wine was similar. Except Cabernet. I hated it from my first sip but wasn’t yet educated enough to know why.

Then one night, while at dinner with my boss at the time, he ordered a bottle of Zinfandel and handed me a glass. And HOLY SHIT. Life changing wine moment at Sullivan’s Steakhouse.

Some people remember where they were and who they were with during important world events. I remember where my holy shit wine moment happened. I remember sitting in a booth and having steak with Lyonnaise potatoes in King of Prussia, PA.

I don’t actually remember what Zinfandel it was. But it was different than any wine I had ever had at the time, I couldn’t articulate why in wine terms. I can now.

It had great fruit on it. Perfectly ripe cherries and red berries, a little bit of earth and just enough oak to add a teeny bit of decadence but not too much. Jammy without tasting overcooked and void of acid. And no icky Pyrazine aromas, what I would learn 20 years later is exactly what I hate about Cabernet.

I had discovered my jam a few years before people really started saying “my jam.”

Zinfandel opened my mind and started me on a journey of wine exploration. It made me more apt to try varietals I had never heard of rather than play it safe with something that sounded familiar. It made me want to know more and try new things.

If I had not been handed that glass at that very moment, I am certain life would not have led me to become a certified Sommelier. I would not be sitting here headed to my version of Disneyland staring in my own holy shit origin story movie.

Holy shit indeed.


“When I was a child
Every single thing could blow my mind
Soaking it all up for fun
But now I only soak up wine”



Airplane Chenin!

Airplane Chenin

I’m on my way to the 1880’s, I mean Texas, on a Jet Blue flight for a quadrennial tradition of “The Winter Wine Olympics” where I visit my Aunt and Uncle to engage in a few days of watching the games, drinking wine, and inventing activities like the Nathan Chen Drinking Game.

I usually check out the wine selection on any flight mainly for a good laugh and rarely expect to be surprised to see anything but some generic Merlot or Cab and a Chard that likely tastes like a gas station apple pie.

Today I had to stare for several seconds, not believing what I was seeing: South African Chenin Blanc. What?????

I typically love Chenin. It’s one of my favorite white varietals. Although I do need to dive deeper into South African Chenin, as I usually drink safely in The Loite Valley.

So today, I was so excited and surprised, I decided to ignore it was 11am, and talk myself into the fact that it was Sunday so I could call it Brunch, and considering I was watching the Olympics on the seat back TV thus being on brand for the Wine Olympics, I ordered myself some Airplane Chenin.

For something that came out of a mini screw top bottle in an airplane that was stored in a baggie with some ice in a rolling beverage cart, it was leaps and bounds better than anything I’ve ever found on a flying metal bus or on many a house wine list for that matter.

This Chenin ain’t winning any awards, or isn’t some highly rated gem. It’s definitely “dumb,” meaning not complex. But I firmly believe there is a time and a place for good but dumb wine and an airplane is one of them.

There is a softness to the citrus-y and slightly tropical nose. It’s light and citrus-y on the palate. And that’s really it and I’m here for it.

Moral of the story: non- typical varietals are usually a better value when found by the glass or on an airplane. And wine is necessary when traveling to a state that is currently banning books, suppressing the vote, and limits the rights of women to make thier own healthcare decisions.

Beautiful Earth, Beautiful Wine

Beautiful Yummyness

McPrice Meyers, Beautiful Earth, 2019

I almost forgot just how beautiful this wine was. Almost.

I’ve been blinded by my love of the wine I had in Priorat the past week or so. Tonight I wanted a wine equally as concentrated, but less tannic. Equally as powerful but a little smoother on the palate. A little more fruit and little less or different earth. A little. Not as much minerality. It was just my mood today.

I am expecting my first wine club shipment from McPrice Meyers soon, in which I am expecting a few more bottles of this beauty so I popped open the one I brought back from my visit to Paso in June. At first sniff and first sip, I was brought right back to the glorious tasting experience we had at the McPrice Meyers winery, during which we met Mac, the winemaker, and I fawned all over him like a super fan while trying and failing to play it cool.

On the nose, this wine is full of dark fruit but light earth. Blackberries, black cherry and a very faint whiff of chocolate seamless blend into dry dirt and a hint of tobacco, with a tiny touch of eucalyptus.

On the palate, the perfectly ripe black cherries and blackberries are not juicy, but dense, yet not overripe or dry fruit, blended with a fresh dirt mixed with leather and the bitterness you get from the skin of citrus fruit, yet I cant quite pinpoint what that is. It’s dark not bright, but also not lacking in acidity. For something that is 60% Syrah, there is nothing gamey about this. While is is not what I would call smooth, it certainly is not very tannic. Fine dusty tannins perhaps?

It was just what the doctor ordered tonight. A beautiful wine from a beautiful place.

“Priorat is Special”

“Priorat is Special.”  This is what the instructor at the Philadelphia Wine School said to my Advanced Spain class on the day we covered Catalonia.

He went on to describe the landscape using words like “dramatic,” “intense,” and “steep.”

I saw pictures and I thought those words described it perfectly. But then I stepped foot in Priorat and was left speechless. I couldn’t find words to describe the landscape, at least nothing that did it any amount of justice. And after meeting the people, “special” just wasn’t going to cut it overall. Neither was magnificent, fabulous, amazing, awe-inspiring, dramatic, unbelievable, or wonderous. I needed better words or one great word that meant all of those things and more.

It is an incredibly beautiful place, but the people are what truly made Priorat special. It’s no secret the wine coming out of Priorat can be expensive. It’s a DOQ and everything is hand-harvested since the hills are so steep. But I learned also the wine is a labor of love, family and passion. It’s in their blood. The wine is worth every penny when you see and feel how much they pour into making it.

One might assume Priorat would slide right into a snobby stereotype that fancy wine regions can have (a stereotype that can be quite accurate in some cases.)

Except it doesn’t. Every single person I met, from the tasting room staff to the winery owners to the winemakers themselves, was completely down to earth. They wore jorts and t-shirts, drove beat-up pick-up trucks, and did tastings on the destemming machine conveyor belt. If I met any one of them outside the winery, I would never have guessed their occupation.

Priorat felt lived in. It felt worked in. Nothing was pristine in a “don’t touch” sort of way. It was a juxtaposition.  Wild yet cozy. Daring yet comfortable. Rocky and lush. The people were not dramatic even though the landscape was. I felt like I made new and normal friends who just happen to live in one of the most spectacular places in which I have ever set foot.

You go to Priorat for wine. There really isn’t another reason to go there unless you want to be off the grid. In fact, if you were driving though clueless as to where you were, you definitely would think it was beautiful, but you may not even realize you’re driving by vineyards. And if someone were to point out that the green you were seeing was vineyards, you may not believe anyone would be crazy enough to grow vines on such steep hillsides.

So as most people going to Priorat are purposely going for the wine and know a little more than your average consumer, you won’t really find large tour groups. Most of my tasting experiences were private. I only ended up with one couple at one winery.  It only added to the special-ness.

Let’s back up a bit. I found a guide through a company called The Unique Traveler.  Ania, from Travel Priorat, was scheduled to pick me up at my hotel in Tarragona, drive me to tours of 3 wineries with lunch, and then drop me at my hotel in Falset. Then, we had plans to do it all over again the next day at 3 different wineries. I had decided while planning my trip that I needed 2 days in such a “special” place as Priorat and I’m glad I did.

Ania turned out to be the absolute best guide. She knew wine and seemed to know everyone in Priorat, but instead of trying to impress me with her knowledge and shoving her opinions down my throat, it was like having conversations over wine with a friend. She was interesting, friendly and funny. We laughed a lot. I learned a lot too.  I sincerely enjoyed her company. And DAMN she planned hell of a two days for me.

She was right on time to pick me up in Tarragona, and as we drove out of the city, we got to know each other a little.  I liked her immediately. As we neared the mountains of Montsant, the DO that surrounds Priorat, she gave me a little history lesson. Some of it I already knew, some I didn’t.  Unlike my cranky guide in Utiel-Requena, she seemed to be in love with the region and really knew the facts, talking about them with contagious excitement.

After we entered officially into Montsant the landscape took a dramatic turn.  The roads got more uphill and winding as we entered Priorat. As we started winding more, I would look to my right or left and there would be a seemingly randomly placed vineyard on the side of a mountain or between two inclines, almost hidden.

On a map, Priorat is like a pinpoint in the middle of Montsant. And while on a map they look like one is part of the other, they are very different especially when it comes to soil structure, the literal foundation of wine.  Priorat is mostly slate (called Llicorella) and Montsant a mixture of limestone, sandstone, and clay among others. They may grow the same grapes, but everything including the end product is different because of this.

Looking at a map though, you wonder, “how is that possible?” How often have you driven over the border of two states, and you would never know it except for a sign marking it?  I’ve driven over the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio a hundred times. It looks the same. As does the surrounding area for as far as the eye can see.  Drop me blindfolded anywhere near there and it would  be a toss up to figure out where I am

In real life, I could literally see Priorat in the middle of Montsant. From above, Priorat looked like a green patchwork quilt was laid over inclines that were too large to be called hills and too small to be called mountains. The patches were a random mix of vineyards, trees, and grass. There was no order to it. The terraced vineyards were not in perfectly shaped sections. In some parts they seemed to taper off unevenly, with a stray row that was much shorter than the rest.  My innate need for symmetry was all out of whack because I thought the strays were lovely. They made sense in that place.

As Ania was telling me about how they planted everywhere in Priorat in the 19th century, she told me to look closely as we passed some rather steep hills. You could still see the remnants of old stone terraces long since covered by trees and plants. These terraces were on steep  angles that seemed to be close to 90 degrees. I didn’t ask and have not researched yet, but people had to have died during harvest back then. It was THAT steep. Harvest had to have been terrifying. Especially for people afraid of heights, like me.

I’ve always wanted to work a harvest, but I think I’ll aim to do that elsewhere. I’ll settle for working post-harvest in Priorat.

As I said, Ania planned a hell of a two days and looking back, the wineries were in perfect order. Our first stop was Mas Martinet. We pulled into a rather unsuspecting drive at the bottom of the hills and up to a very non-fancy building. We were greeted outside by two winery dogs which was obviously a great start to the visit.  

I also learned that the winemaker at Mas Martinet was a woman – Sara Perez.

Woman winemakers are still too rare in my opinion, and I adore coming across them. It’s like striking gold.

Ania went inside to find Gemma, the person who would be giving the tour, and discovered she was not there yet. After a quick phone call and several minutes, Gemma rolled up in a beat-up pick-up truck, apologizing for being a little late.  I didn’t care. I was about to drink some wine in Priorat. Little did I know exactly where this tasting would occur.

Gemma went inside and returned two minutes later with a wooden crate containing a few bottles of wine and glasses along with a basket with unknown contents, and we piled into her dusty pick-up truck. On any other day I would have regretted wearing a white skirt, but no stain was going to ruin this day. I would have considered any mark on that skirt from that day a fond memory that I would never want to wash out and hoped someone would notice so I could say “oh, yeah, that’s a stain from Priorat.”

We drove out on the main road and after a minute or so, pulled off onto a dirt road that seemed to disappear upwards around a bend. We then hung a hard right and started a slow journey of hairpin turns up the mountain with their vineyards surrounding us. Up and up we went, and the higher we rose, the more mystified I was that they grew vines here. It was steep. I mean steeeeeep. There were at least 3 times I thought “surely we are almost at the top” and “they can’t possibly grow vines any further up,” only to continue for several minutes more still surrounded by grapes.

We did eventually stop, and it wasn’t even the top. It was for a view. A stunning view where I felt like I could see all of Priorat, and its misshapen vineyards. I could see Porrera, Bellmunt and Grattalops, all splotches of tan peeking up out of the bright green hills of forest and vines.  The flat-topped mountains in Montsant rose in the distance. It was breathtaking.

We were in a plot of Grenache and plucked a few grapes right off the vines to taste. We were about seven to ten days away from Harvest, Gemma said. They were sweet and juicy, and according to the winemaker, almost ready.

After taking a few (dozen) pictures, we hopped back in the truck and continued our journey upwards for several more minutes, eventually arriving some 600-plus meters up at the tippy top of their vineyards. The view was even more spectacular up there. And lo and behold, as we got out of the truck, there was a tasting table situated near the edge.

Wine with a view at Mas Martinet

Gemma brought the wine and basket over to the table and uncovered the local cheese, bread and salty meat that was inside the basket, and laid it all out on trays made of a tree stump slices. She then poured some of the first wine, Bru Martinet 2019, a blend of mainly Grenache and Syrah with smaller quantities of Carignan, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 16 months in large oak tanks.

I paused to take it all in. Gemma and Ania were anxiously waiting for to taste the wine, but I needed a minute to absorb exactly what was happening.

I was on top of a mountain. On a vineyard. Looking out over famed Priorat. About to drink wine, some of which was made from the exact place I was standing.  On top of a mountain. From grapes grown in the slate llicorella soil I had heard so much about. That was all around me, in pieces of black broken chunks. On top of a mountain. In that moment, I was literally and figuratively on top of a mountain.

I almost found it hard to concentrate on tasting the wine. I wanted to build a little house and live there. And eat the delicious goat and sheep milk cheeses and freshly made bread that Gemma brought. Forever. It was simply one of the most spectacular places I have ever been.

And as I said before, the word special doesn’t cut it. I need a word that means “special x 100.”  Since that doesn’t exist, I have to settle for special. And reusing spectacular a bunch of times.

I raised the Bru Martinet to my nose and was greeted by earthy, herby cherries and raspberries. I took a sip and tasted juicy, herby red fruits. It was pretty smooth and fresh. It was what some might call “easy drinking”, which is not a description I would have used on any wine from Priorat I had consumed in the past.

Although my definition of “easy drinking” is probably much different than everyone else. If it’s delicious, it’s easy drinking for me no matter how full bodied and rich it is.

We then moved on to the El Escurcons 2018, which translates to “The Viper,” a totally awesome wine name, in my opinion. This 100% Grenache was also earthy and herby, but with much more noticeable minerality and great fruit on the palate. It had more tannins than the Bru.

I dragged out the mountain tasting as long as I could, but eventually we had to go. We were on a schedule. I had more wine to taste.

We wound our way down, and I made a point to not look to my right. I find coming down is always scarier than going up when it comes to heights. I’m clumsy and facing the direction in which you would tumble if you fell is much worse than having the distance at your back.

We went back to the winery and did a tour of their facilities. They were rather small. Although wineries always look way too small to me to produce the volume of wine they actually produce. There were some large oak tanks that contained juice from this year’s harvest at the beginning stages of fermentation. Written in what looked like chalk, was the date August 27, a few days before I arrived in Spain. Much to my delight, Gemma took my glass and poured me some juice right out of it. It was sweet and delicious as the sugars had not been fermented to alcohol yet. It made me feel like a little part of the process.

If I come across that wine in the future, I can say I knew it when it was just juice.

I also saw some glass vessels called “damajoanes” used to age wine. They looked like vases in a way, with very small necks. I’ve seen oak, concrete, and clay, but not glass. So that was unique and something new I learned not only about Priorat but winemaking in general.

Afterwards we went into their “tasting room” to taste one more wine. I use quotes because their tasting room was basically a dining room table in their office. It really felt like I was getting a private experience that tourists don’t get.

We tasted the Clos Martinet 2018 next and before I did, I had to ask if the word “clos” meant the same thing as it does in France.

In France and everywhere else that uses that word,  it describes a vineyard enclosed by a distinct border, like a stone wall, which was mainly the case in Burgundy.

I saw no such definitive walls in Priorat yet. Turns out it did mean the same thing, but they were less militant about the wall being solid and completely enclosing the plot. It sounded like it had to just be close enough. I liked the casual flexibility in their definition.

The Clos Martinet was aged in all the vessels they had at their disposal: cement tanks, damajoanes, French oak barrels, foudres and clay jars.  It had the same varietals in the blend as the El Escurcon, but  it was much different with some toasty-ness and chocolate with tart red fruit on the palate and a minerality I could taste more than I could smell. It was more of a classic style Priorat and had decent tannins.

I decided I wanted to purchase a bottle of the Bru Martinet as I just found it so delightfully different than Priorats I have had in the past. Then Ania dropped a bomb on me in form of the price. I braced myself to hear a high price as I was accustomed to and had prepared myself  for prior this trip. “Seventeen Euro,” she said quietly.


Now, one of the things I love about Spanish wine in general is that you usually get a tremendous value.  Outside of Rioja and Priorat, the wine is delicious and often inexpensive, and the quality is that of a more expensive bottle in the USA.  I was not expecting to come across any wine under twenty euro in Priorat, even their entry level wine. I was over the moon thrilled.

This was a wine I could share with friends. I usually hoard my pricey or special wines for a time when I will share them with people who can appreciate them. Unfortunately for me, I don’t see my friends who fit that description all too often, especially since I moved from Philly to Boston a few months ago. I actually saw two use cases for this wine (other than downing the whole bottle myself on a Friday night): when I don’t want to worry about wasting an expensive bottle on people who won’t really appreciate what it is but I still want to drink good wine AND when I’m sharing with people I want to trick into thinking I opened an expensive bottle so I can see the look on their faces when I tell them how much it actually was and thus prove my belief that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on great wine.

I was sad to say goodbye to Gemma, who was an absolutely lovely person, but we were running a little late for our next stop, Mas Alta.

It wasn’t too far away, and we pulled up to a much larger, newer looking building that definitely looked more like a winery.  We walked up to this huge arched doorway which was opened by a little firecracker named Roxana.

Roxana was joyful, hilarious, and excited about wine and I think life too. Later she would show us a rosé she was making for a “love party” she was having next June, and I seriously wanted to book a flight back to Spain to crash her party.

She was and will always be one of my favorite humans I have met on a trip abroad. Actually, she is probably one of my favorite humans I have met in life. I could not imagine a day she would be anything but happy and cheerful and just fun to be around.

Roxana from Mas Alta!

We tasted their white wines first. White Priorat is pretty hard to come by here in the states. They don’t make a lot of it to begin with, therefore its not exported in large quantities, so it was really fun to taste it.

I tasted the Artigas, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Pedro Ximenez, and Macebeo and the La Solano Alta, a 50/50 blend of Grenache Blanc and Carignan Blanc. They both had two things in common – a note of petrol on the nose and tart fruit on the palate. In fact, the La Solano Alto flat out smelled like motor oil when it first hit the glass.  After some air both wines opened, and the petrol faded away to peaches and apples on the Artigas and toasted Lychee in the La Solano Alta.  They were two very unique white wines, that while not my preference,  were very well made and interesting.

Before we moved on to their reds, we did a little tour. They had harvested some white Grenache that very morning (the bin had 9/2 written right on it!), and I was able to taste a few berries right out of the bin where they were being cooled to preserve their freshness.  I also tasted the freshly crushed juice of the rosé Roxana was experimenting with for her Love Party, the one I still want to crash.

I ran into a little time problem when we tasted the reds, in that I had run out of it. So, I took no notes on the Cirerets, La Basseta, or La Creu Alta.  I purchased La Creu Alta, a blend of Carignan and Grenache, originating from old vines that were 80 to 100 years of age, and then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels; 80% are new and 20% in 1 year old barrels. A pretty classic style.  I do remember thinking “big f’in wine. Yum.”

I rushed out of Mas Alta after a few pictures with my girl Roxana, happy and hungry and ready for lunch. We headed over to Clos Figueras, a winery that has a restaurant on property. We didn’t do a tasting there but had some of thier wine with lunch. I had a glass of white with my fish, and to be honest, I was so wrapped up in the moment, and laughing with Ania, I don’t remember much about the wine. Obviously, it didn’t blow me away, but I wasn’t disappointed either. The restaurant was lovely, and I’ll just have to go back and do an actual tasting of their wines someday.

We were running really late to Clos Mogador, but Ania called and they were totally cool with my tardiness. I wasn’t surprised.

I have had Clos Mogador’s wine before. I used it in one of my events that had a larger budget. So, I was a little familiar with their one wine, but really excited to learn more. I actually think I committed infanticide with the wine I had previously. It was good but needed more time in the bottle and I opened it too soon. Although it made for a great discussion about tannins for that event since they were still high and very obvious.

We arrived and joined a tour with a young couple from Nashville who were super nice and on some type of wine vacation as they were headed to Bordeaux after Priorat. I kinda wanted to stow away in their trunk, but I also wanted to do my 2nd day of Priorat, so I opted not to hide the trunk of their rental car.

The tour guide at Clos Mogador was super nice.  Not as funny as Roxana, but really pleasant, and as usual, very passionate about Priorat and the winery. I thought Clos Mogador had a slightly more serious tone about it at first. It was not snobby one bit, but there was a vibe that seemed a little more “intense” about it.  Maybe it was because Rene Barbier, the father of Priorat, was there. I could have been making this up. It was just a feeling I got.

Along the tour we saw the barrel room, more glass vessels, and some whole cluster Syrah grapes that had been harvested on August 30th chilling in a tank covered in saran wrap. So maybe it wasn’t so serious there…

That serious feeling was shattered a bit more when we ended up doing our tasting on the destemming machine.  The tasting room was occupied so at the end of the tour, they brought out some cheese and meat and the wines, and we popped a squat right on their machinery amongst their tanks. It was actually very Priorat – low maintenance setting & great wine– and pretty cool.  There was no pretty room to distract you from their wine. It was all about the wine wherever we could taste it.  Which was right there on a conveyor belt.

Alternative “Tasting Room” at Clos Mogador

Right in the middle of the tasting, the legend himself, Rene Barbier, walked in. I was like a super fan meeting the Backstreet Boys. He spoke no English that I could tell, but I still managed to fawn all over him with my googly wine eyes. I hope he understood that I appreciated him and that I would probably not be standing there if not for him and his work in Priorat.  And that I was wasn’t actually as creepy as I appeared in the moment. The Nashville couple definitely thought I was a huge weirdo.

We started with red here, specifically with the Manyetes 2017, a lovely 100% Carignan. The nose was mildly chocolatey and also mushroom-y. It was a weird combo on paper, but it worked. The palate was full of raspberries and minerality and was very tannic.

We moved on the Clos Mogador Gratallops 2018, a blend of 50% Grenache, with Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon rounding out the blend.  The nose burst with chocolate, blackberries, toasty-ness, and something vegetal and savory. The palate was savory blackberries.

We then moved on surprisingly to what was technically an orange wine. It was a white wine made with skin contact, although it was still golden in color, and not so amber like some orange wines can be. It was funky. Good funky and interesting, but funky. It smelled like a burnt vanilla-covered balloon. It tasted of spice, lemons, wet stones, and a latex balloon. I’m sure more oxygen would have opened up different aromas, but we moved on so there was no time to tell.

Last but not least was their Com Tu, which was 100% Grenache from Montsant. It was very fruity on the nose with some signature Grenache lavender, and had great fruit on the palate, along with some orange peel and minerality.

I was sad the day was over but thrilled I had another full day in Priorat the very next day. I was not ready to be done with it.

Ania drove me to my hotel in Falset, The Lotus. I was still and always will be amazed that they let cars drive in these little medieval villages.

The hotel was small and cute and clean. I had dinner there as Ania suggested. It was very good, but I was already in the beginning stages of being “fooded out” from the whole trip. I could barely eat what I ordered. I went to bed early to be refreshed for the next day.

 I met Ania the next morning at 9:30am (after having the best avocado toast of my life in my hotel) and we were off to the village of Porrera to a small winery named Sangenis i Vaque. It was located in a “placa” right next to Vall Lach, a winery that my wine school instructor called the best in Priorat. I used quotes around “placa” because it was the tiniest placa, or square, ever. It was barely a placa.  Vall Lach had experienced some damage from snow the area got in the winter and was under construction. Ania told me they lost a lot of their wine from 2020 because of it. 2020 was a real bitch for many reasons, apparently.

Anyway, we were greeted next door at Sangenis I Vaque by a young woman named Maria Sangenis in a green t-shirt and jorts, her long brown hair pulled back into a casual ponytail. She had a very Tobin Heath look about her (for all you USWNT fans.) She could have been her sister.  Adorable but low maintenance. In most other wine regions, you would have assumed she just worked there, maybe helped harvest. In Priorat, she was the winery owner’s daughter and winemaker. Because of course she was.

I learned that the winery was basically the result of a marriage. The man made wine. The woman owned the vineyards. They married and started making wine together.

That is a very simplified version of the story.

Today, the daughters are making some of the wine. Sisters making wine.  Women winemakers. I freaking love this story.

We started with a tour by checking out their tanks that were built into the ground.  In fact, it reminded me a little of the sump pump we used to have in our utility room as a child except much larger and filled with wine not crap.  I was terrified of falling in the sump pump as a small child. Of course, I did fall in the sump pump once. I don’t think I would have minded if it was filled with wine.

I was showed the barrel room and she explained to me their use of oak in both traditional and modern styles. She spoke about oak and where it came from, their very specific amount they are toasted, how they used it, when and how long they use it for each wine. I loved hearing about it mainly because she spoke so passionately about it.

We then sat down in their “tasting room” which was basically two barrels and a few stools in the room with the in-ground tanks. Again – great wine in a low maintenance setting.

Sangenis i Vaque

The first wine we tasted was their Lo Coster Blanc, 2020, which was 85% Garnacha Blanc and 15% Macebeo that spent 4 months in French oak.  This was made by Maria and her sister and won a Decanter award. It was totally different than the other whites I had sampled the day before and frankly, ever from Priorat.  It had lemons, fresh minerality and a light toasty-ness on the nose and on the palate was similar with tart lemons and wet stones in the mix. The acid level was just something else. It wasn’t overly complicated. It was happy and delightful. I would actually compare the body and citrus notes to something like an Albarino. It made me happy. It was cheerful. I was surprised and delighted.

Then I tasted the red made by the sisters, Lo Bancal de Granatxa (and noticed at that very moment that the Catalan spelling of Grenache is GRAnatxa not like GARnatcha like the Spanish spelling, even thought I had seen it a hundred times before.) This was 100% Granatxa in used oak for 6 months. Again, like the white made by these two sisters, it was happy. Notes of blueberries and dried red fruit, with a tiny bit of chocolate. Like the white I felt cheerful while drinking it. It wasn’t overly complex, but it certainly was not dumb. Sometimes you just want a delightful complex-enough wine to brighten your day, and this was it. And it was probably the first 100% Grenache I was delighted by. (As a single varietal, Grenache had not historically my favorite.)

We then moved on to the Garbinata 2019, a blend 45% each of Grenache and Carignan with 10% Syrah, and absolutely no oak. It was dark fruit, concentrated but fresh, and you could actually really taste that meaty hint of Syrah.

Next was the Vall Por 2019, which was 60% Carignan, 40% Grenache in used oak (3–4-year use) for 1 year. I wrote down the word “YUM!” It had some nice ripe red fruit and plums on the nose and the same on the pallet with a good hit of tannins. Not too tannic, but enough to balance out the ripeness of the fruit. I knew immediately I would be going home with this bottle.

Two more wines to go and we moved on to more traditional styles using more and more new oak. The Cornaya 2014,  was a single vineyard (planted in 1978) blend of 50% Grenache and Carignan that was co-fermented (meaning, instead of fermenting the wines separately and then blending afterwards which is traditional, they threw them all in the tank to ferment together.) It spent 1 year in oak, 50% of which was new and 50% of which was 2nd use. This was much earther and savory, with some stewed tomatoes and mushrooms (as if you cooked them together), and then after you got though that some dark fruit made an appearance. On the palate, it was savory dark fruit. Everything blended together nicely.

Last but certainly not least was the Clos Monlleo 2010, the most traditional wine they made. It was made from 50-year-old vines grown on all slate, 50% each of Grenache and Carignan, and spend a whopping 18 months in NEW French oak.  

First of all, let me just say I appreciate when wineries bottle age wine for me. This was their newest release of this wine, a 2010. They decided when it’s first ready to drink even though it could definitely age more.

I don’t have patience. If you give me a bottle of wine and tell me to age it for 10 years, do you really think it’s lasting that long in my house? I will commit infanticide quicker than you can say infanticide. So, when the winery makes that call for  me and I can’t even buy it for 10 years, then I will happily thank them for forcing me to have that patience.

Anyhoo, this wine was deep and dark with the fruit and hints of tobacco. It was the same on the palate and had some dusty tannins. I was digging it but if I was being honest, I preferred the freshness that the wine made by the daughters. Gun to my head pick one: I was going with the ladies’ wine.

But it was all so good, and I could taste it was all made with care and love. So, I felt the need to buy 6 bottles and have Cargo Wine ship it to me. Their prices were more than reasonable.  And this was stuff in such small production I would never get it in the US.

I can’t wait to share the sister-made wine with my actual sister.

So, I left Sangenis i Vaque thinking, “How can this get any better?” Oh, but of course it could. This was Priorat.

We ventured on to the next winery, Merum Priorati. Ventured is a strong word because we walked out of the square a few minutes down the road, just over a little foot bridge and arrived at the winery.

We were greeted by another lovely young woman which Ania seemed to know well, as usual.  Merium Prioarti was a very modern-looking winery set at the foot of a very medieval town. The juxtaposition was stunning.

And while this seemed very modern by looking at it, they made wine in some traditional ways also. It was a beautiful combination.

I also learned a fun fact stemming from their name. “Vinus” is what the Romans used to drink, and it was a mix of wine, water, honey and spices. Merum was the actual undiluted wine.

So obviously the next time I’m at a fancy restaurant, I’m asking for the merum list instead of the wine list.

After the tour I was led into an impeccable and modern tasting room, with various shaped glasses and snack pairings preset. And then walked in the winemaker, Roger Oferil, to lead the tasting.  

Merum Priorati

Doing a tasting with the actual winemaker is something else. It’s like hearing a parent talk about their children whom they adore, or someone describing the love of their life. I would someday like someone to talk about me with the same adoration as a winemaker talks about their wine. Especially a Priorat winemaker.

We started with the Inici 2018, a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in used barrels. It had aromas of fig and pomegranate and like those two fruits, it was both fresh and concentrated. The winemaker shared that he harvests the Cab when it’s a little over-ripe to avoid any green notes from the stems and seeds, which I found so interesting. Ad as that green note in Cabs is not my favorite, I agreed with his choice. It all made sense tasting this wine because it had both fresh and dry fruit notes in it. Yummy.

We moved on to the Desti 2018, a more modern style Grenache and Carignan blend with some Syrah, in new and used oak. One the nose I didn’t get much fruit at first, but rather an earthy minerality and milk chocolate. The palate was intense with blueberries, earth and more dark fruit. More yumminess.  

Then we went to the Desti 100% Grenache. I was told they really had to convince the owner to even make this wine. They made a very small amount the first year they made it, and it was so good, they were then allowed to make more. It was a wine the winemaker really believed in.  It was very herby. The classic herbs de province aromas that Grenache can have shone bright.  It as also earthy and floral. On the palate it was herby black raspberries. It was a great and true expression of Grenache.

Last but not least was their most traditional wine, El Cel 2017, a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in new oak. The nose was rich with cocoa, dirt and tobacco; a sip was like taking a relaxing bath in chocolate. There was a little chunk of chocolate to pair with it and when I did, I swear I floated outside of my body and looked down on my relaxed and happy face.

It was a tough decision to choose just one wine but then I realized since I had opted to ship wine home from Sangenis I Vaque, I had more room in my suitcase, so I opted to buy the El Cel and the Desti. I needed both the fresher and traditional styles. When they returned with my bottles, they gifted me a bottle of the Desti 100% Grenache too because they so believed in that wine. It was an honor to receive such a gift from the winemaker.

It was then time for lunch. I needed to eat but I was full on wine and joy. We went to Cooperativa which had a female chef that of course Ania knew well, and they served wine from what seemed like every winery in the region.

I was at a unique point in the trip where I was both hungry and couldn’t imagine putting any more food in my stomach. What was a girl to do but keep eating?

And so, I did. Ania and I split a few dishes and had more wine. We of course were running late so we rushed out to make our last appointment at Mas Doix.

On the way, I thought “how the hell is Ania going top everything I saw and tasted and put a bow on the trip at the last winery?” Mas Doix, that’s how.

Just as we started the trip the day before with an incredible view, we ended with one. Mas Doix is situated seemingly smack dab in the middle of Priorat. It’s not really, but it felt that way.

Me & Ania

We were lower in altitude than Mas Martinet, but the view was equally as spectacular because I was in it. I was in the hilly vineyards, surrounded by them, wrapped in their patchwork quilt, hugged by the mountains of Montsant. Those mountains seemed to be enclosing me into Priorat, asking me not to leave. I wanted to oblige.

After a quick tour, during which everyone was bustling around preparing for harvest, we sat down in their gorgeous tasting room with the same spectacular view. They had these cute little tasting notes that not only mentioned the typical details, like grapes and aging, but it also told how many vines it took to make one bottle.

I tasted two whites first that were both surprisingly fresh and tart. The Murmuri 2020 Grenache Blanc was filled with fresh lemon and lime peel. The Salix 2019 was a delightful lemon flower pie.

The reds were also delightful and somewhat surprising in ways. Les Crestes, and blend of 80% Grenache, with 10% each of Carignan and Syrah that sent 9 months in barrels ,has aromas of strawberry yogurt. I swear, there was something yogurt-y about it that was awesome and unexpected.

Next was Salanques, a blend of the same grapes as Les Crestes but slightly less Grenache. It was also from old vines that were between 60-80 years old and spent 12 months in barrel. The notes said it took two vines to make one bottle. The nose on this baby was dark and herby, toasty, funky, nutty with some balsamic that turned more caramel later. It even expressed something floral. It rapidly changed which I loved. On the palate my first thought was “red vines” as in the candy. It had red fruit but also some licorice. It was decently tannic. I loved it.

Lastly, we had the Doix 2017, a 65/55 Grenache/Carignan bend, from really old vines (80-110 years!) aged for 14 months in barrel. It took 3 vines to make one bottle according to their notes. This was darker fruit and cinnamon on the nose, with blackberries and spice on the palate. It was a little green and a little too spicy for my taste, as well as very tannic. It may not have been my jam but I’m sure it was someone else’s.

I didn’t want to leave because that meant it was all over. When Ania mentioned stopping at Escaladei monastery on the way home, I of course jumped on it. Anything to extend the trip. It turned out to be a really cool spot that I would recommend. Next time I’ll definitely take a tour inside.  We walked along the exterior, peeked over the stone wall, and picked grapes off the two rows of vines that grew right next to the parking lot. (So very Priorat.) It felt like it was butted up right at the base of the mountains. They were closer than at any other point on my tours.

Sadly, my time was up and Ania drove me back to my hotel. I was a little buzzed and a lot content. I wanted to stay and watch the harvest and see what became of the grapes I tasted out of bins and off vines. I wanted to hang out with Roxana and taste the winemaking sisters newest creations. I wanted to meet Ania’s husband and sons. I wanted to drink wine with this spectacular view for the rest of my life.

I guess I will just have to return to this very special place in the very near future, if only to retrieve the piece of my heart I left behind.


Tangerine Dreams (of Chenin)

When most people think of the Loire Valley, they think of Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc.  When I dream of the Loire, I have tangerine dreams of Chenin Blanc, usually from Vouvray.

I’ve tried Chenin from the Loire, South Africa, Australia, and even California.  And it always has this lovely citrus note of oranges or tangerines. It sets it apart from the lemons and limes you typically find in other whites when you come across citrus fruit. I find it absolutely delicious. I want to tell everyone I know to give Chenin a try, but I also feel like it’s my little secret and I want to keep it close.

It’s kind of like how I feel about Portugal. On one hand I want to tell everyone how fabulous it is but I also don’t want it to get overrun with tourists because I feel like it’s mine. I want everyone to enjoy the yumminess that is Chenin Blanc, but I also don’t want there to be a shortage or dramatic increase in price (then again, I don’t have that much power so here we go.)

This Chateau du Hureau “Argile” 2018 from Saumur is no exception and then some. And it won’t break the bank coming in around $22-$25 at most places I found it, including Wine Library and Astor Wines.

The nose of oranges and pineapple is vibrant, with some wet stone minerality and a very very slight whiff of vanilla. There is something floral in there too albeit very delicate, that merges with the vanilla at the top of the glass.  

On the palate, those oranges and the vanilla blend seamlessly into an orange creamsicle, while staying nice and tart. It’s both slightly decadent and also thirst quenching.  It ends on mineral-laced pineapple.

I’m definitely at a red alert risk to polish off this whole bottle tonight…#sorrynotsorry.

Joao Portugal Ramos, 2017, Marques de Borba, Alentejo

Oh, Mr. Ramos…

When are the damn Portugal borders opening up to US travelers?! This is my second to last bottle of wine from Alentejo left in my stash. This is a wine emergency!

Okay, so you can find this wine in the US but that takes the fun out of it. For me. But not for you!

I love Alentejo wine. It tends to have great fruit concentration but also a perfect pop of acidity that perks up your taste buds.

This is no exception but also has a great earthiness to it.

On the nose the aromas just melt together- earthy-dusty-berries-cherries-mushroomy-nutty.

On the palate it’s dirty ripe blackberries, cinnamon and that kick of acidity that wakes you up. It walks the body borderline of medium and full with some mild but lightly dusty tannins. It finished with a pleasant lingering earthiness that I’m digging tonight.

Can someone please smuggle me and my dog into Portugal immediately? Please?

Hermann J Wiemer Field Blend White

Lionel gave it two paws up.

I visited the Finger Lakes a few years ago with my dog, Lionel. Yes, you read that right. Not my boyfriend or group of girlfriends. My dog. Almost all of the wineries were dog friendly inside and out, and I planned a last minute getaway just after Thanksgiving. We had a blast. 10/10 highly recommend.

Hermann J Wiemer was my favorite. Their dry Riesling is one of my favorite Rieslings. Their winery was beautiful, and their wines were top notch.

I forgot how delightful their field blend was until I popped  bottle tonight. I took an online class about East Coast Wines (because if one more person asks me about Pennsylvania wineries…) and this aligned with the topic because, when in Rome (or on a zoom…)

The bottle says this is Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Chardonnay. Being that it is called a field blend, that usually means there are dozens of varieties so there probably are others in here. But this has all the qualities of those three varietals and you can taste them all: apples, lemon-lime, something vegetal that is fresh cucumber here and honey. And a hint of something herbaceous. Oh and some pineapple.

It’s not super complicated but it’s also not so simple like you may assume from the words “field blend” which conjure up images of everything but the kitchen sink. It is an absolute delicious delight.

You can find their wines at wine.com or at some retailers but you can order right from their website if your state allows DTC shipping from out of state.

Bravo Barolo

Alessandro Rivetto, 2012, Barolo

I have a hard time verbalizing what it’s like when you taste a wine and just know it’s not quite ready and needs some oxygen. You just know. You can tell its potential even though isn’t quite right at first. There seems to not be much happening at first sniff and first sip but you just know there is something special waiting in the wings for Miss Oxygen to show up and bring out. When I talk to skeptics who don’t believe that some oxygen can totally change a wine in dramatic fashion, I want to reach into my vast wine cellar and pull out a bottle of Barolo immediately to open their minds. Except I’m not a rich lady with a vast wine cellar so I can’t afford to keep loads of Barolo hanging around for those situations.

I had this bottle on hand from an event I did a while back. I busted out my fancy bedazzled decanter (more on that later) and poured this bottle into it about an hour before dinner. I snuck a sniff and a taste and, while it was underwhelming, I could sense something good was waiting for me if I could be patient.

After about an hour, my dinner was ready and this wine had morphed into something different than it was a mere 60 minutes earlier.

The nose is savory, beefy even, balanced with red fruit, mildly floral, and some baking spice. The palate is all of these things blended together equally. Nothing overwhelms anything else. It’s seamless. The light-ish brick red color is deceiving as this is a full bodied wine, whose tannins mellowed somewhat with the air, but just enough of them stick around for my liking creating a canvas on which the aromas hang on to on a lingering finish.

And holy crap, this wine and my beef ragu and pappardelle dinner were a match made in heaven. I wanted to keep eating the the leftover sauce for dessert long after my pasta was finished because I had more wine to go with it. And they were made for each other.

A note on the decanter. I always tell people to buy a shape that makes them happy. My bedazzled decanter makes me really happy and is so pretty to look at it. It looks like a graceful swan with a diamond collar. It even does its job well. It’s a f*cking bitch to clean. The neck is too narrow for my hand or any brush. And since you want to keep water far away from your wine, you have to just wait for it air dry before you use it again, which could take more than a day. It’s akin to the most popular guy in your high school likely: pretty but dumb. My new decanter advice: Get the easiest one to clean.

My Valentwine

Bodegas Zarate, 2019, Albarino, Rias Baixas

This Spinster was feeling fancy today and I decided I was going to go a little extra on my Valentine’s Dinner. I went to whole foods to get some fish, and ended up deciding on oysters and a lobster tail.

I should definitely do this more often.

I wised I had some Muscadet to pair with the Oysters but I did not so I had to rely on something else in my fridge. I opened the door, peered inside and this Zarate Albarino called to me. I had found my Valentwine.

This has a lovely nose of Ruby Red grapefruit and wet stone minerality and something green and mildly vegetal. There is a teeny hint of smoke.

On the palate this is a citrus explosion. A delicious blend of all the citrus fruits: grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime with a delightful salinity. There is something slightly vegetal, slightly, on the finish. I just can’t place it. Its not bell pepper or asparagus. Maybe chives? It’s light-medium body – not quite totally medium but not a super light Albarino either, which I think makes it better suited to pairing with food. Put a light crisp Albarino in front of me on a hot day and it will be gone in 15 minutes. I have a better chance at savoring this with some seafood over a slightly longer period of time.

I picked a winner Valentwine. It went very well with the oysters. It will go even better with ceviche on a hot day in the summer so I’ll be needing to pick up another bottle or 7 before June rolls around.

Available at Astor Wines.

Superbowl Wine Recap and Bachelor Monday Libations

Last night I opted for white wine. I wasn’t in the mood for anything heavy and the only beer I have in my fridge are stouts and porters. So I opted to watch the game with a white Rhone-style blend from Paso Robles while rooting for the Chiefs. That did not go as well as the wine:

 2017 Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas Blanc:  Nose was tropical pineapple, lemon and wet stones with a dash of fresh flowers. The pineapple carried over to the palate and mixed with lemon, ginger and minerality. I would call this medium minus body. It wasn’t super light but not quite fully medium. It had a slightly prickly texture that reminded me of  a Gruner Veltliner which was surprising and delightful. Available at the PA State store and other retailers.

Tonight for Bachelor Monday, I’m going Greek. I used my Coravin to pour a glass of this Xinomavro over the weekend. I developed a crush on Xinomavro when I was in the Greek Islands in ’19. This one is a perfect pairing for watching young, singles throw themselves at a man without knowing his middle name or annoying private habits.

2016 Domaine Katsaros Valos Xinomavro: Signature Xinomavro nose of olives and dark fruit. That might sound gross but trust me its amazing. Salty olives carry over to the palate and blend nicely with the fruit. There is a good amount of tannin in this wine. It fades quickly after being a bit austere at first but I like it. It’s like a quick jolt that wakes you up, which will come in handy during the rose ceremony.