Our friend Natalie–who we met in San Sebastian–introduced us to her friend Julie–who is a somm in France (at Michelin-starred Le Sergent Recruteur). Since Julie is a somm, she has some connections in the wine industry. She took us around for the day in the Priorat region, visiting a couple of very special wineries that tourists only dream of. Thanks again to Natalie and Julie for setting everything up!
Julian: Amazing day. Originally the plan was to go to Can Fabes, which is an iconic restaurant north of Barcelona that will soon close its doors permanently. But I’m so glad we chose to do this instead. We started the day by driving to the Priorat region, which is the mountainous wine country southwest of Barca. By the time we got there, the winery we were scheduled to visit was on their lunch break. So we decided to have our lunch break too.
Jesse: Stopping at a tiny village tucked away in the hills, we didn’t really have options for lunch. Luckily, the one place we were told we should eat was open. You can’t get much more of a local joint than this place. With about 35 seats and wine bottles from the region lining the walls, Cooperative was full of small town character. We were seated and served by a friendly man who was running the entire place with just one other lady, who was doing all the cooking.
Julian: Everything was so simple yet tasty. The man serving us was so happy to have us there and was so hospitable. And the wine we got from the area was incredibly cheap for the quality. After our long lunch we headed to our first winery, Terroir al Limit. It was not easy to get to, for sure. But that was mostly because this was not a winery designed for people to come tasting…it was a winery solely focused on making great wine.
Terroir al Limit’s line-up
Jesse: After some fancy driving–involving backing down a tiny cobblestone road that was most likely meant for a horse , not a car (props to Julie)– we were greeted by Brunhilda, the wife of Dominik, the owner of the winery. She carried her young boy braced against her hip, and greeted us in French, but asked us if we preferred English for the tour. Apparently she spoke English, French, German, Castillian, Spanish, and Italian, and was basically fluent in all of them. Hearing the passion in her voice as she spoke about their vines and the wines they were creating here was truly inspiring.
Julian: A big focus of everything they do is about preserving the essence of the place. So they don’t mess around a whole lot with the grapes once they’re harvested, don’t age the wines excessively in oak, and don’t “dumb down” the intensity of their unique grapes. In tasting the wines (9 or ten in total), I definitely got a sense of their style and their terroir. They really were unlike any wines I’ve ever tried. After about 2 hours, we hopped in the car and went off to our second winery, Portal del Priorat.
Jesse: The moment we stepped in the winery, you could see they didn’t do things like Terroir al Limit. It was kind of like jumping from medieval times back into the present. Not that this was like any of the giant commercial wineries you’d see in Napa valley. It was still tiny. A tasting of 9 wines was beautifully laid out for us when we got there.
Julian: The wines were all unique in their own way. But I definitely got a sense of Alfredo Arribas’ (the winemaker) style. I can’t really put words to the flavors of the wines, but I guess that what the concept of terroir is all about. It can’t be experienced unless you’re in the place. Being able to be in these vineyards, hear the philosophy of the winemakers, and try their full selection of wines gave us a unique perspective that few people get the chance to experience. If I ever see a wine from either of these two makers on a wine list, I’ll have to get it. It’ll take me back to this day better than any picture or story ever could.
Portal del Priorat’s line-up
in the Priorat village
the restaurant owner discussing his favorite wines with Julie