Jefford on Monday: Wanderers in search of a path

Jefford on Monday: Wanderers in search of a path

Andrew Jefford meets two pioneers of international varieties in northern Catalonia.

One of the most beautiful and celebrated poems in the Spanish poet Antonio Machado’s ‘Proverbios y cantares’ begins

Caminante, son tus huellas

el camino y nada mas;

Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.

Wanderer, your tracks

are the path and nothing more;

Wanderer, there is no path,

make your path by going further.

Few poems could be more appropriate for those planting a new vineyard where none has been before. There is no tradition, no ‘path’ to fall back on. The footsteps are the vines, and the path is a track through time which begins when the vines are planted.

Back in 2003, hoteliers and winegrowers Marc and Emma Bournazeau-Florensa first planted their property, called Terra Remota, in northern Empordà, though they had owned it since 1989. Since they were very conscious that it was a journey of discovery, they chose to call three of the key wines Camino (this is the main red wine), Caminito (rosé) and Caminante (white). The names are a little confusing — until you remember the poem. Perhaps they should print it on the back label.

The couple had formerly owned Ch St Roch, just over the border in Roussillon; Machado’s work was familiar to them not least because he died in exile in Collioure during the Spanish Civil War, and is buried in Collioure cemetery.  St Roch was subsequently sold to Jean-Marc Lafage — whose work I will touch on next week — since the couple wanted the excitement of a new path in wine, and the chance to create something out of nothing.  (The Florensa family are also part-owners of the Apalta winery Viña Las Niñas, another ‘new path’.)

The soils are granite, and although it’s a warm zone the tramontana wind from the north helps freshen and cool the site; the natural pH of the wines is unusually low, and their (French) winemaker Edith Soler, formerly at Sieur d’Arques in Limoux, says that acid adjustment is never necessary. The team chose to plant a mixture of classic varieties: some Garnatxa and Tempranillo but Syrah too, and Chardonnay, Garnatxa Blanca and Chenin Blanc for the whites.

Nor are they the only ‘wanderers’ of this sort in Empordà. Down in the south of the zone, the Clos d’Agon vineyard near to Calonges was planted a few years earlier, initially by Philippe d’Ambois and Daniela Bagon, a Franco-Belgian couple, back in 1989. D’Ambois had been a friend of Montpellier viticultural professor André Crespy, who advised planting its clay and schist soils with French varieties too: the Viognier came from Ch Grillet, and there is also Roussanne, Marsanne, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Shiraz.  The farm, Mas Gil, had formerly been polycultural, in part planted with hybrids, so it was indeed a new start.

Clos d'Agon wines

Clos d’Agon winemaker Miguel Coronado. Credit: Andrew Jefford.

The first owners sold up in 1998, and the relay was taken over by a Swiss consortium including importers Franz Wermuth and Frank Ebinger, and Silvio Denz of Ch Faugères and Lafaurie-Peyraguey; Peter Sisseck of Pingus and other properties consults, and the enthusiastic young winemaker is Miguel Coronado.  Although both Terra Remota and Clos d’Agon lie in Empordà, neither uses the DO name – since some of the vine varieties are unauthorised.

Tasting notes for a selection of wines from each are given below. To my surprise, the whites in general seem more impressive than the reds at both properties, but this may change with time.

One of the challenges of forging a new wine-growing path, after all, is that by definition you will begin with young vines — and most of the greatest wines of Catalonia, and in particular its reds, are built on a patrimony of old vines. It also takes time to understand which varieties might respond best to these discovered surroundings — and to learn the slow lessons of the market.  All of this learning process is underway, as Machado understood, in the only way possible: “by going further”.

Tasting the Wanderers’ wines

Terra Remota

Terra Remota, Caminante, Catalunya 2016

This white blend of 65 per cent Garnatxa Blanca with 25 per cent Chardonnay and 15 per cent of Chenin Blanc is part barrel-fermented; Edith Soler says the Chenin performs very well on their granites (the team made a pure-Chenin here for the first time in 2017).  This blend is pale gold in colour, with flower and lemon scents underscored by an almond-milk softness.  On the palate, the wine is fresh, vivacious, with lively acidity: rich, juicy, saturated with lemon, peach and nectarine, with a little almond and malt richness on the finish.  (I also had a chance to taste the 2010, which had aged well, keeping its subtle aromatics and textural depths without heaviness or obviousness creeping in.)  90 points / 100; 13.5%

Terra Remota, Caminito, Catalunya 2016

This pure Garnatxa Rosé has lots of character and pungency: pale pink with faint orange glints and a vivid, sappy, intense flavour: concentrated, drenching and driving, with lots of finishing vinosity.  Definitely a meal-time style (and a white-wine stand-in). 86; 13.5%

Terra Remota, Camino, Catalunya 2015

This red wine blend is the ‘raison d’être’ of the estate, according to Edith Soler.  The blend brings Syrah (“easiness, roundness, drinkability and fresh fruit,” says Edith) together with Garnatxa (“flesh but also lightness and elegance”) and Cabernet Sauvignon (“the tannic framework”); one third is aged in 500-l barrels, one-third in tuns and one third in stainless steel.  This dark black-red wine is warm and sweet-scented, with raisin and plum perfumes; the palate is lively, concentrated and exuberant.   Once again, the site (with its granite soils and rattling winds) delivers plenty of acidic freshness to balance out the sweet fruits; there is little tannin. 88; 14.5%

Terra Remota, Tan Natural, Catalunya 2016

No wood here, and under 50 mg of SO2; the blend is 75 per cent Garnatxa with the balance from Tempranillo.  I loved the pretty aromas of this wine (raspberry, brine, perfumed plum) and felt it was much the better for having no oak; the palate is pure, soft, deep and limpidly fruity: pristine, with a stony undertow.  The fruit textures are smoothly rounded, and take a chill well.  Delicious stuff. 89; 13.5%

Terra Remota, Clos Adrien, Catalunya 2014

This blend of the estate’s best Syrah with 10 per cent of plot-selected Garnatxa gets two years in barrels of which 30 per cent are new.  The oak is palpable though not imbalanced aromatically; the fruits suggest both plum and prune in equal measure.  It’s very dramatic on the palate, with concentrated, sweet fruits and assertive acidity, a touch of bitterness, and a slightly drying finish.  A taste of the 2009 vintage suggested it may achieve a softer balance with time, but it’s a little indigestible, though impressive, at this stage. 88; 14.5%

Terra Remota, Usted, Catalunya 2011

This is, admits Edith Soler, the “most Spanish” of the Terra Remota wines, and it sells at by far the highest price: it’s a blend of 65 per cent Garnatxa from two single parcels together with some of the Syrah otherwise reserved for Clos Adrien, and it gets 36 months in oak.  For me, the oak is far too extravagant, swamping what in any case is sweet, billowing fruit with a smoky, prune-like style.  I would hope for more density, fresher fruit and (above all) less oak from future vintages. 85; 14.5%

Clos d’Agon

Clos d’Agon Blanco, Catalunya 2015

The blend of this luxurious Catalan white mingles Roussanne with Viognier and Marsanne grown on slate, sand and clay, though the varietal proportions vary every year (the wine is 40/40/20 in 2015); 70 per cent is steel-fermented and 30 per cent is barrel-fermented, with seven months’ post-fermentation aging.  It’s gold in colour, with honey, nut and truffle scents.  The palate is elegant and delicately balanced yet structured, too; those same notes of honey and truffle persist in the mouth, with an almondy nougatine richness.  A chance to taste the 2008 shows that this wine acquires an attractive melting softness with time.  91; 13.5%

Clos d’Agon Tinto, Catalunya 2014

The Clos d’Agon founders are fans of Cabernet Franc; winemaker Miguel Coronado calls it “the Pinot of the Mediterranean: slender, long, spicy, with crisp fruit”.  This wine brings 50 per cent of Cabernet Franc together with 29 per cent Syrah (“fruity, sexy and expressive,” according to Coronado), 11 per cent of Petit Verdot and 10 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon; after five days’ cold soak and stainless-steel fermentation, it does malolactic in barrel followed by 17 months’ ageing (40 per cent new).  Dark black-red in colour, the wine has raspberry, violet and trimmed privet scents.  On the palate, it is pure, lively, smooth and intense, with flavours of black raspberry, grilled nuts, a little smoke and crushed holly leaf; there is great purity and intensity here.  A chance to look at the 2001 suggested that the wine can age to an attractively resinous maturity, with mellow, spicy fruits – though there was no Cabernet Franc back then, and the majority (60 per cent) of the blend was Cabernet Sauvignon.  90; 14%

Clos d’Agon Selección Especial, Catalunya 2015

At present this is a blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Franc with 30 per cent Petit Verdot and the balance Cabernet Sauvignon, coming from the highest plots in the vineyard.  Leading owner Frank Ebinger’s plan, though, is to bring the Cabernet Franc up to 80 or even 85 per cent and just blend it with a little Petit Verdot.  This is very dark in colour, with brooding sloe and damson fruits, discreet oak and fresh forest and undergrowth scents.  On the palate, it is close-textured, tight and intense, almost inky; behind the smoky darkness and brooding intensity is a serious, commanding wine of sobriety and freshness, principally acid-structrured, but just softening out toward black-chocolate warmth at the finish.  92; 14.5%

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