For my currency, and as much as I love the place, Catalunya (as it’s spelled in Catalan) is one of the wine regions with potentially the greatest number of interesting things to say, but inexplicably, seems most willing to ape what others are saying despite it. And let’s call spades, spades shall we? – by “others”, I mean California and Australia.
The Catalans as a people have a long and illustrious history in the fields of both technological innovation (the first truly functioning submarine was designed and built by a Catalan) and business and trading matters in general, and the Catalans are also nothing if not pragmatic. So, knowing that their climate was not terribly dissimilar to either California or Australia, (in some way occupying a certain mid-point between the two), and with a full undertstanding how many Cali/Aussie bottles were easily fetching $50 a pop, much of the Catalan industry copied the model, and took it to the bank.
You know the routine -hell, you may even drink the routine: over-extracted, over-oaked, 14%+ alcohol wines, made from a confused knot of native and “international” grape varieties (blends including Garnacha, Cabernet, Carignan, Merlot, and Syrah are common), with an emphasis on the cellar work and the rock-star winemaker over the vineyard site and the work done therein. I’m not going to (continue) to bash these types of wine, but rather remove the bushel basket obscuring my own lamp, and praise a fun and authentic Catalan wine like the Espelt Saulo` Emporda` 2006.
The who? what?! Let me ‘splain. This wine is actually made by a growers cooperative called the Viticultors de L’Emporda` not surprisingly located in the northeastern part of Catalunya (Catalonia in English) called Emporda`, hard by the French border…check the map . As a business, they likely make many lines of wine for a multitude of clients, and this particular group has been dubbed “Espelt”, but don’t quote me on that…What I am sure of is that “Saulo`” is a Catalan word for the region’s sandy, gravelly soil…The Viticultors de L’Emporda` site is here for more info on what gets done there from the horses themselves…
Saulo` is a blend of 60% Garnacha (aka Grenache, and spelled “Garnatxa” in Catalan) and 40% Carignan (“Carinyena” in Catalan) that rests for just two short months in new French oak barrels. This little profile makes me happy. Why? First, it’s a wine made from 100% native varieties, which means, or at least helps to lend meaning to the notion of DISTINCTIVELY, in this case, CATALAN wine. Second, the wine is not shellacked with new oak, but rather caressed just enough by it to take the edge off – off of the savory and robust but often gruff Carinyena in particular. Third, it’s a wine that’s not trying to juggle cleavers blindfolded to impress you, or land a haymaker on your palate to make you pay it some attention…
…no sir, (or ma’am), this is nothing more nor less than a soild, anyday red with character. Now make no mistake, Saulo` is not a foot tread, unfiltered, biodynamic wine into which the farmer has wrung out his beard every thursday afternoon, (though those kinds of wines are good too), but neither is it a bland, lowest common denominator jug of plonk – thankfully. Way too much of that. This wine is a versatile, inexpensive, modern, but truly CATALAN number, and represents an approach that more Catalan producers need to adopt…Like I always say – make YOUR wine!
I served this little lovely with a Catalan truita, which strangely literally means “trout” but is also used to denote omelette or frittata, with a mess of veggies – carrot, potato, bell pepper, onion, tomato, peas, turnip, et al. and ham –
The second course was a modified recipe of pork loin in a pomegranate sauce, and the absolutely classic Catalan veggie side of sauteed spinach with pine nuts and raisins…
…all of these recipes were dug out of Colman Andrew’s excellent book Catalan Cuisine which for all intents and purposes is the only 100% Catalan cookbook readily available in English…In any event, the wine was light enough to not overwhelm the omelette (though the truita de pages is one tough mess of eggs) but it also had more than enough of everything to perfectly compliment the pork. The post comestibus:
Espelt Emporda` “Saulo`” 2006
Enticing and youthful blackish garnet color. The nose is a pleasantly complex bundle of mocha, light soy sauce, blackberry, lilac and cooked sap. The palate is full of round, chewy, and clean flavors of plum preserves and quince membrillo, but with a wonderfully stiff if basic structure to balance it all out. This is a very versatile, and easy-going wine that still speaks Catalan fluently.