The Terra Alta Denominación de Origen (DO) wine designation covers some 8,000 hectares of vineyard land in a mountainous region of Catalunya in Tarragona, Spain about 200 kilometres west of Barcelona. The area is so incredibly beautiful that Terra Alta – which means “highlands” – was a summer home for Pablo Picasso, a place that inspired many of his paintings and prompted him to kickstart the cubism movement. And it is here, in the Batea subregion of Terra Alta, that family-run Celler Piñol has tended their vines and made wine for some decades.
Many of the vines of Celler Piñol sit at around 450 metres above sea level in this mountainous region, and the altitude helps keep grapes cool in the area’s long, hot and dry summers to retain acidity, while a dry wind known as el Mestral, similar to France’s Mistral, keeps humidity low to prevent disease. Batea itself experiences a mix of both Mediterranean and continental climates with a strong diurnal temperature swing, advantageous for growing grapes to make wine of more power while retaining sufficient acidity for balance.
Juanjo Galcera Piñol, the 4th generation winemaker of Celler Piñol who was recently in Singapore to present his wines at a wine dinner, explained the climate allows his family winery to experiment with many different grape varietals, ranging from Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) more familiar to Spain, to the more international Syrah, as well as the almost extinct varietal of Finca Morenillo indigenous to Terra Alta.
“Our family owns some hectares out of 18 hectares of vineyard land growing Finca Morellino in the whole of Spain,” shares Piñol. “We call it the Pinot Noir of Spain,” he says, adding that the lighter skinned grape makes bright, fresh and lighter wines compared to the generally more powerful and structured wines Spain is known for.
Its rosé, the N. Sra Portal Rosat 2014, is made with 75% Garnacha and 25% Syrah, gets a lovely pink blush from maceration periods ranging from 4 hours for the Syrah and 12 hours for the Garnacha. Its bright berry and mineral notes, backed by a luscious acidity, is perfect for food pairing, ranging from seafoods to even heartier dishes like roast chicken or pork.
But it’s the L’Avi White 2012 that proved to be even more culinarily flexible. Don’t be fooled by the name on the label into thinking it’s a blend – the wine is wholly made from 100% white Garnacha. It’s full-bodied and aromatic, somewhat akin to the Pinot Gris of Alsace. It has spent eight months in French oak, giving it a lovely velvety creaminess yet complex structure that – along with its hefty 14.8% ABV – made it incredible tasty with a grilled carabinero prawn dish paired with it during the wine dinner, but also with the braised beef cheek that came later.
We’re less enthused by the L’Avi Red 2008, which was competent in every compartment but not excelling in any. The red blend – led by Cariñena (60%), followed by 30% Garnacha and 10% Syrah – has been aged for 16 months in both American and French oak, is intense, fruity, full-bodied and okay as you would expect with most wines coming out of Rioja, and that unanimity may be its problem.
Far, far better is the Finca Morellino Red 2011, made with pure Morenillo from 75-year-old vines grown at 400 meters, aged for 15 months in French oak. Both aroma and palate were delicately sensual, exhibiting plenty of red fruit character in strawberries and Morello cherry unhindered by any oaking in new American oak. It’s absolutely delicious, and because it is nothing resembling anything from other Spanish regions, an absolutely must-try despite the higher price tag due to its rarity.
Celler Piñol also dabbles a little in the late harvesting of grapes to garner more sugars, and its Josefina White 2013 is an example. Handpicked at the start of November slightly past maturity for higher sugar concentration from near centenarian Garnacha vines, the Josefina is sweet, reminiscent of stewed banana, preserved apricots and wild honey. Recommended to pair with dessert, we nonetheless think it would be perfect with foie gras.
“This wine is named after my mother. If I don’t sell enough of this wine, I don’t get to inherit the winery,” jokes Juanjo Piñol, whose mother Josefina is still in charge of the wine cellar at Celler Piñol today.
If you’re impressed enough with Celler Piñol and would like to help Juanjo finally inherit the reins at the winery one day, head over to the website of its Singapore distributor eWineAsia.com and pick up some Celler Piñol, especially the Josefina, today.