After our visit to Albet i Noya, we hopped back in the car with our new friend Marc of Barcelona by Road and headed towards our next stop in the Penèdes wine region, Parés Baltà. (In case you didn’t catch my previous article Spain, Part One.., you should know that Barcelona by Road organised and planned our entire tour through Penèdes and Priorat).
Arriving at the winery we were warmly greeted by Gemma Muray (Hospitality Manager), whose combination of charisma, passion and laid back attitude was so captivating that I actually found myself speechlessly gawking at her as if I was floating outside of myself and the entire situation in a state of stunned, and no doubt awkward, observation. She passed us each a straw hat and pointed us towards a rugged, well-used looking 4×4 across the parking lot. We all piled in and as we rumbled down the driveway and out onto the dusty road my mother gleefully shouted, ‘We’re off like a hooker’s pyjamas!!’ … and so we were!
After all the excitement of our morning visit to Albet i Noya I was glad to just sit back, shut up, and listen to what Gemma had to say during the drive to our next stop, which by the way, was apparently top secret! We drove away from the winery past what seemed to be never-ending vineyards on both sides and stopped shortly in Sant Martí Sarroca to see the Hisenda Miret vineyards. That particular site has over 500 years of history and tradition and is planted with Garnatxa, Xarel•lo, Macabeu, Syrah, Merlot, and Parellada. The soil there is predominantly calcareous with clay and the wines tend to be round, rich and mineral. As we chatted under the hot summer sun, I longed for a chilled glass of Xarel•lo!
Up ahead in the distance Gemma pointed out a small mountain range standing against the pastel horizon. It was lush and green and seemed from where we stood to be completely un-touched – except for an old church perched at the top. What we were looking at was part of the natural park of Foix, where Parés Baltà has a very special vineyard site called ‘Les Valls-Les Torres’. I wasn’t sure exactly what Gemma and Marc had planned for us, but I quietly hoped it would involve a trip up to those hidden vines!
We jumped back into the 4×4 and my excitement grew as we hung a left towards the rising terrain. As we drove Gemma told us all about the history of the winery and how it is now run majorly by women (hands up for all my wine chicas!), but that a lot has happened since its founding in 1790. Between her stories and Marc’s hilarious interruptions Gemma dropped a few intriguing hints that where we were heading was somewhere that she had never had the key to before… But we were already in the middle of a forested hillside, and the vineyards that were carved out around each bend (that date back to the pre-phylloxera era) certainly weren’t closed up behind locked doors… My curiosity was through the roof.
We thumped and bumped up the increasingly steep backroads, stopping briefly to look at the vines, pick some wild rosemary and peer down the ravine at the stunning sight of the Foix River – the most important river in Penèdes. But still there was no locked door in sight. We passed by beautiful, half-hidden vineyards; each one fitting in perfectly to its surrounding, but somehow at the same time looking as though it had been dropped there from above. All the while Gemma rattled off inspiring tales of the Cusiné family’s passion and work, and how they had made the switch to organic, biodynamic winemaking – something that pleases me very much as a big fan of both wine and of this lovely planet we call home 😉. The higher we climbed, the rockier the ride until finally she stopped the car. The road in front of us was closed off by lock & chain. Ah-ha! We’d found ourselves a lock.
A dirt road, looking the same as the one behind us, stretched up around a bend. We looked at each other in surprise, our imaginations running wild. Where was she taking us and how did she get the key to this mystery location? It didn’t seem to be a place that belonged to Parés Baltà or she could have easily had the key before… Marc looked like a ten year old boy on Christmas morning.
She unlocked the chain and hopped back in with a beaming smile. The drive continued until we finally pulled into a clearing at the top of the mountain. To the right was the most jaw-dropping, un-interupted view over Penèdes I could have never even imagined. You could see straight out to the Mediterranean Sea. And to the left, standing tall against the clear blue sky was the beautiful old chapel we had seen from our first stop in the Hisenda Miret vineyards. I climbed the stone staircase towards it to get a better look and by the time I got to the top I noticed something move in my peripheral vision.
Set under the shade of a tall tree was a table set with a white cloth that was blowing breezily in the wind. It was fully equipped with perfectly polished glassware, a P.B. branded ice bucket overflowing with chilled bottles of wine and Cava, and an assortment of local specialties to pair with the wine.
As we tasted through the assortment, Gemma and her colleague Marta (P.B.’s Marketing Manager who had set up the surprise and waited for us to arrive) told us stories about the wines, how they got their names, their makers (the Cusiné family), how they were harvested, which vintages were particularly special (2017 is fabulous by the way!) and even how to make a delicious local specialty called ‘Pan con Tomate’ out of bread, olive oil, garlic and fresh tomato.
So, that is was where I had the privilege of tasting through the incredibly dynamic range from Parés Baltà. At the top of a mountain in the shade of that stunning old church. Could it have been more charming? Not even if Clooney himself had poured the wine.
My favourites from our tasting:
Easy-drinking White: 2017 ‘Cosmic’ (Xarel•lo, Sauvignon Blanc) Exotic fruit, mineral, fresh.
Single Varietal White: 2017 ‘Calcari’ (100% Xarel•lo) Pure, straight mineral impression with bright acidity. Slightly grassy. Has a fresh puristic style and would go great with oysters!
Cava: ‘Rosa Cusiné’ (100% Garnatxa) Mouth-watering freshness with notes of red berries and brioche. Tiny bubbles – Long finish – Great quality. Very gastronomic wine!
Easy-drinking Red: 2017 ‘Radix’ (100% Syrah) This wine only spent 6 hours on the skins and actually looks like a Pinot Noir. But don’t let it’s translucency and balance deceive you – it still has a good 14,5% alcohol content.
Serious Red: 2012 ‘Marta de Baltà’ (100% Syrah) Stunning wine! Intense and concentrated with lots of black fruit, spices, chocolate and vanilla. Velvety tannins with a beautiful creamy finish. Perfection in Penèdes.
Photography Credit: Marta Sanchez, Marketing Manager at Parés Baltà
Huge thanks to Gemma Muray, Marta Sanchez and the whole team at Parés Baltà; to Marc of Barcelona by Road for planning such a great day; and of course to my mother-in-law Josefine and my momma for setting aside the time and making the journey to Spain with me! Without you the afternoon could never have been so magical!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next article on Priorat!