Showing my age, maybe, but I’m remembering Kenneth Williams as the sage gardener character William Fallowfield (inter alia) in the comedy series ‘Round the Horne’ on BBC radio. No matter what question he was asked, his reply was always “The answer lies in the Soil”. This is certainly true of my exceptional wine choice for February which depends as much on the unique structure of the Llicorella soils of Catalonia’s DOQ Priorat as its reliance on the full flavours of Garnatxa (Grenache) and Carinyena (Carignan) as the region’s principal grape varieties.
Priorat itself, lying south west of Tarragona, is a tortuously twisted and steeply terraced vineyard area in Catalonia where lower yields seem inevitable and where the back-breaking harvesting is not for the faint-hearted. Here, varieties of weathered broken Llicorella slate topsoils over a fissured solid limestone base permit vine roots to search deeply for valuable moisture. The result of this rugged combination? Sturdy red wines that impart both juicy-jammy depth and an identifiable minerality. My choice this month being Lot 06 Priorat DOQ 2014, not simply that I regard it as a high quality bargain from a renowned region at a surprisingly modest price but as a wine to warm the heart across the darker days of a British winter until the positive signs of Spring begin to appear.
Formerly a region producing rough-edged rustic reds ‘as they come’, the Priorat DOQ has now gained a highly respected profile in its own right, regarded nowadays as one of the niche areas of Catalan Spanish viticulture, selling wines ranging from characterful ‘winter warmers’ to rewarding collectors’ items with considerable cellarage potential at up to ten times higher price points than the modest £9.99 asked for the numbered-bottle limited release Lot 06 by Aldi.
On the eye, although a dark garnet with purple reflections, Lot 06 is less densely coloured and more translucent than I’d expected from this first encounter, instantly throwing up a clear veil of glycerines to the sides of the glass that betray its 14.5deg. alcohol by volume. An inviting brambly-jammy nose with black fruit notes predominates through to the palate where there is a surprising approachability showing a fine balance between good fruit acidity and that special Priorat minerality in the background together with well-developed ripe tannins. A lingering seamless finish is a flavourful follow-on. Just the job…. snows are forecast as I write this! Whereas top Priorat wines from the lowest-yield ridges at altitude can be pretty impenetrable in their youth, this February choice of mine from small parcel vine sites at lower levels (presumably) has an attractive balancing freshness and is already fairly forward, though it certainly shows some further cellarage potential. Great value wine making here. Yum!
Although tasted today as an ideal match alongside a lunch of pork ribs baked with a sticky-savoury aromatic sauce, I can envisage similar Grenache-friendly pairings might include chourico sausage or other piquant salamis, although I add a recipe for an idiomatic partner dish below.
|COUNTRY OF ORIGIN||Spain(Catalunya)|
|NAME OF WINE||DOQ Priorat, ‘Lot 6’, 2014|
|STYLE||Individualistic dry aromatic red|
|RETAILER||Aldi (In Store and On-line)|
‘Porc Guisata amb Fruita seca’
Prior to the introduction to Spain of tomatoes in the 16th century courtesy of the Conquistadors, fruit of other kinds was often added to meat dishes – a legacy that persists in Catalonia and other regions of Spain to this day, hence this local version of braised rolled pork shoulder with dried fruits….perhaps with the obligatory glass of a Priorat wine alongside?
1 boneless shoulder of pork, around 1.5 kilos
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
12 small shallots, or use pickling onions
1 carrot, chopped small
1 splosh of Catalan brandy – or Cognac
2 cups of (ideally) Priorat – or other Grenache-based wine
1 cup chicken or pork stock
1 handful of semidried sour cherries
1 handful of soft-dried apricots, halved
1 finger-sized sprig of rosemary
2 medium bay leaves
1 ‘star’ of Star anise
½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
Set oven temperature to around 330deg.
Start with the rolled shoulder of pork, rubbing it all over with the smashed garlic and then salt.
Heat the oil in a deep flameproof casserole until a haze rises from it, and add the pork shoulder. Brown the shoulder well on all sides, then remove to a dish and keep warm.
Add the chopped carrot, the small shallots and the chopped onion to the pan and brown them well, stirring to make sure this happens evenly.
Once well browned, splosh some brandy over them, and let this volatilize completely before adding the stock and the wine, then add the cherries and apricots, the cinnamon, the bayleaves and the rosemary.
Check seasoning at this point.
Return the pork shoulder to the casserole. Cover it tightly and place it in the oven to bake for 1 ½ hours or thereabouts.
After this time, if you have an instant thermometer spike which when inserted into the meat gives a reading around 165deg. you’ll know that the pork can be transferred to a warmed plate and covered with foil.
Now place the casserole back on the stove top having removed the bayleaves and the sprig of rosemary, and let it cook over high heat for a minute or so until a bit syrupy.
Cut the pork into slices and dish it up attractively, pouring the sauce with its fruits and vegetables over it. Serve up at table.