The week started in style with the Big Fortified Tasting at Glaziers Hall and an eight course food and wine matching dinner at Ibérica Food & Culture in Great Portland Street showcasing the wines of Castillo Perelada.
Winemaker Javier Suqué was a no show, unable to fly to London due to the pesky Eyjafjallajökull volcano, whose ash emissions are wreaking havoc over Europe. It's our Decanter World Wine Awards next week and we're having nightmares about empty tasting rooms and judges stranded in different parts of the world.
Anyway, on to brighter things. Castillo Perelada, who I must admit I hadn't heard of before the dinner, is the jewel in DO Emporda's crown, and their flagship estate. While the regions of Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are well loved and respected in the wine world, Emporda is a young pretender, still striving for global recognition.
Situated on the northeastern corner of Catalonia at the foot of the Pyrenees near the French boarder, Emporda benefits from a mild mediterranean climate and has mixture of soils, from slate slopes and red clay to sandy valleys, which make for interesting, complex wines.
Originally known for its sweet wines, Emporda is now more famous for its rosés, with Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca making up 80% of the vines planted in the region. Painter Salvador Dalí, a local of Emporda and close friend of Castillo Perelada's founder Miguel Mateu, was a big fan of the estate's Brut Rosé Cava.
Perelada goes against the grain, specializing in Cava and red blends made from international varieties. The company owns over 150 hectares across five estates, including La Garriga, Malaveina and the much-prized Garbet. I was treated to a tasting of eight of their wines – Cava to start and finish, with six red blends in between, matched with an array of experimental dishes from the Ibérica kitchen.
First up of the reds was 5 Fincas Reserva 2005, a blend of Merlot, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc aged in 50-5o French/American oak. The chefs paired this with ham two ways served on a black slate: Ibérico ham and ham croquetes. One sniff of the wine and I wouldn't have put it in Spain, but rather France. It was suave and mellow, with soft red and black fruit, bramble and licquorice. It had real depth and body with velvety tannins and hints of sweet spice.
For our second starter we drank the 100% Samsó Finca La Garriga 2006, aged for 16 month in new American oak, which was paired with sautéed wild mushrooms with cep gel and a slow poached egg. The nose was a lovely mix of sweetness from the oak and savoury notes. Equally as opulent as the first wine, it had a luxurious mouthfeel, mixing pepper, licquorice and spice and wonderful length. The mushroom dish looked like a work of art and tasted divine.
On to our first of the mains – slow cooked octopus in its own jus with green asparagus, white onion and paprika oil paired with the single estate Finca Malaveina 2006, a blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah and Garnacha aged in new French oak. Having had a couple of extreme reactions to octopus in the past, I had to bail on this dish, opting in stead for play-it-safe cod. A more masculine wine than the first two, it had robust tannins and deeper black fruit. On the palate it was soft and silky, with a delicious velvety licquorice finish. I soon noticed that I'd written 'delicious' beside every wine; not something I normally do.
On to a classic Spanish dish, Asturian white bean stew with fabadas, chorizo, morcilla (black pudding) and pancetta – so simple, so full of flavour. This was matched with Solanes Cims de Porrera 2005 from Priorat, a blend of Cariñena, Garnacha, Cab Sauv, Merlot and Syrah aged in French oak. Grown on slate soils, it had a savory, almost herbal nose and a signature smooth mouthfeel with a spicy, peppery, meaty, Rhône-like red-fruited palate.
Now to the apogee: roasted shoulder of suckling Segovia lamb with herbs, mushrooms and green peas paired with Classic Cims de Porrera from Priorat, made from 100% old vines Cariñena and aged in new French oak. The wine was a sensational match for the lamb, which had been slow cooked for 12 hours and fell off the bone. It was the most tender, succulent and flavoursome lamb I've ever tasted - a culinary triumph. The whole table was seriously impressed. The wine wasn't bad either! It had a nose of morello cherries, raspberries, spice and pepper, with a smooth, velvety, round palate and a vanilla-sweet finish.
After the unforgettable lamb, I had to somehow find room for cheese, and the eagerly-anticipated Finca Garbet 2004. Made from a tiny 7 hectare estate, only 3,200 bottles are produced each year. The second 100% Samsó of the night, from 50-year-old vines, it was heady, full-bodied and opulent with a nose of blackcurrants, mint, licquorice and eucalypt. Smooth, velvety, fresh and long, there were hints of rosemary, game, chocolate and coffee on the palate, with a toasty lavender finish.
Having written delicious beside every wine, I got to thinking about the thread that weaved them all together – freshness. They all were all fruit-driven with good acidity and well integrated tannins, but it was their freshness that distinguished them, and while some weighed in at 14.5% abv, their freshness gave them balance and lift. I came along with no expectations and left completely converted. With wines of such quality, depth and complexity, surely Emporda won't remain Spain's best kept secret for much longer.