Updated: May 12
One of the few positive things that we have inherited from this pandemic scenario is the creative sprouting of business initiatives within the wine industry. A creativity that has not been surrendered to that need of selling at all costs to avoid being suffocated by an expensive and high-valuable stock. Au contraire, this creativity has enriched the way we consume wine with initiatives such as virtual wine tastings through platforms like Zoom or Skype. The great challenge of organizing a tasting in Scotland, a country that does not produce wine, is always how to convey the emotion that a winegrower feels without being able to take your guests physically to walk through a vineyard, to breath in the smell of the winery's aging cellar, to spend a whole day sharing vital experiences with a winegrower...
But that border has been erased just a little due to the usage of social platforms. Thanks to them, we can now get to be in a winery, tasting hand in hand with the winemaker without leaving the comfort of our home. We are transported to landscapes and scenarios that allow us to know and perceive in a more profound way the wines that we have in our glass. This is precisely what we experienced two Fridays ago at 7pm. With the help of Carrie (director at WoodWinters Edinburgh) we have "traveled" to Porrera, a little town in Priorat region, to meet David Marco, owner of the Marco Abella winery.
David is the fourteenth generation of a family with a long tradition in Priorat. There are historical records that show that his family was based in Porrera, dedicating their efforts to the cultivation of the vine, since the XVth century. Activity that they carried out until the cursed phylloxera, disease which affected to their vineyards, forcing them to emigrate to Barcelona. It will be David's father who would return to render those vineyards productive back in 1999. David (together with his wife Olivia) will be in charge of building a modern winery to be able to start bottling his own wine, being his first ever bottle released in 2004.
This winery is anchored in a spectacular scenery, encased in a kind of mountainous pot, where the vineyards sleep in its steep slopes sculpting its beautiful yet breathtaking Costers (slopes).
Priorat is a tiny region, 20km away from the coast. It is all about heroic viticulture here as this is a very difficult terrain to manage and harvest. If they use donkeys to work in the vineyards it is because the land forces them to do so, since it is impossible for machinery to get access to them.
David’s understanding of Priorat could be summarized as follows:
▪️ Altitude & Continental climate: all their vineyards are located at altitudes ranging from 500 to 700 m above sea level. Being so high up in the mountains relaxes the Mediterranean influence, bringing large fluctuations in temperature, not only between seasons, but also between day and night during ripening season, which will allow the grapes to ripe slowly, extracting more freshness, aromatic complexity and adding aging capacity to our wines.
▪️ Slate soils (called Licorella) filled, in some points, with a bit of iron. This combo provides a unique character to the wines of this area: The goddess Minerality.
▪️ It doesn’t rain much: forcing the roots of the vine to grow deeper to find water, extracting more complexity from each layer of the soil in which they're planted.
▪️ Harvest: It is carried out very late and it is done progressively, listening to the needs of each vineyard, respecting the optimum maturity level of each grape. It begins in mid-September with the white varieties, ending with the red varieties at the end of October / beginning of November.
▪️ Mediterranean coastal winds: They allow to cool down the vineyards during summer. This winds also bring sea drops that fall at the surface of the grapes of those vineyards located at higher altitudes, helping the vines to nourish with water in such arid conditions & contributing to the final wine with a sapid & saline character.
All the vineyards that the winery has in Priorat are owned by the family. Although it must be said that they have also launched a range of wines on the market under the pseudonym "Mediterranean Wines" that belong to the DO Cataluña. In this case, some of the grapes used to make these wines come also from vineyards belonging to external vine growers in Tarragona, from whom the family buy the grapes, making sure that they are up to the standards of quality they're aiming for.
Of the overall 5 wines tasted, 2 were those that come from DO Cataluña, while the other 3 are the "entry level" range of their wines in Priorat.
1️⃣ Olbieta, 2018, DO Cataluña: This is a blend of Garnacha Blanca (55%) & Macabeo (45%). A huge part of the grapes come from their vineyards in Priorat, however, the rest is coming from vineyards located 20km away, having an important mixture of soils in here: slate & limestone.
The aim is to produce a fresher style of white which could speak of the Mediterranean at the same time. Decent effort, this is a good wine to be having by the glass in any local wine bar: Very lemony, tangerine zest, white pepper & fennel. It's not weighty at all but it has a bit of texture which ends up thinly.
Olbieta is a wine which would anticipate what is a common thread in all their wines: Warmth & spice but with a great deal of freshness at the same time.
2️⃣ Òlbia, 2018, DOQ Priorat: Small production, only around 1.5K bottles are made every vintage. This wine is a son of co-plantation: 48% Garnacha Blanca, 48% Viognier & 4% PX.
50% of this wine has been aged in french oak for 5 months.
Be ready to play with your senses if blind tasted as I did (as I couldn't look at any of the info beforehand). Seductive and enchanting nose, warm and filled with concentration: quince, candied orange, ginger, roses, white pepper, sage, honeycomb, chamomile and cornflakes.
Quite tamed in mouth. After that initial contact I was expecting more vibrancy on the palate. Very warm and wide (the slate) and the sensation of freshness is given by the minerality. Do not misunderstand me, truth is acidity is present but, on the whole, it fades a bit.
3️⃣ Olbieta Negre, 2018, DO Cataluña: More than 50% of the grapes come from their vineyards in Porrera and the rest, from high altitude vineyards in Tarragona. Classic coupage: 80% Garnacha, 15% Cariñena, 5% Syrah. The wine undertakes malolactic in barrel, where it's left to shortly rest for 2 months.
Jovial & agile. Fun wine, really easy to drink. It's all about fruit (blueberries, raspberries), thyme, limestone. A bit edgy: rough tannin and harsh alcohol. A "bar-counter" wine.
4️⃣ Loidana, 2018, DOQ Priorat: Loidana makes reference to an ancient female name used historically within the Marco family members. Blend of Garnacha (55%), Cariñena (35%) & Cab. Sauv. (10%).
Fermented in concrete tanks striving for freshness, and aged in used french barrels for 10 months. Harvest is gradual and each of the plots ferment separately. It's at the time of the aging process when the family decides which percentage of each of the wines goes into the blend.
I really enjoyed it, it's a good quality wine to have within your "by the glass" menu, rather than considering it as a gastronomic wine. Very focus on the fruit: raspberry culis, forrest fruits yogurt, violets (you can feel the Cariñena here) & dark cherries. Silky and very well balanced, highlighting a freshness which accompanies the warmth of the ripe fruit, the sweet spices and the Mediterranean herbs. Tannin with character yet mature. Decent length.
5️⃣ Mas Mallola, 2017, DOQ Priorat: This is coming from a very special vineyard for the family which gives its name to the wine. Mas Mallola means "vine nursery" as this is the place that the family used in the past to plant new vines to then be replanted in the rest of their plots when needed.
This is the highest vineyard they own with a south-oriented exposition, however it's at that high altitude that it's still the last one on being harvested. Classic blend: 70% Garnacha & 30% Cariñena, fermented in vats and aged for 15 months in barrels (some new and some used).
The wine has a rough elegance. Like a villager suited up to attend to the local festivities:
I could feel that initial sweetness of the new oak (cocoa nips, carub). Blackberries, sweet cherry, figs, rosemary, pine, violets, mushrooms, forrest floor and white pepper. The wine is quite "Frenchified", as its nose will easily take you to the Rhône if blind tasted.
Voluptuous, punchy but fresh due to an incredible mineral and saline character. Really velvet tannin and great length: more mature fruits, spices and flowers.
If you want to try any of this interesting wines, remember that you can get access to them at WoodWinters Edinburgh.
President of the Spanish Sommelier Association