The showman of Clos de l´Obac

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written by Michael Oudyn

The Costers del Siurana winery is located in Gratallops, province of Tarragona, Catalonia. It was the first of the four mythic new-wave DOQ Priorat wineries that revolutionized the region in the 1980s. Alicia Juanpere of Catacurian Gourmet Food and Wine Vacations  said that Carles Pastrana, the owner and public face of Clos de l´Obac, was “the best of the winery”. Carles—animated, eccentric, opinionated, and playful—didn´t disappoint. After an interesting tour of the facilities, we adjourned to the tasting room with its beautiful stained glass ceiling and its fantastic views of mountains and white slate vineyards of the Priorat. Here the fun began.

Carles started off dumping on legendary Gratallops wine l´Ermita.   This $600/bottle, 97-points-from-Parker red systematically loses blind tastings to humble $10 wines, he proclamed; Priorat´s reputation for being very expensive but of irregular quality is its fault. Someone suggested that maybe the astronomical price and near-perfect Parker scores might have had a bit of rub-off effect and helped put el Priorat on the wine map to the benefit of all. A scandalized Carles would have none of it. I was warming up to this tour.

Next he launched into a convoluted rant about his ongoing jousting with the state tax collectors who were still trying to figure out a way to cut through his brilliant, totally legal, scheme to avoid paying taxes. It has something to with not selling wines but borrowing money using his wine as securities. We all had pens and were writing down numbers and percentages and nodding our heads in appreciation. I was completely lost after two minutes; I was having a ball.

Then came the Stanford University experiment. In some way the pleasure lobes of your brain are hooked up to a machine which scientifically quantifies your pleasure. You taste a wine without knowing its price, your pleasure is scientifically recorded. Then you are told the prices, and your pleasure is measured again. The higher the stated price, the greater your objective pleasure. If all this is true it is good news for Clos de l´Obac; you´re not going to find their wines in the bargain bins any time soon. In any case this rap was increasing my pleasure enormously.

Oh yes, we also tasted some wines. Four of them, and they were delicious. The first was a limited-production white called Kyrie made from White Garnacha, Macabeu, Xarel.lo, and Muscat from Alexandria. Carles says it is made like a red with lots of time in oak, and might pass for red in a truly blind tasting. Good wine but the Priorat the red-wine country, so we passed on to the serious stuff: the flagship Clos de lÓbac 2002, and the single-vineyard Miserere 2002. Both are from old vines and reflect the “llicorella” slate soil. Both blend native Garnacha and Carinena with French varieties Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Clos de l`Obac has some Syrah, Miserere some Tempranillo. Pastrana said the major difference was that Clos de l´Obac was “more pleasurable”, the other “more intellectual” which we took to mean that the one was more fruit forward, the other more austere. I asked if the difference in price (42Eurs-35Eurs) (“pleasurable” is more expensive than “intellectual”) was because Syrah was more expensive than Tempranillo. No, the price difference was due to labor costs: Clos de lÓbac´s vineyards are remote, steep, and difficult to harvest. That they were of equal quality. True to the price/enjoyment Stanford University model I preferred the expensive “pleasurable” one. We all said that the other did make us think more. This place was getting better and better.

The most delicious wine—and also the priciest at 75 Eur for a half bottle–was Dolç de l´Obac, a truly spectacular sweet wine made from very ripe Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah fermented in new oak. It had an almost ethereal balance of sugar, acid, and alcohol, there was no way I was spitting this out, even at 12 o´clock noon. Actually, come to think about it, I hadn´t been doing much spitting at all, so I found myself relating my first rule for being a risk-free wine snob. You are completely serious, never a hint of a smile. You sniff, taste, spit, and after a pregnant pause limit yourself to a sententious “interesting”, preferably elongating the first syllable. Then you keep your mouth shut, and nod knowingly at whatever else is said. Carles trumped me relating the technique of some Swedes who had visited his winery. Whenever they had wine in their mouths they swayed rhythmically back and forth emitting ambiguous low groans somewhere between sexual ecstasy and masochistic pain. No commitment, no chance of appearing foolish.

All in all this is good, clean fun; a great visit with fantastic wines. If you are in the Priorat on a wine vacation don´t miss Costers del Siurana.

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One Response to “The showman of Clos de l´Obac”

  1. Simtractor verified torrent Says:

    My mate sent me an email suggesting i read this. I love it, i bookmarked your website. Keep the updates coming.

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