Costers del Segre, from sky to earth

Javier Luengo (@JavierGuiaPenin)

(Leer en español)

Although we are still locked up in our homes, nothing keeps us from mentally travelling to other places, so today we are going to take a little trip around an interesting wine-growing area of Catalonia. This is a place that perhaps, only perhaps, is not a trend for many trigger-happy instagrammers today, as many of the varieties that are giving them such good results are not necessarily their own. Although they also have a good handful of more "local" grapes.

Costers del Segre, is a small Apellation of Origin from Lleida, located at the foot of the Pyrenees. It has nearly 36 wineries, 4,000 hectares of vineyards and more than 400 winegrowers. Its vineyards are scattered throughout the province, so it offers a wide range of vineyards depending on whether they are located nearer or further away from the Pyrenees. There is therefore a great heterogeneity in the area that makes it difficult to frame all of its wines. They range from the hot vineyards of the fruit-growing area of Lérida (Lleida), to the high corners of the north, where you can find interesting vineyards lost in its sinuous nooks and crannies. It is therefore an area that goes from sky to earth and where the search for differentiation is hard work but not impossible.

The nexus between its seven subzones is the middle basin of the river Segre, between the Pyrenees and the Ebro river. There are producing areas throughout the province, but there are two particularly interesting blocks. These are the vineyards which, due to their position relative to the Pyrenees, enjoy a high altitude. Such is the case of Artesa de Segre and Pallars, with their vineyards on slopes, and also the subzone of Les Garrigues, where a complex orography is formed thanks to the action of the rivers born in the Sierra de la Llena, which over time were able to form valleys, ravines (and also interesting plains), which allow different orientations to be sought in the vineyard in a natural way, taking advantage of the existing slopes. Wherever it is, Costers del Segre has wineries of great importance for anyone who wants to delve deeper into its lands and its wines, a handful of brave wine makers who struggle daily to offer something unique and different from their own harvest, but without forgetting to pay tribute to the place where their grapes grow.

If there is one figure in the area who has managed to position Costers on the wine map of good wine enthusiasts, it has been Raúl Bobet, from Castell D'Encus, an essential and notable figure in the wine scene, one obsessed with the search for his own style and the freshness of his wines. In 2001, this oenologist looked for a place to develop a unique project, seeking to avoid the harmful effects of climate change. This search led him to settle in Pallars Jussà, one of the most interesting areas in the area, where he has an altitude of 850-1250 m above sea level, in a place where there were once vineyards, but time had erased them. Its wines have been pioneers in the area, managing to make a stylistic turnaround in the area, opening up a panorama of great interest in the concept of mountain wines. Raúl Bobet will surely not welcome being called a hands-off producer, but we do so willingly, knowing that his work today more than ever is focused on the search for a minimum and necessary intervention, seen through a solely empirical prism. Likewise, we are convinced of his obsession with each and every one of the wine processes, starting in the field and ending in the winery. This is the only way to understand the uniqueness of many of his wines, be it the multi-varietal Quest or his syrah Talarn, which every year are positioned among the best rated wines in the whole DO. Recently we had the opportunity to taste their sparkling wine Taïka 2014 Brut Nature (semillon and sauvignon blanc), a long aging sparkling wine (60 months) with rich nuances of yeast, and a unique freshness. It is a wine of great precision, in which the fermentation was stopped when the wine had enough sugar level to make the second fermentation in the bottle, without the need to add more.

Raúl Bobet, Castell D'Encus

Our next stop will be at Clos Pons, a young project with great aspirations in the south of the province of Lleida. The Pons family is a family that comes from growing olive trees and making oil through generations. In 2005 they promoted a project to recover the vineyards in the Les Garrigues region, one of the seven subzones into which the D.O. is divided, with scant rainfall (between 150-300 l/m2), but where they have clay soils capable of retaining the little water that falls from the sky and limestone rock that gives an interesting texture to their wines. In addition, the vineyard is located at an altitude of around 700 metres, which, together with the prevailing continental climate, favours a remarkable oscillation between day and night, which translates into good acidity in the wines despite their extreme climate. If someone wants to enter the world of Les Garrigues they can do so through two very interesting wines. One is the Clos Pons Roc Nu 2012, a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo that accurately captures the floral and herbal environment that surrounds their vineyards. The other, the Clos Pons 812 Gran Reserva 2012 (60 euros), another of those wines that will not stop surprising you. The winery has been presenting the same wine to the Guide's examination for five years now, and the wine remains as if it had not been affected by the passage of time, with a fine, subtle reduction that becomes elegant, with ripe black fruit and firm, ripe tannins. This is a wine made from the Marselan grape, that grape born from the cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha which is supposed to give the winemaker such a good feeling when it comes to ageing. It is therefore a living proof of this ageing capacity that the books talk about.

Clos Pons winery

Every year, the cooperative winery Celler L'Olivera produces a macabeo fermented in high-flying barrels, which it bottles under the brand name V89. Despite the fact that it is 2018, subtle and attractive aromas of petrol already emerge, reminding us of the nuances of certain Central European white wines. Bravo for such an excellent wine!

In the same subzone of Garrigues, the Torres family restored two 18th century houses built by the Abbey of Montserrat in the middle of the Bessons Natural Park, in Juneda. In an idyllic setting, since the year 2000 the Torres family has been in charge of recovering the vineyard which once existed in that spot, especially the Grenache, Cariñena and Syrah varieties, although there is also a significant space reserved for the study of ancestral varieties which the bodega has been developing with great effort for some years now and which it officially presented in 2017. Purgatori 2016, is a wine made from a blend of varieties (Garnacha, Cariñena and Syrah), a blended wine, built up variety by variety so that each one contributes to the whole. It is a full-bodied, structured wine in which the fruit takes on special prominence. It is a blend of black and red fruits, of different ripeness with a spicy and creamy oak background. The palate is intense and with a rich acidity, an excellent example of a continental-style wine, in which balance is sought between the parts.

Purgatori vineyard - Familia Torres

We couldn't leave Les Garrigues without stopping at another producer who has contributed a lot to the area: Tomás Cusiné. Not content with working at the family winery Cérvoles and other appellations such as Conca de Barberà and Montsat, in 2003 he embarked on a personal project in the heart of Les Garrigues. Here he focused especially on working in the vineyard through personalised wines and plots, such as the macabeo from Finca Racons 2017, which in the last edition of the Peñín Guide 2020 dazzled us with its excellent texture and mineralisation, represented by a tension typical of wines of calcareous origin. We look forward to seeing how the 2018 vintage has developed into this wine, although we’ll have to wait a little longer to taste it. Under the umbrella of the Cérvoles winery, Tomás Cusiné, makes a red blend wine that faithfully represents the style of the coupage wines that prevail in the region. It's Cérvoles Estrats, whose last vintage tasted was 2016, a wine made up of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon, which shows us that any varietal, well interpreted and worked, is capable of offering great wines, even if some of them are not typical of your region, such as Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. And the fact is that verdicts in the world of wine are seldom carried out, even if they are followed and voiced by many through social networks.

Tomás Cusiné at Finca Comabarra

We close the circle by going to the subzone of Artesa del Segre, at the foot of the Montsec mountain range, to the north of the Noguera region, between the southern slopes of the Serra Llarga and the Noguera Ribagorzana river.

There, between the regions of Segriá and La Noguera, lies a small winery that has been producing wines with little intervention for some years now. This is Lagravera, a winery focused on work which respects the vine and its cycles, where unconventional wines are made, which some consumers might call natural wine. In the years that we have been following this winery we have seen wines of all sorts: extreme, some lacking balance, with high volatility and sensations not always pleasant for the common wine lover. However, something must have changed in this winery for us to be able to observe things beyond the non-interventionist elaboration. For the first time we began to see soils through the texture of some of their wines and also aromatic features that define their environment, with aromas that faithfully recall what grows around them, grass and wildflowers. This is why we have decided to include it here among the essential ones, with wines that are out of the ordinary and show tension, such as La Pell Vi Clar, a wine made in the old-fashioned way from a vineyard where more than 20 different types of grapes live together. White and red grapes coexist in this wine, the former more than the latter, and they are made as if it were a claret. A racial wine, with tension and a complex and long finish. Also worth mentioning is Honra Videpedra, a naturally sweet wine, with no added alcohol, which is aged for an average of 24 months in criaderas and soleras using French oak barrels. It is an expressive, floral and very unique wine that captivates the members of the tasting team every year.

Sergio García (Lagravera manager) and Pilar Salillas (oenologist)

We have brought you a handful of courageous people, each responsible in their own way for bringing a little more knowledge on Costers del Segre, an area unjustly unknown to the general public but with a solid and very interesting argument that is worth taking into account.

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