As my head smashed into the car roof, a certain MW’s foot slammed into my ankle and a national newspaper journalists’ elbow connected with my ribs with a force destined to leave substantial bruising.
They have big pot holes do Scale Dei.
I exaggerate, of course, although my head did bang alarmingly into the roof rather more times than was comfortable. The track, dry and dusty despite the previous days rain, rose steeply up to 800 meters above sea level. From the stone walls of the Scala Dei winery, past flat-land vines (a large planting of Cabernet Sauvignon) and the ruins of the 12th century Scala Dei Monastery, up through the lower levels of the Montsant mountain – a seemingly impregnable barrier from below – to the Masdeu vineyard, with stunning views over the Priorat landscape, it was an uncomfortable climb but so worth the bang on the head.
With Ricard Rofes at the wheel, vineyards and points of interest were keenly described. Ricard has been the Head Winemaker at Scala Dei since 2007. We were in the Parc Natural del Montsant where, despite its proximity to Barcelona, we didn’t sight a single other person.
A majority of the vines are Garnacha, old vines to a man, scattered in small stony plots, so small you wonder at their productiveness verses cost of collecting. Harvest here must be back breaking. Transport to the winery below must take an age. We climbed higher. A photo op under weed-infested ruins – once homes to vineyard owners, long abandoned – with a touch of thunder echoing from across the valley and then a stop where Ricard pointed out the towns below Scala Dei, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and here we were right at the top.
Red wine accounts for over 90% of the region’s production with Garnacha and Cariñena (Carignan) being the mainstays. Hand harvested – you couldn’t do anything else – and low yields manifests itself in quite high prices but the quality is there. Scala Dei produces just three wines.
At £12.99 the ‘entry level’ Scala Dei Negre [Adegga / Snooth] offers a delicious cherry and red currant minerality with a excellent freshness.
It’s a blend of Garnacha with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards ranging in age from 35 to 60 years, 14.5% alcohol. The 2009 vintage is currently available in the UK from various independent merchants.
Up a tier is the Scala Dei Prior [Adegga / Snooth] “the maximum expression of Priorat wines: all the potential of Garnacha in a structured wine with full aromas” at £17.99. Older vines here (35 to 60 years), with a mix dominated by Garnacha but enfolding Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah into a beautiful wine. Lingering flavours of strawberry, blackberry with an edge of spice following the most gorgeous floral edged aroma.
Top of the pile rests the £30 Scala Dei Cartoixa [Adegga / Snooth]. Having tasted vintages from 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 the overriding impression is of elegance and power. It has a “presence about it” as one of our party encapsulated this most stunning of wines. The grape mix has changed over the years as Ricard imparts the company philosopy of “changing quantity not quality”, as he selects the best parcels and pushes quality ever onwards. The 2008, the latest available vintage has a mix of Garnacha (62%), Cariñena (25%), Cabernet Sauvingon (8%) and Syrah (5%).
Its strange how a return journey seems to take much less time than the outward bound leg. Perhaps the anticipation of sampling the Scala Dei wines or memories of the view and tiny vineyards occupied ones thoughts. I could of course put it down to concussion…