What does a top winemaker do in his, as it were, spare time? After he has supervised the creation and blending of large volumes of good to high quality Cava and mid-range to premium red wines … what does his mind turn to? Producing tiny quantities of a new, experimental wine which changes every year. One year it could be a Catalan blend, the next something with its roots in Bordeaux, then a 100% Cabernet Franc or, even, a Tuscan/Sicilian blend. The self-imposed rule is that the wine is only produced in one year and then disappears. It can of course lead to something more commercial but basically the ExEx series is Delfi Sanahuja’s playground at Castillo Perelada. And the quantities involved? Miniscule, 1,000-3,000 bottles, just enough to sell a few cases to a handful of top sommelier in Spain to offer to special clients. It’s not really a commercial proposition but it’s fun.
Of the ten wines on show I will pick just two, the top still wine of the company and one of the quirky ‘for one year only’ wines:
Finca Garbet, DO Empordà, Castillo Perelada, 2004 – the vines for this regular super premium bottling are grown on a reconstructed, terraced, hillside with a slope of up to 42%. It is extreme in other ways too: very poor slate soil like Priorat, high rates of photosynthesis due to sun and its reflection from the Mediterranean sea and the fierce Tramontana north wind which alternately cools and humidifies the vineyard as it comes over the sea. In this place Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grow at excruciatingly low yields: 400g per plant or just 15hl/ha. The result is a balanced wine of great intensity, a super rich nose of black fruit, refined oak, herbal and mineral notes with a complex, mouth-filling palate with fine, soft tannins. 14 months in new French oak produce a sleek finish to this big, bold wine.
ExEx 7, DO Empordà, Castillo Perelada, 2005 – in this year the experiment was with Monastrell, the Spanish grape variety which is at home much further south in Jumilla and has its most famous expression as Mourvèdre further around the Mediterranean at Bandol. Empordà is roughly half way between these two and Monastrell is not a bad bet here as it tends to do well in warm places near the sea. In fact, given the success of this wine, the DO authorities changed the rules to make it a permitted grape. Perelada went on to build on the success of the experimental wine by producing a commercial wine which is a 60/40 Monastrell/Syrah blend. ExEx 7 opens with a powerful black fruit and graphite combination which is very alluring and this continues on the superbly deep palate. The tannins are powerful but very ripe, giving weight and grip. It may not have the stupendous palate of ExEx 4 2001 (100% Syrah) or the sheer wackiness of ExEx 9 which is a Nero d’Avola/Sangiovese blend. The authorities turn a benevolent blind eye to this version of ‘Garnacha’! But ExEx 9 has a certain restrained, mineral, elegance alongside the powerful black fruit. Excellent.
Delfi smiles when asked what he has coming up in this surprising series. He drops a heavy hint that he is making just 300 bottles of rosé to be matured in acacia barrels and to be sold in just one restaurant. Clearly the experimentation, the creativity and the playfulness are going to continue.