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I was a little bit drunk.
I was a little bit drunk because of an overdose of scenery; trellised vines gently flowed down the hillside towards pale petrol lakes; tiny towns with red-tiled rooftops stood proudly beside orchards carpeted by scarlet poppies and a forest cleaved by a Biblical wall of water was almost too much for my wide eyes to absorb.
I was a little bit drunk due to being in the company of culinary artisans, whose eyes twinkled passionately as they described their own particular speciality, and a most amenable group of fellow travel bloggers who ate up the experience, and the food, with equal measures of enthusiasm.
I was a little bit drunk because I’d spent the afternoon quaffing wines that waltzed my tastebuds into a delirium… and now I had three half full glasses of varying types of wine and liqueurs in front of me.
The last time I’d experience quite such a moment was also in Catalonia and also on a blog trip; at the Celler Martín Faixó just outside of Cadaques.
Not all vineyards weave as potent a magic spell; it requires a special mix of ingredients and Raül Bobet’s Castell d’Encus near Tremp has them by the fairy dust load.
The location is the stuff of dreams; an artistic masterpiece of a backdrop that makes the hint of red berries and aroma of jasmine in the pinot noir at Castell d’Encus that little bit more intense. This is probably more than my senses being seduced by the surroundings, the Catalonian climate at this altitude (somewhere between 850 and 1000 metres) does enhance the quality of the wine.
What also had me feeling relaxed to the point that I could swirl into a wine glass as easily as the vineyard’s mellow yellow sauvignon blancs and velvety violet syrahs, is the fact that Raül and the people who work with him at Castell d’Encus are as down to earth as the grapes they lovingly nurture. They lack pretension and don’t mince their words; I feel comfortable with people who are honest and direct.
At one point when I tilted the wine in my glass to check its legs (the film that sticks to the side of the glass) Raül gently chided me.
“It’s rubbish when people say that’s a way to check the quality of wine,” he laughed. “All it indicates is alcohol content.”
As well as magic, there is a sense of living history at Castell d’Encus where, in the 12th century, it was Hospitaller monks who created the wine, fermenting grapes in deep hollows carved into the stone. It’s a practice Raül still employs.
Fine wine feels at its most social when it has good food on its arm and the cream of local artisans had decorated a table with an array of local goodies. The display of traditional products looked so enticing that there was a danger it could have caused a reaction akin to Homer Simpson stumbling over a treasure chest filled with doughnuts. It was one of those culinary moments that has you metaphorically rubbing your hands together whilst chanting the mantra ‘where to start? where to start?’
Amidst the ‘MMMMM’ inducing secallona (dried pork sausage), olive oils, jams, veal carpaccio, goats’ cheeses and cocas (a rectangle of pastry with various savoury toppings) was a revelation and a culinary link to the land of my birth.
As I bit into girella, a burger-shaped piece of meat made from lamb and rice, I was transported from the poppies and the vines to a hillside clad in purple heather where the haunting skirl of a bagpipe battled the wind for dominance.
“That tastes just like haggis,” I blurted out, taken by total surprise.
“It is just like haggis,” a woman beside me clapped her hands, seemingly pleased with the observation. “You can only find this type of dish here and in Scotland.”
A haggis burger in Catalonia, who’d have thought? It made Catalonia seem even more attractive.
Time took the rest of the day off as we ate our way through a fantastical feast and made a serious dent in Raül’s wine stock, drinking from magical glasses that were never allowed to empty. I gorged myself on an exquisite experience, becoming more and more deliciously intoxicated as Tremp’s mayor demonstrated pa amb tomáquet and Pere from Formatges Vilavella described how to make orange flavoured goats’ cheese. At some stage, glasses of sweet Ratafia dels Raíers, flavoured by walnuts herbs and spices, joined the party and then a fruity liqueur gate-crashed as well which is how I ended up with three glasses in front of me.
Serious wine tasting had become a thing of the distant past. By mid afternoon we were simply enjoying the company of people who had made us feel like members of their extended family.
I was enjoying an ‘all is well in the world’ moment when the woman who’d told me about the haggis burgers appeared at my shoulder with a bottle of yellow liquid.
“You haven’t got a glass of this,” She nodded at the drinks in front of me. “try some.”
I looked at the different coloured alcohol soldiers lined up on the table and smiled.
“Por que no, why not?”
I was a little bit drunk and I was firmly entrenched in Lou Reed territory. I sat back in my chair under a warming Catalonian sun and smiled. What a perfect day.
Although our experience was something of a one-off, anyone can (and should) visit Castell d’Encus. Visiting hours are 11am to 3pm on Friday and 11am to 2pm on Saturday and can be arranged through the vineyard’s website. As for the local products these can be picked up in shops around Tremp and in some cases directly from the producer. The Al Teu Gust website shows who and where.
Buzz Trips was a very merry guest of the Catalunya Tourist Board at Castell d’Encus
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+
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