Celler Alimara, DO Terra Alta

I’m not at all surprised that Celler Alimara, making their wines under the auspices of quality conscious DO Terra Alta, are starting to receive plaudits and medals.


I’m not at all surprised that Celler Alimara, making their wines under the auspices of quality conscious DO Terra Alta, are starting to receive plaudits and medals. You read it first in Cork Talk, folks, and now archived here https://www.colinharknessonwine.com/celler-alimara-terra-alta/#more-‘ !

Indeed, the prestigious International Wine and Spirits Competition, for which I judge (though ill-health kept me away this year) has recently awarded them a clutch of medals. There’s a momentum building around this British owned and largely British worked bodega, that will continue, I’m certain. The philosophy remains in place, the wines continue to represent excellent quality at a correct price. If you see them, buy them!

I’ve recently tasted three samples for the 2017 vintage – two of which were white, one with no oak, indicating that not all Spanish whites need to be drunk when young. This is the vintage after the one when I first tasted their wines, way back in November 2017, when these current wines will have been slowly, and ultimately, rewardingly maturing in the eponymous Alimara Celler! http://celleralimara.com/

Looking back to that bittersweet tasting, I remember only too well that it was during a rather sad and worrying time in, not only our lives, but also in the lives of those of a large number of people in these parts, lucky enough to count themselves friends of Ros and Mick O’Connor. The photo, if you care to look at the above website, shows the range of wines resting on the rather grand oak table in Ros and Mick’s house, where Claire-Marie Soprano and I were ensconced house-sitting for a few weeks, while Mick was very slowly, and ultimately miraculously (with a lot of help from the formidable Ros!), recovering from a life threatening accident. The wines certainly helped to lighten our melancholy mood of the time!

Fortunately, after a few months in two different hospitals and lots of physiotherapy, driven by his doctors and therapists, though more so by Ros(!), Mick is well again, and we are all delighted – but not so much that I want to share these wines with him! Don’t worry, he’s an avid reader of the Costa News, including Cork Talk, so I know he’ll be laughing as he reads this! Mick, it’s just the way my tasting schedule fell, and anyway, I didn’t want to bring back any bad memories – honestly!

So, what of the 2017 vintage from Celler Alimara? Well, firstly, though this wasn’t the order in which I tasted the wines, I’ve already been tweeting about the red wine, Lllumí Negre 2017.

I wrote an article once entitled, 50 Shades of Black, bemoaning (as my family should, though, loyally doesn’t!) my woeful ineptitude when it comes to BBQing, and the wines I would recommend to pair – with somebody else’s BBQ! As it happens, I’ve improved! Too late, unfortunately, for my stepson, now away at Uni, where it is so ingrained in his pshyche that it is normal to have a slightly (very?) burnt flavour to most food, that his offer to make toast for his student flatmates is rarely taken up!

Nowadays, my BBQ food can perhaps best be described as charred! And, to get, at last, to the point, Celler Alimara Negre 2017 has to be the perfect foil, to not only this, shal we say ‘well done’ flavour, but also to meats properly BBQed (Claire-Marie took over!), and indeed roasted! There is, above all, a rich dark brambly fruit delivery to the wine, coupled with a slight, endearing, burnt caramel note, adding some complexity of aroma and flavour. 68% Syrah (don’t you just love Spanish Syrah?!), blended with Tempranillo and Cariñena – it’s a fruit first wine, with gentle acidity and presence on the palate and a long dark fruit finish, that makes you reach again for the glass! Look . it’s BBQ season – go and buy it now!

We tasted the Blanc 2017, made with Garnacha Blanca 55% and the rest Macabeo, with a fish dish – cooked by yours truly, but this time, thankfully, not BBQed! The grapes are hand harvested into 15kg baskets and then stored in the bodega at a chilly 4ºC to preserve the fruit character. They are then de-stemmed and crushed. Gentle pressing follows with the juice being left to settle for 48 hours. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel and the wine is then left for a year on its lees, accounting for the slight creamy texture on the palate.

Fresh acidity, with a little crisp green apple, slightly dominated by citrus lemon notes on the nose and palate. The same blanched almonds are there on the palate along with a touch of wet stone minerality, Nice wine, well priced!

Finally, Senyal Blanc, the top of the range, is my kind of white wine. Elegant on the nose, with presence on the palate, a depth created by its crafting, lemony fruit first with ripe pears, stone minerality and blanched nuttiness, with an oblique reference to wood too. It’s made with 100% Garnacha grapes from vines up to 35 years old – boy, I hope I’m around when these vines reach the half century!

Twice selected grapes (in the vineyard and later on the selection table) are fermented in concrete tanks and 1500 litre oak foudre. The wine rests on its fine lees, with occasional stirring – for that little added creamy texture. We really enjoyed this wine with triangles of creamy Flor de Esgueva cheese for aperitivos and later with a fish stir-fry, which included cod and prawns, with a little jamón Serrano too! Great match!

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Celler Alimara, DO Terra Alta


One of the things I like most about the new British owned and worked bodega Celler Alimara (http://celleralimara.com), is their quite obvious ‘connection’ with the vineyards they work. I’m talking here of their laudable belief in the concept of ‘sustainable wine making’; the soils in which the vines grow; the microclimates involved; the long (that’s 2,000 years!) history of grape growing in the area; and the successful marriage of tradition with modern expertise – a winning formula oft referred to here in Cork Talk.

Another thing I like – their wines! And it’s in their, as yet, small portfolio that you can smell and taste the connection – their wines speak of their terroir as much as they speak of the varieties used.

This fledgling winery is owned by the wife/husband team of UC Davis and WSET educated, Ali and Andy McLeod, with significant input also from Andrew Halliwell, accomplished itinerant (that’s in five continents!) consultant wine-maker. The final team member is Celler Manager, Blanca Polop and together they made their first wines in 2016. I’ve tasted them all, and I’m predicting a big future for Celler Alimara in DO Terra Alta, which may be termed as something of a sleeping giant of a Denominación de Origen.

Celler Alimara have two levels – Llumí, easily accessible wines, representing quality without pretension and suitable for casual drinkers as well as experienced wine types; and El Senyal, small volume, handmade wines with both elegance and depth.

In the more economically priced range, Llumí, there are three wines – a white, a rosado and a red, using, respectively: Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca; Garnacha; Syrah and Tempranillo. If my maths is correct, none of these wines will cost you over 5€ – and believe me, this is a steal!

I first tasted the Llumí rosat (rosad in Catalan) – we were having a red lentil vegetarian dish that night and it seemed appropriate. I was quite right (see and hear it here www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppCnEcitS5U, or just go to Youtube and search Colin Harkness On Wine)! A slightly under-ripe strawberry on the nose (not over-ripe which can sometimes mean a little too much residual sugar in a rosé wine), which follows onto the palate, to be joined by pomegranate and fully ripened cranberries. Will work very well with trout and salmon, fresh tuna too, rare/medium rare.

Llumí Blanc is a blend of Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca. Although Macabeo is widely grown in the rest of Spain, it’s natural home, along with Garnacha Blanca, can really be considered to be Cataluña. The two together work well – a faint green and crisp apple aroma, though a little more forthcoming on the palate, with a lemon freshness and some conference pears coming to join the party with a faint blanched almond reference too. I note also a stony mineral element on the finish – enhancing the overall effect, taking the taster to the vineyard.

The Syrah/Tempranillo combination in Llumí Negre makes this one the stand-out wine of a good threesome. It’s had 6 months in used oak barrels to add some structure and depth, with a marginal contribution to the taste, which is fundamentally about the ripe fruit, with a little earthiness too. Fuller than I expected from a 2016 wine, it crammed the mouth with flavour – indicating both fine vineyard management and top class winemaking, letting the fruit do most of the work!

I just loved El Senyal Blanc – a Garnacha Blanca monovarietal that has clearly enjoyed its six months with its lees in a large oak barrel (foudre)! A big white, with depth of flavour – that’s citrus fruit and banana, skin and fruit, with blanched almonds, and freshly rained upon grey slate and granite minerality! Shellfish, full flavoured fish with sauces too.

El Senyal Negre 2016, whilst drinking very well, is also, I believe, a work in progress – I’d love to taste this wine again in two years, and more! Each of the three varieties in the blend – Garnacha Negra, Garnacha Peluda and Cariñena – are fermented separately in stainless steel, then aged in oak barrels, 20% of which are new. The balance here is perfectly judged – the new oak makes a valuable contribution, but doesn’t steal the show. The older oak gives greater depth to the wine, as well as complexity. The dark brambly fruit is to the fore, with leafy undergrowth notes proving the direct link with the soils in which the 30 yr old vines are grown.

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