THE roomful of people was rapt at attention when I walked in. I had come late for the presentation of the wines of Scala Dei and the tutored winetasting that came with it. We’re already into the second wine, whispered Isay Miranda, Chateau and Estates Wine manager for Premier Wine and Spirits, as she handed me a glass of the Scala Dei Garnatxa 2015—the first wine. Fresh, juicy, 100-percent Garnacha—I scribbled in my notebook. And then I caught the words “slate and clay soils” from the winemaker, as he talked about
the second wine that everyone (except me) was already drinking.
When I did finally taste the Scala dei Prior 2014 and the Scala dei Cartoixa 2013 that came after, I knew the reason for the tremor of anticipation in the room every time a bottle was opened and poured. The wines were stunning, with amazing intensity and grace. And Ricard Rofes, the winemaker, had a compelling story to tell.
Cellers Scala Dei in Priorat (Spain) was founded in 1163 by Carthusian monks who first cultivated grape vines in the region. Scala dei, Latin for “ladder of God”, is an allusion to the terraced vineyards on the slopes of Mount Montsant, at the foot of which the monks had built their monastery. The vineyards are in different plots of mainly Garnacha with Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah scattered over numerous sites in altitudes ranging from 400 meters to 800 meters on the mountain of Montsant.
The winery is now owned by four families and Grupo Codorniu (which also produces cava Codorniu), which assumed management in 2000.
Though now modernized, the winemaking facilities are still housed in the ancient buildings used by the monks. Production is small—250,000 bottles were produced last year, including the 4,000 bottles of Scala dei Masdeu 2013 and the 2,000 bottles of Scala dei Sant Antoni 2013, both wines made solely from old-vine Garnacha.
When Rofes talked about the wines, he also mentioned the growing environment of the vines: the soils, the climate, the altitude at which the vineyards are situated. Fruit for the Masdeu 2013 came from a single vineyard with slate and red clay soils 800 meters in altitude. Garnacha for the Scala dei Sant Antoni 2013 came from plots with slate and limestone, 600 meters up the mountain. The grapes for the Sant Antoni were harvested in three pickings in consideration of exposure to the sun that affected the ripeness of the grapes. We let nature do its work. With Rofes, the intricacies of winemaking make a fascinating story.
The Masdeu had spicy, smoky notes over ripe black fruit. The Sant Antoni was earthier, bolder, with savory-dried herb-dried fruit aromas and a finish that went on and on. There’s magic when two wines made from the same grape taste so different. And there’s the gifted winemaker who makes it possible.
THE wines of Cellers Scala Dei are imported and distributed by Premier Wine & Spirits Inc.: Gate 2, Tabacalera Compound, 900 N. Romualdez Street, Paco Manila, Philippines. (632) 524-2839, 524-2117, 524-2165.