On the Trail at Loxarel
Josep Mitjans and his wife Teresa are the team behind Can Mayol and their registered Loxarel (say "lokes-ah-rel," or "Loe-sha-rel," both are correct) brand. Based in Vilobi del Penedes, an area a bit further south from where the most famous cava houses are based, Loxarel has quickly established itself not merely as a top producer (The Wine Advocate lists them amongst the top three in the zone), but also as a company doing some particularly interesting things with a wide array of products: we think twenty-two wines in all, but even Josep was not quite sure and laughed when I asked him exactly how many wines he makes these days. Josep is a well known tinkerer, someone whose innate creativity and curiosity compel him to do things like recovering his father's antique tractor, which he will use to spray biodynamic preparations in the vineyards. He also has gone fairly deep into the rabbit hole of amphora aged wine, increasing his stable to more than a dozen 1000 liter-capacity, Spanish-made amphorae. Having attended the symposium on amphora-aged wine in Georgia, Josep continues to be a devoted user of these vessels, adapting their usage according to the particular wine he is making.
While I have always been intrigued by Josep's creative whims and his underground, civil war-era cellar (or "Refugi," which is also the name of one of their wines), for this visit I wanted to see more of the vineyards. Though I know their home vineyard they have extensive holdings which were inherited through his wife Teresa's family. These numerous parcels start around 400m above sea level and go up to nearly 800m. That is in fact where we started, driving up in Josep’s Mitsubishi jeep over what seemed to be nothing but rocks and small boulders covering a nearly 30% incline towards the end, which lead us to a vineyard known as El Campo de Futbol. There was in fact a soccer stadium here over a century ago; even small mountain villages need a soccer stadium, right?
Protected by forest all around, this serene, scenic spot is where we enjoyed a mini vertical of MM, a blend of Pinot Noir and Xarel-lo Vermell, a red skinned mutation of Xarel-lo. While the 2009 was richer and creamier, it also showed a chalky austerity at the back end which reminded me a bit of my favorite low to no dosage Champagnes. By way of reminder, Loxarel never adds dosage to their wines; they are all Brut Nature. The 2011, due to the drier vintage conditions, showed a bit more color, a very light coppery pink to partridge eye hue. It had subtle, tangy red fruit flavors as well as the Mediterranean notes of herbs, forest and fennel. To me these are the notes of xarel-lo in the Penedes, subtleties which become all the more striking and apparent when appreciated in situ up in the local mountains: Penedes profundo, te digo!
Over the next hour or so, we headed to various smaller vineyard plots, one for Syrah, some for Merlot and notably a particularly beautiful, narrow, extremely protected north-south facing Pinot Noir vineyard. Given the tree cover all around, the orientation and the 500m elevation, this is a spot that gently ripens Pinot Noir for the MM (and quite possibly for the '999' rose as well). All the parcels we visit have some tree cover adjacent to the vineyard, some have olive trees, another a well-established fig tree.
We returned to the winery to quickly taste and enjoy some steaks which Josep was cooking over vine trunk embers. Teresa put out a cheeseboard which, as usual, had one of my French favorites, Mimolette. Though I was fairly exhausted at this point in the trip, I found it easy to rally again in the comfortable environment, with wines so representative of place and so full of personality. One new standout was a Methode Ancestrale wine, made from Xarel-lo fermented and aged in amphora and then racked into bottles with its un-fermented sugar still present to naturally ferment and create bubbles in the bottle. Delicious stuff! We ended the night with the new 2005 release of the Loxarel "109 Mesos," which is a long (109 months long!) lees aged, non-disgorged bubbly. We have had the 2002 and 2004 in the shop and will certainly have this as well; it's a great wine, full of subtle complexities but so easy to drink as well. Finally, a night cap: 20 year old fortified Garnacha, allowed to reduce and concentrate in a single barrel. This is a sweet wine that Josep keeps around just for family and friends.
Of our Spanish DI's, Loxarel is perhaps the most intriguing in terms of the quality and range of products they produce and the story behind the wines. After several visits here over the years, I feel it is only just now that I am beginning to finally put all the pieces together and realize just how exciting, sprawling, and dynamic a family project this is.