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Details for Escoda-Sanahuja, Nas del Gegant

Conca de Barberà
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AppellationConca de Barberà DO
Cabernet Franc
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Grenache / Garnacha
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Conca de Barberà

This is a small but significant region in Catalonia that ought to be better known, given that two of Spain’s grandest and most expensive wines hail from here: the Torres flagships Milmanda Chardonnay and Grans Muralles red.
This landlocked region lies inland of the Tarragona DO, about 25 kilometres north of the coastal city of Tarragona itself.  Further inland still is Costers del Segre, while to the east, adjoining Tarragona, is the large DO of Penedès.  The region’s limestone soils distinguish it from its neighbours, and it was these that attracted Penedès-based Torres.
At around 500 metres up, nights and winters are cold, but the proximity of the Mediterranean allows sea breezes to ameliorate the hot summer days.  Much of the vineyards here are planted with white varieties destined for Cava, which has its own DO and so doesn’t bear the Conca de Barberà name.  The Cava wineries cluster around Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in Penedès, so Conca de Barberà has relatively few wineries of its own.
Still whites are made largely from the Cava varieties Macabeo and Parellada, but Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have a significant presence too.  Rather less production is red, but these are gaining in importance.  Garnacha and Tempranillo (known here as Ull de Llebre) are most planted, aided by a smattering of indigenous varieties like the red-skinned Trepat which is used for rosés and light reds.  International varieties like Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah are also significant, though less so than in Penedès.


Celler Escoda-Sanahuja are winemaker Joan Ramón Escoda and his wife Mari Carme Sanahuja.  Their 10-hectare estate lies in the Conca de Barberà DO in north-east Spain, about 3km east of the main wine town Montblanc and the same distance south of Barberà de la Conca, Mari Carme’s home village, that gave its name to the DO.
Organic since its foundation in 1997, the estate was certified biodynamic in 2003.  Accordingly it’s a mixed-use farm with only 8 of the 10 hectares planted to vines: the remainder taken up by olive and almond groves; a vegetable garden; and a small farm whose organically-fed animals provide chemical-free fertiliser.  In 2007 they stopped using sulphur dioxide, producing only completely ‘natural’ wines.  All their fruit is hand-harvested and fermented using only wild yeasts, and they don’t filter, fine or cold stabilise.
They produce nine different wines from an eclectic range of varieties, combining international grapes (e.g., Cabernet Franc, Merlot), mainstream Spanish ones (Tempranillo, Garnacha) and lesser-known locals (Macabeo, Sumoll). Escoda’s love of the Loire, where he was introduced to biodynamics, is reflected in two whites made from Chenin Blanc and two red blends based on Cabernet Franc.  Drawings of local fauna – badger, boar and hare – adorn their labels.
JR, as he’s known, also co-founded Spain’s Natural Wine Producers’ Association, PVN, which hosts the annual H2O wine fair exclusively for wines made without sulphites.  His latest project is Bar Brutal in Barcelona, a tapas bar specialising (of course) in natural wines.

about this wine About this wine

I’d like to claim that we’re being really topical by featuring a Catalan wine this week just as Catalonia’s independence referendum hits the world headlines.  In truth our lead times don’t allow us to be quite that responsive; the design for your postcards was sent to the printers more than two weeks ago.  Months back we scheduled this wine for this week because it has a lovely line drawing of a hare on the label, and it’s World Animal Day on Wednesday.
Anyway, the animal theme is particularly appropriate because Celler Escoda-Sanahuja aren’t just organic, they’re biodynamic.  Accordingly the estate is a mixed-use farm with olive groves, almond trees and a vegetable garden, and they raise chickens, sheep and rabbits (organically, of course) which provide natural fertilizer for the vines free from any chemical residues.
Winemaker Joan Ramon Escoda was introduced to biodynamics while working in France’s Loire Valley, where it is practised by many of the top estates.  Inspired by Loire reds, this wine is made from an eclectic mix of international and local varieties: Cabernet Franc, Samsó (Carignan), Garnatxa (Grenache) and Merlot.  I’ve used Catalan names where they exist, rather than Spanish ones like Cariñena and Garnacha.
The grapes come from various parcels grown on limestone and clay soils between 450 and 600 metres altitude, from vines between 15 and 33 years old.  No chemical treatments are used and the vines are unirrigated.  Grasses and wild flowers are allowed to grow between the rows: another biodynamic requirement aimed at maintaining a soil rich in humus and microroganisms, that also usefully retains moisture in this dry climate.
2013 was a very good vintage in the region, with a wet spring that replenished the water table after three dry years and a cooler than usual summer that allowed the grapes to ripen more slowly and for longer.  The grapes were hand-harvested into small baskets to prevent damage to the fruit.  Back at the winery they were meticulously sorted by hand, and any less than perfect fruit was discarded.  After destemming and crushing they were fermented in concrete tanks using only wild yeasts at ambient cellar temperature.  Fermentation lasted a week and the wine was then pressed.
Previous vintages of Nas del Gegant were aged entirely in stainless steel, but Joan added clay amphorae to the cellar in 2013.  Half of this vintage was aged in them for nine months, the other half in steel, before blending and bottling without fining or filtration.
This is a completely ‘natural’ wine, so there’s one more essential thing to say about the winemaking.  No sulphur!  Sulphur dioxide is winemaker’s Dettol, liberally added at almost every stage of winemaking as a disinfectant, antioxidant and preservative: to suppress wild yeasts and other micro-organisms, to aid in extraction of compounds from the skins, to stop fermentation for wines that aren’t going to be fully dry, and perhaps most importantly, to preserve wine in the bottle.
Our previous almost-natural wines like Mother Rock Rosé, Sus Scrofa, and Itata Tinto all did without SO2 except at the bottling phase: this one bans it completely.  That also includes in the vineyard: spraying with copper sulphate solution and dusting with elemental sulphur are allowed even under organic regulations, but they haven’t happened here.
Instead of the normal “contains sulphites” warning (some unfortunate souls have an allergic reaction to them), the corner of this label proclaims in Catalan: “Conté sulphits no afegits” (contains no added sulphites) and also “<5mg/l SO2 total”.  It isn’t quite zero because some sulphur compounds occur naturally in grapes.
The downside is that this wine should not have the protection against spoilage and oxidation that most wines enjoy, with their total SO2 levels typically between 50 and 200 mg/l.  Yet many natural wines defy the scientific orthodoxy and remain delicious for a decade or more.  Natural winemakers have other approaches to resist oxidation, such as long lees contact.  But they all claim that the foundation is healthy soil and healthy grapes.

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