Tarragona was once the capital of the Hispania Tarraconensis province of Rome. The famous Roman road, Via Augusta, connected Cadiz to Tarragona, to Empuries, across to France and eventually Rome. Remnants of this road are still visible today, and it was 1983 when Joan Roca, owner of Avgvstvs Forvm, discovered part of this famous road on his newly purchased lands for his winery.
The road is the inspiration for the winery. Its name spelled in an homage to its Roman roots, the names of their vineyards, plus many of the names for their wines and vinegars concretely manifests this inspiration.
I have to admit, I was myself inspired. Viewing a vineyard on the internet to do research for the visit is one thing, but seeing it in person is quite another. Avgvstvs Forvm has paid attention to every detail on the property to ensure a great experience for those who visit. From the tree-lined road leading to the visitor centre to the beautiful layout of the buildings sitting on the edge of a few of their plots, I felt like I had been swept away on a wine holiday.
As I just alluded, Avgvstvs Forvm takes enotourism seriously. They have a visitor centre which can seat a few hundred people, framed with almost seamless glass on three sides to ensure their visitors are able to not only drink their wines, but drink in the grounds and vines. The centre has a mixture of seating set up in a classroom set up for formal tasting, plus table seatings for four, and a comfortable seating arrangement with Eames inspired furniture for quiet contemplative wine enjoyment.
Marko, who manages their enotourism operations, says they have a busy visitor schedule with a worldwide clientele. He says this is the result of a combination of their international marketing efforts, their worldwide acclaim for their vinegars supported by Georges Barbier , and their work in the Barcelona market.
We also had the opportunity to spend time with Albert Roca, winemaker, and son of their founder, Joan. He took Zoltan and me to their vast barrel room, located under their main wine fermentation facility, which has beautiful artwork done by his sister that pays homage to their Roman legacy. It was an impressive visual, as many barrel rooms maintain a stark concrete, or historical stone walls left unadorned.
We also were treated to seeing their new microvin project, where Avgvstvs Forvm works with single estate varieties they find interesting, creating an exclusive line of low production and high quality wines. We were treated to two of their microvins, Garnatxa and Xarel·lo Vermell, but I’ll get to this part a few paragraphs later. Albert has brought in a young winemaker, Carles, to work with him on the project and also has collaborative assistance from INCAVI, the Catalan Institute of Wine.
One of the more interesting parts of the experience was discovering their vinegars. Albert shared with us their vinegar business happened quite by accident, as his father was producing vinegar for the family until a few chefs got their hands on it. The business grew from there to now, where their line of vinegars are featured by some of the top chefs in the world, and has been selected as one of the ingredients for the Nobel Prize dinner gala. It has become a large business for Avgvstvs Forvm, with a Merlot, Cabernet, and Chardonnay vinegars, plus one special one, Flavivs.
Albert took us to where Flavivs is created, in one of four stone huts located in their Julius Caesar vineyard, near where the Via Avgvstvs road ran through their lands. Flavivs is aged solera style in oak barrels in these traditional stone huts, originally used for shepherds to stay with their flocks. Avgvstvs Forvm only takes a specific amount of vinegar per year from the barrels, and then tops them up to continue the process. Albert says that he hopes his children and children’s children continue the process, and leave a long legacy of special vinegars aged for centuries.
Their website has a lovely selection of recipes created by well-known chefs, using their vinegars. I’m already working on one that involves egg.
What about their wines? Fantastic. Avgvstvs works with native varieties, and also puts a unique spin on imported varieties to create a cadre of special wines. We were treated to their 100% Cabernet Franc, which is only one of five 100% Cabernet Francs in Spain. The honey, violets, and eucalyptus notes are something to behold. Their flagship white wine, Chardonnay, has strength and longevity, and as it is aged in oak, it will last longer in your cellar, untypical for most whites.
The two favourites for me were their microvins. The Xarel·lo Vermell is taken from the rare red Xarel·lo variety, but in a unique twist, it is white in colour. Why is this the case? Watch the video interview above to find out exactly their process which makes this red grape white. I will say this wine is aged in their concrete egg tank, which keeps the lees circulating through its six months of ageing. The other microvin, my beloved Garnatxa, is fruity, light and tasty on the palate, and keeps the distinct Mediterranean minerality of their vineyards, which are first in line to receive her salty sea air as they are three kilometres from the Mediterranean.
I have to admit, I had my first formal vinegar tasting at Avgvstvs Forvm. Other vinegar tastings I’d participated in were more gastronomy-focused with food and wines. Okay, maybe those times were more about the food than the vinegar.
So how do you taste vinegar? Firstly, your vinegar is in a special bottle with an eye-dropper style cap. You draw up a little vinegar, and then you place a small dot of it on the back of your hand. Then you suck the vinegar off your hand like your sucking out a grape through the hole left by the stem. And you enjoy. I was amazed by the explosion of flavour in all four vinegars, but I was especially overwhelmed by the Flavivs. I can see why their vinegars are featured and celebrated the world over.
So what did I take home in my Lazenne wine luggage? Chardonnay and their Garnatxa microvin, plus two of their vinegars, Cabernet and Chardonnay. Dinner experimentations haven’t been this much fun in a long time! I especially enjoyed making a simple Cabernet vinegar reduction for a lovely Catalan goat cheese on lightly grilled bread.
I highly recommend a journey to Avgvstvs Forvm. Their tour is top notch, their wines are amazing, vinegars are spectacular and the views across the vineyards to the Mediterranean is spectacular. They have schedule tours daily at 10, 11:30, 13:00, 15:30, and 17:00. If you have a larger group, it’s best to call ahead and schedule.
You won’t be disappointed. Just make sure you’ve washed your hands prior to the vinegar tasting.