Archive for November, 2008

Priorat & More Tasting Notes

Monday, November 24th, 2008

WOW! In a nutshell, that was the reaction to one of the wines at our recent tasting; it was simply stunning, in my opinion, the best under $50 wine we have in the shop. But first, some context….

This past Tuesday’s tasting featured 4 red wines from Northern Catalonia, centered around Priorat and surrounding regions. Priorat is about an hour and a half southwest of Barcelona, in the northeast corner of Spain. It’s gorgeous, rugged country, up in the mountains with some of the curviest, narrowest roads you’ll find anywhere; I traveled there a few years ago when I was working for a wine importer, and was struck by how remote and cut off it seemed. There’s a huge contrast between the rustic small towns of Gratallops and Porrera and the gleaming new wineries being built….I’m sure the towns won’t stay rustic for too much longer.

Priorat is a rising star of Spanish wines; the region has been growing grapes for centuries, but only in the last 25 years did modern winemakers discover the area and the huge potential of its old-vine (many more than 100 years) Carignan and Grenache. Old vines and very low yields (due primarily to the infertile soil and lack of rain) make for some wines of real character; big and full-bodied, yet with great acid, minerality, and structure. For the tasting, we tasting 4 wines from Priorat and a couple of surrounding regions.

Celler El Masroig 2007 “Sola Fred”, Montsant
Montsant is right next to Priorat, sharing the same elevation and climate, but without the distinguishing llicorella (reddish slate that reflects and conserves the heat; makes the vine roots dig deep for nutrients) soil that makes Priorat so special. As such, it’s often a great value, with wines costing less than half of those from Priorate. This wine was made from 90% Carignan & 10% Grenache from relatively young (20-30 year old) vines. Carignan is a grape known for both high acid and high tannins, and this wine had both. Juicy fruit, nice balance, not super complex but very enjoyable. It’d really shine with a steak to soften and round out the tannins a bit. Nice value at $11.95. (90 points Robert Parker)

Tomas Cusine 2006 Vilosell, Costers del Segre
Costers del Segre is a fairly new Denominacion de Origin in Spain; consequently there’s more interantional varietals (Cab, Merlot, Syrah) planted alongside Grenache and Carignan, and generally very modern winemaking. This wine is a blend of 50% Tempranillo, 30% Cab, 12% Grenache, and 8% Merlot. Super smooth compared to the Masroig; very polished and refined, with juicy strawberry and black fruit flavors, some spicy toast from the oak aging, and nice structure. A beautiful wine, especially for the price ($19.50) Great packaging, too.  (91 points Robert Parker)

Alvaro Palacios 2005 Les Terrasses, Priorat
Palacios is one of the pioneers of Priorat, and easily its most famous winemaker. His L’Ermita is considered one of Spain’s top wines (also one of its most expensive at $650 a bottle); he makes another single-vineyard wine called Finca Dofi (which we carry; $84.95), and the Les Terrasses, which is made from purchased fruit. He pays up to three times the going rate for grapes, so he gets the cream of the crop. This is a blend of roughly 45% Grenache, 45% Carignan, and 10% Cab. I’ve loved Palacios’ wines for years, so I was excited to taste the current vintage. Dark fruit, smoke, licorice, mineral, oak, this wine has it all. It was a little shut down now; I think it will be great in about 3-4 years. Aimee and I had a 1999 out of magnum a month ago, and it was drinking beautifully. For drinking now, it definitely needs decanting. ($39.50; 93 points Robert Parker)

Mas d’En Compte 2005 Priorat

This wine stole the show; it’s simply phenomenal. I tasted it a few months ago and liked it so much I bought everything the distributor had (about 9 cases), so our shop is the only place you’ll find it. So, I had high expectations for it, and it surpassed them, tasting even better now with a few months more age. 50% Grenache, 45% Carignan, 5% Cab; all the Carignan & Grenache is from vines 60-100+ years old. Brighter fruit than the Les Terrasses, but lusher and richer while still remaining elegant. A whole panopy of fruit, a bit of chocolate, licorice, spice. Mouthfilling, yet clean, and incredibly persistent, lingering on the palate and getting even more complex. Absolutely delicious now; will easily age will for another 6-8 years. ($44.95, 94 points Robert Parker)