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Spanish Priorat makes a remarkable transformation

ripening grapes
Priorat is centered in the small town of Gratallops, in mountainous terrain 148 kilometers southwest of Barcelona. It is best approached by traveling the scenic highway along the Mediterranean Sea, until turning west toward Gratallops, about a two-hour drive. Photo courtesy of Google images

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
   

Last year I challenged readers to “Drink What You Like,” while encouraging a move beyond familiar wines to new tasting vistas. To jumpstart this challenge, I am introducing readers to the Spanish wine region Priorat.

Few wine regions in the world have undergone such a remarkable transformation in the past 25 years. One measure of success is underlined with this year’s new wine vintage charts from Wine Spectator (WS), listing Priorat wine along with French Bordeaux, Italian Tuscany and Napa cabernet.

The region has arrived. It is acclaimed for its extraordinary wines, produced from the local red grapes—carinena and garnacha—complemented by cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot varietals common to France. Priorat, with Rioja, are the only two DOC-rated (Controlled Designation of Origin) wine regions in Spain to have gained this highest status in 2009.

Priorat is centered in the small town of Gratallops, in mountainous terrain 148 kilometers southwest of Barcelona. It is best approached by traveling the scenic highway along the Mediterranean Sea, until turning west toward Gratallops, about a two-hour drive.

  grapes-ripening

Unique to Priorat is the dark-brown slate soil “llicorella,” which adds distinctive mineral flavors to the wine. Growing at altitudes approximately 300 to 2,800 feet above sea level and with limited rain, the vines penetrate deeply into the slate to find water. Highly concentrated grapes would not flourish in this hot, arid environment without the significant night-cooling microclimate indigenous to Priorat and the protection offered by Montsant, a long mountain ridge to the northwest that leaves the soil cool and damp.

The transformation in Priorat from ancient to highly sought, cutting-edge wine practices began in 1986, when five innovative winemakers banded together to form clos (vineyards), which developed a new approach to growing, blending and preparing wines for production.

Today this group and its extended family are key wine producers, framing the benchmark for wine standards in the region: Rene Barbier’s Clos Mogador; Alvaro Palacios’ L’Ermita, a highly celebrated wine; Joseph Lluis Perez’s Cims de Porrera, a classic wine at Mas Martinet; Dafne Glorian of Clos Erasmus; and Carlos Pastrana of Clos de L’Obac. Look for these producers to provide exceptional, standard-setting wines for the region. Other notable wineries to consider include: Clos Figueras; Clos Dominic; and Clos Berenguer.

The carinena—or carignan—grape bears a deep-purple color with high tannins and high alcohol. On the palate, it is fruity and spicy. Notably, the old grapes in this region produce rich and high-quality fruit that is a foundation for many of the best Priorat wines.

The other foundation grape is garnacha or grenache, which is well-suited for hot, dry wine regions like Priorat. This grape produces sweet, fruity juice with low tannins, while providing high sugar levels able to produce wines with 15-16 percent alcohol. See winesfromspainusa.com for an easy-to-read update on wine regions, grapes, laws and labels.

Enjoy Priorat wines with hearty stews, grilled vegetables or sausages and barbecued or roasted lamb or beef. In the local region, the wine goes well with braised rabbit and olives.
If you take the plunge, you will not be disappointed with the quality and structure of these well-crafted wines transformed by gifted visionary winemakers. Fortunately, much of the wine produced in Priorat is available; ask your wine dealer.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’
Alvaro Palacios 2011 Les Terrasses, Priorat, Spain, $40: This wine has a ruby-red color with aromas of blackberry fruit and spice on the nose. On the palate, it offers light tannins with blackberry and licorice and a rich, lingering finish. It is an excellent example of the best in Priorat wines. Overall WS score of 93 and No. 26 on WS Top 100 for 2013. Highly Recommended.

Costers del Siurana 2004 Priorat Clos de L'Obac Grenache blend, Priorat, Spain, $49.99: With a medium ruby-red color and aromas of black cherry, black currant and spice, this is a big, well-balanced wine with a long finish.

Clos Figueras 2007 Priorat Clos Figueres Grenache blend, Priorat, Spain, $68.99: A blend of grenache, carinena, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and mourvedre, this wine displays a violet color with aromas of black raspberry, cherry and minerals. Dark berry flavors on the palate with typical Priorat minerality and some floral notes, it offers a nice, gentle finish. This wine will cellar for another six years. Highly Recommended.

Clos Mogador 2008, Priorat, Spain, $90: This wine has a purple color with dark berry and mineral aromas. Black raspberry and cherry flavors mix with mineral overtones on the palate. The rich, long finish has wonderful structure and character. This is an exceptional wine that will cellar until 2020.

Mas Doix 2009 Salanques, Priorat, Spain, $27.99: This wine is a blend of 65 percent garnacha, 15 percent carinena, 10 percent syrah, 5 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet sauvignon aged 12 months in French oak. It bears a deep ruby-red color and aromas of blackberry and cherry with floral and mineral hints and offers highly concentrated flavors of dark berries with a lingering finish.

‘Drink What You Like

In my next article, the focus is on affordable Bordeaux reds.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.

 

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