A tasting of nine wines from Priorat courtesy of the Cape Winemakers Guild last night and presented by Eben Sadie, who has made wine there since 2001. Shades of Iggy Pop addressing the Freemasons but really worthwhile despite that.
A potted history of Priorat saw it fall dormant as a winemaking region while Franco ruled Spain from 1936 to 1975. As Spain emerged from Franco’s dictatorship, co-ops dominated in Priorat but in 1989, the first independent winemakers arrived on the scene attracted by the old-vine Carignan and Grenache.
These independents introduced new oak and Bordeaux varieties and were soon attracting the attention of Parker and other high-profile international critics. The region saw plenty of outside investment and the area under vineyard grew from 780ha in 1989 to a little under 1 800ha today. Priorat is particularly mountainous and around 40% of the vineyards are now terraced and trellised.
Last night, Clos de L’Obac 2005, Clos Martinet 2007, Finca Dofi 2008, Clos Mogador 2008, Vall Lalach 2006, Clos Erasmus 2000, Manyetes 2006 and two of the wines which Sadie makes in collaboration with German-born Dominik Huber under the Terroir Al Límit label, namely Dits del Terra 2008 and Les Manyes 2008.
How to make sense of Priorat’s rise to fame? The region makes wines which are typical massively powerful (super-ripe fruit and lots of new oak) and it was re-discovered just as this style was most in vogue.
The problem that Priorat currently encounters is that it appears that many of these wines, so impressive when young, are not proving to be particularly age-worthy. Vall Llach 2006 was a case in point – clocking in at 15.85% abv, it’s a blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and spent 14 months in a combination of 225-litre and 300-litre French oak barrels, all new. Incredibly rich but also very developed with malty, nutty notes. It was border-line undrinkable for me, this from a wine that sells for the equivalent of around R600 a bottle.
That’s not to say all the wines disappointed. On the contrary, when Priorat gets it right the wines are undoubtedly big but perfectly proportioned. The fruit expression on Clos Erasmus 2009 ( 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, 15% abv) was just fantastic.
Sadie, however, believes that the time is ripe for a shift towards a more elegant style (he abandoned the use of new oak for foudres in 2005) and Terroir Al Límit were indeed among the wines of the night.
Terroir Al Límit Dits del Terra 2008: 18/20
95% Carignan, 5% Grenache. Grown on slate. Red and black fruit and some floral perfume on the nose and palate. Pure and juicy with a good line of acidity and fine tannins, very persistent on the finish.
Terroir Al Límit Les Manyes 2008: 17/20
100% Grenache. Grown on calcerous soil. Red fruit and spice on the nose and palate. Greater richness and breadth, more gentle acidity relative to Dits del Terra. Fine-grained tannins.