From a backwater in southern
Catalonia, Priorat took its rightful place on the world wine map in the early 90s.
Its meteoric rise to fame was propelled by low yielding, old Carineña and Garnacha
vines clinging precipitously to ancient slate slopes. The best producers
including Mas Doix, Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbier were making wines that
were turbo-charged: rich, ripe and powerful yet zinging with vibrant acidity.
But its rapid ascent to fame
created growing pains: the region has struggled to define what makes Priorat
Priorat while overzealous winemaking and the inclusion of international
varieties has led to a regional identity crisis.
Fortunately, Priorat has nature on
its side: its distinctive llicorella slate soil limits yields and provides these
Mediterranean-climate wines with a distinct mineral freshness. Combine this
with the extreme fluctuations in temperature between day and night and, an
extremely dry, sunny climate, and you have the potential to produce rich yet
We talk to Mais Doix’s founder Valenti Llagostera on Priorat’s identity crisis, the more
terroir-specific focus of a new generation of Spanish winemakers and the soon to
be released 2016 vintage, one of the best vintages Priorat has seen in this
Priorat: Troubled times
The timing of Priorat's emergence
as a fine wine producer could be the source of some of its nascent troubles:
its renaissance coincided with the heyday of Robert Parker and a global demand
for reds with masses of new oak, super-ripe grapes and intense extraction to
maximise colour and tannin. It wasn't just the winemaking
trends of the nineties that saw Priorat become the most intense, powerful and
overbearing wine in Spain. Valenti Llagostera, founder of Mas Doix explains
that it had long been a supplier of bulk wine and a blending partner to bolster
weaker wines from cooler climates adding concentration, power and alcohol.
Lacking a tradition of fine wine
making, the idea of what a Priorat wine should be was fluid. Consequently, it
became a region producing many different styles, leaving the wine drinker confused.
Llagostera adds that the region had a real inferiority complex with many growers
believing if the wine wasn’t big, powerful and as intense as possible, it
wasn’t Priorat. This mentality also led to the
incursion of international varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah were
planted, in a bid to emulate the success of Bordeaux and the Rhône.
From the Industrial to Artisan
Industrial-like estates, predominantly
based in Rioja, have not been interested in reflecting a specific place but
rather more focused on producing a homogenised house style with grapes sourced
from as far as 300km away going into the same wine. This approach
is therefore completely at odds with a more terroir-specific approach. It is
common for older vines to be uprooted to maintain high production levels and
wines undergo lengthy periods in oak barrels to create greater homogenity. "Spanish
wines made in this way are more about a process than a place," according
to Luiz Gutierrez, The Wine Advocate's critic for Spain.
Of course this
homogenised style proves incredibly popular: Rioja remains one of the most
successful wine exporters thanks to its reliability and high volumes offering value
for money. However, wine lovers have become increasingly discerning; there is
more demand for wines with a sense of place whether they hail from a plot of
old vines or from an indigenous variety.
Priorat’s move towards a fresher
more elegant style is part of a wider movement in Spain that has been described
as a revolution by a younger generation of vignerons who have actively rejected
the larger estates homogenised approach to winemaking.
Producers are focused on producing
unique wines with a strong sense of place, whether it be the saline-rich,
volcanic soils of Tenerife to the high altitude mountain vine Garnacha from the
Gredos Mountains, or the incredibly vibrant taught perfumed wines of Ribera
The intensely concentrated yet
minerally wines of Priorat should fit into this more terroir-driven movement. The
unique slate soil, Priorat's mountainous landscape and old vines meant that it
was not possible for the region to become a Rioja lookalike. The trend toward
fresher, more mineral wines aligned with a move back towards the indigenous
varietals of Carieñena and Garnacha has allowed the region to experience a
second coming. Could Priorat be on the verge of discovering its true self?
Will the real Priorat please stand
Llagostera feels there is plenty
of room for experimentation in search of the true identity of Priorat. The team
at Mas Doix is carrying out many trials including ageing wines in amphora, maturing
Garnacha in larger barrels to avoid oxidation and fermenting in wooden vats to
achieve greater textural sophistication.
There are also more radical
approaches: German native Dominik Huber of Terroir-Al-Limit doesn't destem his
reds instead practicing whole bunch fermentation, leading to an intensely fresh
style. Huber believes it required a generational change before Priorat could
find its new identity. Despite the varied stylistic interpretations, the goal
is to better understand Priorat's voice not disguise its raw beauty.
This is one of the best vintages
in Priorat - up there with 2013 and 2010, according to Llagostera. The stable weather throughout the harvest meant that nature did not
force their hand to pick. As a result, it was the longest harvest for Mas Doix.
The wines offer a perfect combination of fruit, freshness and tension. Showing
beautifully in its youth, it has the componentry to mature gracefully over the
2016 Doix, Priorat
colour with wonderfully ripe black fruit aromas that don’t offer a hint of
sumarité, this has astonishing pristine fruit character, allied with a dry stone
minerality. On the palate the fruit is very much on the fresh spectrum- fresh
blackberry fruit, violets, licorice and vanilla bean. A tensile freshness gives
the wine real focus and direction and beautifully contrasts with the ripe
fruit. This is dense, juicy and glossy with silk-like tannins that are
deceptively structured and provide incredible breadth on the palate.
2016 - 1903 Grenache, Priorat
Bright ruby red colour with slightly muted but clean aromas of dry spice and subtle herbal
notes. On the palate it bursts with fruit, tons of fresh red cherry, strawberry
and redcurrant flavours with fantastic delineation. The tannins are dense but
fine and very elegant. There is tremendous precision, lovely tautness and
mouthwatering freshness, which is quite incredible for 100% Garnacha. The
minerality shines through providing wonderful tension on the finish.
2016 - 1902 Carinena, Priorat
1902 you understand the domination of the Carinena in the Doix cuvee. The
structure, direction and energy it provides on the palate is incredible. The
1902 shares a similar profile turned up to another level, whilst remaining
beautifully tensile, delineated and focused. The fruit profile is broad from
primary concentrated blackberry, raspberry fruits, to cured meats and floral violet
notes to more scorcheed earth savoury minerality. The depth is outstanding, complimented
by lift, energy and intensity. This is exceptional!