Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Old vines in Priorat

Priorat’s harsh climate—long hot summers (above 30ºC) with cool nights (12-14ºC), minimal rainfall, thin top soil and high altitude (vines grow at 300m to 800m above sea level)—is ideal for producing good concentrated wine. And it is the age of the region's vines that gives its wine the ultimate quality.

Grapes were first grown here in the 14th Century by monks—hence the name Priorat. The most widely grown red varieties are Garnacha Noir (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan). Some of the vines are well over 100 years old and each vine only yields about 150g of grapes. (As a benchmark, vines producing good quality wine typically bear about 1kg of grapes and those destined for the entry level tend to have a minimum yield of 2kg per vine). It takes seven vines to produce only one bottle of wine! Wines from such old vines are complex, dense and concentrated. Although alcohol is high—minimum 14.5% but more often 15% or 15.5%—the wine is well balanced with both fruit and savoury characters. With everyone talking about a return to low alcohol wine, Priorat's reds are the perfect reminder that high alcohol wine can be of premium quality as long as it is balanced.

Priorat was the second region in Spain to be awarded DOCa status (the first was Rioja). Most producers are small to medium size, family run and full of passion. Check out the Priorat website to see if any of the wines are available in your country.

My picks include:
Celler Joan Simó Les Eres 2006: 55% Cariñena, 25% Garnacha Red, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon
Torres Priorat Perpetual 2008: Cariñena and Garnacha Red
La Conreria d’Scala Dei Iugiter Selecció 2006: 65% Garnacha Red, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cariñera.

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