The recent passage of Alvaro Palacios for the 14th of Montréal Passion Vin, gives a good excuse to devote a few lines to perhaps one of Spain’s most important wine producers. For me, he is a wine superhero, because he brought back from obscurity an important wine appellation called Priorat. He also was a main protagonist in the revival of El Bierzo appellation. In 1998, he and his nephew, Ricardo Perez started a wine collaboration in Corullon, Bierzo. Alvaro is also doing significant work in Rioja with the bodega of his family, Palacios Remondo. In this post, I will devote some time in his work in the Priorat. In later post, i will cover his work in Bierzo and Rioja.
In 1989, Alvaro Palacios arrives in Gratallops along with a group of local producers with the objective of revitalizing this area that has among other things, a mystical past and licorella soils.
What is this mystical background of Priorat?. The first winery in Priorat, Scala Dei was founded in 1163 by Carthusian monks, who introduced vine-growing in the region. The name “Priorat” comes from the Latin word “Prior,” the head of the Carthusian monastery founded in the village of Scala Dei. The monks pretty much developed viticulture for 6 centuries. Their legacy can be seen in the strong wine culture of the region today.
Around the town of Gratallops, we can find the vineyards of L’Ermita, Dofi and other parcels of their property. These vineyards are situated in high slopes. Their soil types are characterized by a type of slate called pizarra. This soil characteristic combined with the great luminosity ( 3000 hours of sunlight per year) that the region receives, gives the wines great mineral expression and generous structure.
When phylloxera hit in the early 20th century, wiping out most of the region’s vineyards, Priorat was steadily depopulated and remained in a kind of medieval torpor until a small band of young, enthusiastic, and intensely ambitious wine makers set up shop in the hilltop village of Gratallops in the late 1980s.
Rene Barbier, Jose Luis Perez, Daphne Glorian, and Alvaro Palacios worked together out of the same barn-like winery, experimenting with different varietals and blends and bottling wines under their own labels. Combining ancient vines of Garnacha and Carignan with more recent plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, these young vintners (only Barbier and Palacios came from wine backgrounds) started producing wines of astonishing complexity and power. Outside Spain’s DO (roughly like France’s AOP or Italy’s DOP) system, these early efforts had to be labeled simple vino de mesa (table wine)
Then the DO authorities tasted the wine. They right after offered all four winemakers unconditional DO status. In 2001, Priorat was elevated to DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada), one of only two such appellations in Spain, the other being Rioja.
Las Meninas of Diego Velázquez
I had the pleasure of meeting Alvaro Palacios in 2003, way back when I was living in Spain. It was in the IV Jose Penin wine salon of the best Spanish wines. I remember him as a very candid man, full of energy and exuberance like his wines. At that wine expo, I had a chance to taste all of his wines, including the epic and divine L’ermita. Yes, divine, because no words can describe the sensations and feelings that this godly nectar gave me. Up to this day, I carry the souvenir in my heart. However, divinity carry a hefty price. L’ermita retails internationally up to $1000. Not only you need to have the deep pockets to afford it, but also you need to find it. The allocations are quite small.
Although well-known by the most arduous wine collectors in Quebec and the rest of Canada by his high-end cuvees in Priorat, he stills remain a relatively unknown figure for a lot of amateur wine drinkers. It is quite a shame, since Alvaro Palacios has been turning some brilliantly made wines since the last two decades. Some of his wines are quite affordable and the local media should give him this personage more attention He is one of the protagonists of Spain modern wine era.
The Wines of Alvaro in the Priorat.
Finca Dofi 2001. ( Tasted at the IV Edition of the Best Spanish wines in Madrid 2003)
( Low yields of 20 hectoliters per hectare, Aged in 100% new French oak. A blend of 60% Grenache, and the rest Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot )
Deep opaque purple colour. Nose quite austere but revealing with time in the glass, a breathtaking breadth of minerality. In addition, ethereal flower nuances with ripe black fruit and Szechuan pepper. In the mouth, full body with a fresh acidity. Powerful but well balanced. Ripe tannins. Finale a bit woody but showing great persistence. Should be at its prime now, but can hold its own another 5-7 years. 95\100
Finca Dofi 2009. Code SAQ : 00705764. Price: $64.50
( 60% Grenache, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Manual grape selection. Fermented and aged in french oak barrels for 18-21 months Farmed in biodynamic culture)
Complex nose. Fine aromas of oak, raspberry red fruit with a distinctive mineral profile and notes of black truffles and morilles mushrooms. In the mouth, full body with an perfect balance. Silky tannis. A wine with a lot of potential, in a dumb phase at that moment. Drink now or keep over the 20 years. 97\100.
Camins del Priorat 2012. Code SAQ: 11180351. Price: $25.90 for the 2013 vintage.
( 40% Garnacha, 25% Samsó, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 7% Merlot. Harvested grapes are destemmed and sofly crushed. Fermentation occurs in a mix of stainless steel, cement and large wooden vats. Ageing follows for 8 months in barrels and wooden vats)
Brilliant dark purple. Thick tears on the glass. The nose displays a rich mineral background intermingled with animal and licorice nuances. In addition, notes of dry black berries, smoke and black pepper. Also lots of dry flowers. In the mouth, full body with a fresh mouthfeel. Retronasal reminds me of ripe red and black fruits. Lots of dry aromatic herbs as well. Sandy texture with a long aftertaste. Generous finish reminding me of macerated strawberries. Drink now or keep for the next 5-7 years 92\100
Les Terraces 1999. ( Bought in Madrid, Spain. Sept 2002. Price 14.75 EUR in La Vinia )
Intense cherry colour. Oak dominated aromas such as dark chocolate and pastry cream followed by notes of Cassis, licorice, violets and minerals. In the mouth, full body, round with a generous structure. Retronasal flavors remind of rocks kissed by the rain with lots of ripe cherry and blueberry notes. Long in the mouth with a mediterranean aftertaste that remind me of aromatic herbs. Should be drinking now or maybe past its prime. 91\100.
Les Terraces 2004 ( Tasted on summer 2011). SAQ Code: 10931562. Price: $36.25 for the 2012 vintage.
( A blend of estate grown and purchased fruit. Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in 20% new french oak for 1 year).
Deep and racy nose with a perfect fruit structure. No overripeness and oak well-integrated. In the mouth, rich flavors, well balanced wine. Nice freshness and minerality despite 7 years old. A model of harmony. Ample, full of intriguing textures. Ripe tannins enveloping your mouth. Long flavors of violets with red fruit flavors and nutmeg. Drinking well now or keep for another 3-5 years. 93\100.
The wines of Alvaro Palacios were purchased or given by its agent in Quebec, Canada Les Vins Horizon ( firstname.lastname@example.org) for press review.