Alvaro Palacios, Spain Superwine hero (3/3)

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This is my last instalment on the work of Alvaro Palacios in Spain. In my previous posts, I covered his work on the Priorat and Bierzo. On this final post, i will cover his recent work in the Rioja. By the way, the timing on this post is perfect. Alvaro Palacios was named man of the year 2015 by the wine magazine Decanter.

After the death of his father in 2000, Palacios took the reigns of his family’s property and winery in Rioja, Palacios Remondo. Like his previous work in Bierzo and Priorat, Alvaro wants to create wines that raise an aesthetic emotion. Here i am quoting the words on his interview by Decanter magazine. According to him, he wants to pioneer a new style of Rioja by grafting Garnacha buds into Tempranillo vines and trellised vines into bush vines.

The Palacios Remondo Estate and vineyards are situated at high altitudes in the eastern part of the region. Alvaro uses mostly Garnacha, which has found its perfect place in Rioja Baja, as the dominant grape in his cuvees. This makes Riojas of a more Mediterranean character.

La Vendimia is a joven style of Rioja. This is a wine that has been aged in a mix of used and new oak tanks, american and french in style for 4 months. This is a blend of 50% Garnacha and 50% Tempranillo. The  grapes are sourced from high altitude vineyards  of 1800 feet. Grapes are organically grown for this and his other wines. Vendimia which means just vintage is the entry level of wine for the Remondo estate.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Palacios La Vendimia 2013. SAQ Code: 10360317. Price: $17.95

Violet and ruby. On the nose aromas of dark plums, raspberry-strawberry jam with touches of eucalyptus, licorice, and
brown iron encrusted earth. On the mouth, full body. Dry with a refreshing acidity. Cool red and black berries flavors
with spices. A touch of garrique. Generous with a good tannic profile. Medium lenght finish. 92\100.

On the other hand, La Montesa is a field blend of 70% Garnacha, 25% Tempranillo and the rest comprising Mazuelo. It is a wine made with a long maceration of 23 days and the wine has been aged in new and used 90% French and 10% American oak barrels. Palacios describes the 2011 La Montesa as ‘a wine that flows velvety smooth.

Voir la photo agrandie du produit. Cette photo s'ouvre dans une visionneuse et peut comporter des obstacles à l'accessibilité.

Palacios La Montesa 2011. SAQ Code: 10556993. Price: $19.95

Concentrated aromas of redcurrants, dry blood with minerals and aromatic herbs. Brings to mind a californian pinot noir In
the mouth, full body, with a crisp acidity and ripe tannins. Silky mouthfeel and very ample in the mouth. Long in the
mouth with an aftertaste that bring to vanilla bean and coffee. Drink now or keep for the 5-10 years. 92\100.

Palacios also makes in the Remondo estate, the wines Plácet Valtomelloso and Propiedad. The former is the only white wine that Alvaro makes in his property. It is made with Viura. Plácet meaning to please. Propriedad is a pure Garnacha made from vineyards ranging from 25 to 90 years of age.  The fruit sourced across five unique vineyards that are represented by five gold stars on the wine’s new label. The unique soil is composed of sediments that stem from the Quaternary Era, consisting of volcanic ophite and sandstone pebbles, quartz and white carbonates. According to Palacios, this is a very special soil that has been making legendary wines for hundred wines. I have not been able yet to taste these two wines, but plan to do so in the near future.

What lies ahead for Remondo in the future?. Palacios have been working for a decade now in a wine called Valmira. This  wine is made from 100% Garnacha grown in a three-hectare single vineyard that bears the same name at Palacios’ family estate in the village of Alfaro in Rioja Baja. Over the last 10 years, Palacios has been busy grafting low bush vines with Garnacha and uprooting the Tempranillo planted in the vineyard. According to him, it will be like a Gevrey-Chambertin in soul and character. It will be problably be like L’Ermita in Priorat or La Faraona in Bierzo. It will be problably carry too a hefty price tag since only 1300 bottles have been made for the 2013 vintage. In an interview for the Drink Business last year, Alvaro has stated that “Garnacha is the queen grape of Rioja Baja – it’s been there for centuries. Producers were wrong to uproot it for Tempranillo in order to make a quick buck,” Will this wine become a timeless classic in the Riojan wine tradition?. Only time will tell, but if it carries the Alvaro signature, more than half of the odyssey is done.

Alvaro Palacios, Spain Superwine hero ( 2/3)

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I continue where I left off on the work of Alvaro Palacios in Spain. On my post of November, I covered the Priorat. On this post, i will cover Bierzo and of a future post Rioja.

Bierzo wine history goes back to ancient Roman times. The Romans colonized Bierzo with the purpose of mineral exploitation. Like they did in other places that they went, they cultivated the vine to fulfill the thirst of the settlements. Pliny the Elder, who perished in the A.D. 79 wrote the earliest references on Bierzo wine.

The Mencía grape is the star here, where it occupies nearly two-thirds of the vineyards. A variety that dominates in northwestern Spain (especially in the Galician DOPs- appellations- Valdeorras, Monterrei, and Ribeira Sacra), Mencía has only recently gained respect as an honorable grape variety. In good hands, it reveals fresh fruity notes, smooth tannins and that elusive reflection of mineral terroir. Although known as a wine that shines well in its youth, yielding fruit driven and accesible wines, some Bierzo producers are demonstrating that with judicious usd of oak it can make worthy cellars. Other grape varieties cultivated in the Bierzo include Garnacha Tintorera, Godello, Doña Blanca, Malvasía, Palomino and, in experimental quantities, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo.

The vineyards in Bierzo are some of the prettiest in Spain and even in Europe. Many are planted in beautiful view-terraces along the steep slopes of the Sil river valley, some with such marked inclination that only mules can be used for the harvest. The soils are a mix from alluvial near the riverbed, to rocky and slate-filled on the higher slopes. The vineyards, which are planted at elevations of up to 1000 meters, enjoy moderate rainfall and, thanks to the mountains that protect them from the winds of the Atlantic, a relatively mild climate.

Much of the region’s fame is attributed to our superheroe, Alvaro Palacios. After succeding in Priorat, he enture with his nephew Ricardo in the Region. However, some sources say that he wanted to start in the Bierzo before the Priorat. However, his success there inspired Alvaro to search again for another challenge, this time establishing a vision in the potential of Bierzo and the area’s primary varietal Mencia.  In 1998, Alvaro and Ricardo, who had just finished studying in Bordeaux, created the te Descendientes de Palacios estate. Purchasing old vine Mencia vineyards, Alvaro and Ricardo revitalized Bierzo in the same way Alvaro did in Priorat. The winery is dedicated to Alvaro’s father, and Ricardo’s grandfather, who passed away in early 2000, once again sourcing inspiration from their families’ long history in Spanish winemaking. 

Petalos del Bierzo is born on several vineyards located on a group of hills of slate in the villages of Corullón, Valtuille, Villadecanes, Parandones and Villafranca del Bierzo. The soils of Corullón are of early cambrian period and of the rest of the villages from Tertiary era: Ferrous Clay with quartzites wnd pebbles.

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This is almost solo varietal of Mencia. The grape makes 95% of the blend with the leftover consisting of 3% white grapes, 2% Alicante Bouschet and other local red varieties

Pétalos del Bierzo is a lovely fragant and aromatic wine. I was impressed by its core aromas of fresh blueberries and blackberries. It also has a sizzling crushed black pepper with violet infusion component that echoes a Syrah from The Northern Rhone in France. In the mouth, it is full body, rich but satiny with ripe tannins. Its retronasal flavors bring to mind fresh mountain herbs with cool mineral nuances that transport you to the hills of Bierzo.

The flagship wine of Alvaro and Ricardo is Corullón. This is an assemblage from old-vine parcels around the town. The estate also produces up to four extraordinary single-vineyard wines: San Martin, Moncerbal, Las Lamas and La Faraona. Each is a distinctive expression of the enigmatic terroir of the Bierzo.

Alvaro Palacios, Spain Superwine hero ( 1/3)

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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 velaquez

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.

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Alvaro Palacios

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 ( vinshorizon@videotron.ca) for press review.