Okay, we find ourselves once again cruising along in the imaginary Canary-yellow Fiat 500 convertible, following the Winedar. We are heading about 70 miles south of Barcelona to the sea side town of Tarragona, where we’ll head inland for another 15 miles or so to Vilella Alta.
We are in the Priorat DOC, one of the worlds most unique wine areas. It is completely surrounded by the Montsant DO. It is one of only two DOC’s in Spain, the other being Rioja. Remember DOC means you are getting top-tier wine. One of the very few world-class wines based on Grenache, wines from here have been raised from almost complete anonymity to being some of the worlds most expensive bottles.
What drives the cost? Yields! Spain is very dry, and Priorat is one of the driest, warmest areas in Spain. The dryer the terroir, the lower the yields, and the lower yields generally mean better quality. Couple the dry climate with poor soil and old vines, and you get an expensive, good tasting wine. The soil is Llicorella, a free draining, nutrient-poor soil made of partially decomposed slate and quartz. Llicorella is the Catalan name for slate.
Although wines from Priorat seem to be a new phenomenon, wine production here goes back to the 12th century where Monks (God bless the Monks) of the Carthusian Order established the Priorato Dei Scala Dei Monastery. Ruins of the monastery can still be seen today, and of course the vines still hug the hillsides.
The monks managed the vines until the state took control in 1835. At the end of the 19th century Phylloxera wiped out most of the vines, bringing economic ruin and large scale emigration from the area. Bulk cheap wine was the thing from 1954 to 1984 when the locals made the switch to quality wine.
Much of the wine development in Priorat wine can be credited to Rene Barbier and Alvaro Palacios. Barbier was a winemaker working for the Palacios family making Rioja. He saw the potential and bought some land in 1979, then he convinced the Palacios family to invest and plant new vineyards in 1991. The area became a DOC in 2006.
Our wine comes from Bodegas Mas Alta, a joint venture started in 1999 between owners Michel and Christine Vanhoutte, Rhone Negociant/ winemaker Michel Tardieu, and Enologist Philippe Cambie.
The wine is a red blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French Oak on a 16 month rotation of 35% new barrel, 30% 1 year old barrel and 35% two year old barrel, there is a method to the madness!
Okay, the tasting notes from the vineyard say the wine was blood red, but my eyes have to disagree. The color is a deep purple, very pleasing to the eye, and opaque. The nose is rather opaque too. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the wine or my cold, but I’m going to blame the cold. I did get a very nice mineral nose with the red fruit aromas. The taste was okay, to be honest I was disappointed, for the cost of the wine $25, I had expected more.
Possibly I should have benched myself, or put myself on the two week DL (Disable List) drinking wine with a cold stupid and possibly a wasted of time and money. Plus, I’m in a bit of a slump, I haven’t picked a wine that has wowed me for weeks now.
For now I’m going to just relax, kick back and see where the remainder of the bottle takes me. Try some wine from Priorat and let me know what you think.
I have enjoyed great health at a great age because everyday since I can remember I have consumed a bottle of wine except when I have not felt well. Then I have consumed two bottles.
~A Bishop of Seville Baron