Yes, we’re still touring – and enjoying Spain’s geography, culture, cuisine and wines. This week on our virtual tour we’re leaving the coastal regions and heading inland.
With every step we take into Spain’s past, literally and figuratively, we find a bright and exotic present. From the blending of old and new architecture to the revitalization of the wine industry, Spain continues to rise in esteem throughout the world, a direct reflection of its ancestral roots of the 15th and 16th centuries and the Age of Exploration, when Spain dominated the Western Hemisphere.
On our virtual tour we leave Barcelona and head toward the foothills of the Montsant and Priorato regions. Priorato is the smaller of the two regions; in fact, it is surrounded by the Montsant region, making it difficult at times for our virtual GPS to know in which region we are traversing. We are traveling to the heart of Priorato on this trip, justifiably considered one of the top wine regions in all of Spain.
Soon we notice the landscape changing as steep terraces loom in the near distance. The vines planted here appear as long wavy rows, undulating up and over the hilltops, giving the impression of rows of camouflaged soldiers in strict military formations. (A great photo op.) These terraces enjoy abundant sun and a unique slate soil that infuse the grapes with great body and strength.
The dominant grape variety is Garnacha, followed by Cariñena, with an uncharacteristic smattering of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot used for balancing the intense fruits and rough edges of the Garnacha. The wines are deep purple in color and full-bodied, with flavors of plums and blackberries, not to mention alcohol levels ranging above 13 percent.
Why have these wines become so highly regarded? It’s all about time and place. Today, the newest generation of Spaniards, the EU generation, has a sophisticated view of life and their place in the world. They have transformed their homeland. No longer is Spain a self-centered, quixotic nation of tumultuous politics, civil war and agrarian economics. Instead, they have catapulted their homeland to the forefront of new age cuisine, art, architecture and wine making, all the while retaining their unique heritage, masterfully blending the best of the old and the new. If only they could solve their nation’s ongoing economic woes.
This new-age sensibility on winemaking is most evident in the Priorato region. Long a sleepy wine region, the EU generation has transformed the Priorato into a highly regarded wine appellation. By looking outward, they have incorporated the best equipment, practices and techniques that are prevalent in global winemaking, including a revitalized respect for the land. The Priorato region now produces some of the most sought after wines in Spain. The young winemakers have embraced the land’s unique soil and climate, while retaining the widespread plantings of old vines. From this base they are producing wines of intense flavors and balance.
Here are examples of Priorato wines available locally. At the high end are Clos Erasmus, Mas Doix and Clos Mogador, selling above $60. (Notice the French-sounding names; the young winemakers received their education at the best French schools and wineries and these names distinguish them from the old-world winemakers) These are blockbuster wines that won’t reach their greatness for at least five years. For wines at the popular “under $20” price point, try La Cartuja ($19), Conreria d’Scala Dei ($15) and Solanes ($19).
The wines of the greater Montsant region are also noteworthy, having characteristics similar to Priorato wines. Try Clos Dels Codols ($17), Cellar de Capcanes selections (from $20) and one of my favorite blends, Can Blau ($14).
As I write this column a time-worn phrase comes to mind: “Everything old is new again.” In the Priorato region, the winemakers have embraced this maxim and the results are far better than the wines of “the good old days.”
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.