Size & Type
I had the pleasure of devouring the 2016 about 6 months ago over an aged scotch fillet with a friend. A wine of presence and importance. Along with the other Priorats I’ve had from Àlvaro it’s clear he’s got it right in both the vineyard and the winery. After all, to make a wine like the
legendary L’Ermita you need mad skills!
The single-vineyard 2017 Finca Dofí comes from ten hectares that were planted 20 years ago in the village of Gratallops. It’s mostly Garnacha with 8% Cariñena and 1% white grapes that fermented after being destemmed and lightly crushed in oak vats with indigenous yeasts. It matured in large oak barrels (bocoyes and foudres) for 16 months.
There is no trace of oak in the wines, and there are no edges; they all feel sleek and elegant. This Dofí expresses the Mediterranean vintage from this vineyard at 300 to 320 meters in altitude, where the slate has a lot of iron, which turns the soils red and makes round and velvety wines, with flavors of red cherries, cherry pit, nectarines and even blood orange.
The warm soils are compensated by mostly northern exposures. The palate has volume and is juicy, sensual and velvety, with some fine-grained tannins that currently call for food. It makes for a very gastronomical red. There will be a separate bottling from one hectare of pure north-exposition grapes from Dofí, a new wine called La Baixada.
Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate 95 Points
Deep, brilliant violet. An expansive bouquet evokes fresh red and blue fruits, candied licorice, exotic spices and smoky minerals, and a candied lavender note builds in the glass.
Shows impressive depth as well as energy on the palate, offering finely detailed cherry, boysenberry, floral pastille and spicecake flavors sharpened by a hint of smoky minerality on the back half. Youthfully chewy tannins build slowly on a strikingly long, mineral- and floral-tinged finish that shows solid thrust and vibrant lift.
Josh Raynolds, Vinous 95 Points
In conjunction with the Consejo Regulador, Álvaro successfully lobbied for legalisation allowing the naming of wines according to their Village location. Prior to this, a perverse illegality applied, whereby growers were not allowed to use Village names on their wines. There are now 12 legal Priorat Vi de Vila sub-regional village appellations. The first release of such was Álvaro’s 2007 ‘Vi de Vila Gratallops’.
The fruit source is Álvaro’s various holdings in-and-around Gratallops, 8.5 hectares in 10 parcels other than Finca Dofi and L’Ermita. The wine’s composition for the first vintages was roughly 1/3 each of Garnatxa, Caranyena and Cabernet. From 2011, it’s Garnatxa with about 15% old-vine Caranyena and some white. De-stemmed, spontaneous fermentation in open wooden vat, macerated 40 days, 16 months in mid-sized 1-2yo French oak. Unfiltered.
Àlvaro is one of the group of 5 famed ‘pioneers’ who arrived in Priorat in 1989 primed to recover and reinvent the remnant old local Garnatxa of the region. In the intervening 25 years, an enormous transformation has been wrought – not just in the fortunes of Priorat wine, but in the strength and confidence of an entire local community and its economy. Priorat is a wonderful place, old and mystical country of great natural beauty. Its best wines harness this countryness and encapsulate it through the delicacy of Garnatxa, and Àlvaro is its most skilled and subtle exponent. Àlvaro’s wines express Priorat in a regional hierarchy commencing with the two regional wines, Camins del Priorat (younger vines) and Les Terrasses (old costers).
Thereafter, he works mainly in the village of Gratallops, where his bodega is located: there’s a village wine, Vi de Vila Gratallops, and two single vineyards, Finca Dofi and L’Ermita. In 2014, he branched out from Gratallops, purchasing the ‘Aubaguetes’ vineyard in the village of Bellmunt, south of Gratallops across the Siurana valley. Àlvaro’s holdings are a mix of old vine Garnatxa and Caranyena and newer plots of Garnatxa planted to heritage genetic material selected from his best vineyards. These constitute the renewal of ‘the Patrimony of Priorat’ – the continuity of a 2,000 year legacy of constant genetic adaptation. This commitment to a ‘historical’ future in Priorat is an extremely deep one for Àlvaro, resulting from a quarter-century of accretive thought and understanding. Originally, Àlvaro worked with introduced French varieties, along with the others of the group know as ‘Los Closos’ (for each of the 5 originally called their personal project ‘Clos-This-or-Clos-That’ – Clos Dofi, Erasmus, Mogador, Martinet and de L’Obac). The others were very keen on Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot and Àlvaro planted these too. It says much about the definite nature of the Priorat terroir that varieties as disparate as Cabernet and Garnatxa can be meaningfully subsumed by the soil and unified in blends which look utterly Prioratish no matter their composition! However, into his second decade of work in Priorat, Àlvaro came to consider the French varieties a historical mistake and commenced re-engineering his plantings to eradicate the strangers in favour of indigenous Garnatxas, largely taken from the L’Ermita vineyard1 . In Àlvaro’s words, “the music, the poetry, finesse and vibrancy is in the Garnatxa”. L’Ermita has been free of French grapes since 2006, with Dofi and Gratallops being made from pure Priorat cultivars since 2011. Eventually, Àlvaro’s wines will be nearly all Garnatxa, although there will always be a place for some characterful old vine Caranyena.
Alvaro has also been instrumental in introducing the Burgundian “Cru” classification model to Priorat. In 2006, together with respected winemaker Rene Barbier and a few others, Alvaro ventured on what has been called the “Gratallops Projects”. The aim was to identify a collection of the vineyards possessing the best soils with old vines throughout the township of Gratallops, and thus create a tiered appellation system based on geographically determined quality.
The best vineyards, renowned for the quality of their fruit tend to grow on infertile hillsides that face north and east at middle altitudes of around 500m, thus avoiding the burning rays of the sun, whilst at the same time catching breezes from the Mediterranean. Higher than this the soils contain insufficient schist material; while lower down the soils are too fertile and warm for making wines of sophistication. L’Ermita, comes from incredibly low-yielding century-old Garnatxa (Garnacha/Grenache) bush vines on a 60 degree slope of llicorella.
Growing in open-sited, alkaline soils, the old Garnatxa vines typically trained ‘en parra’ (trellis) benefit from a Mediterranean climate with exposure to 4,400 hours of sun per annum; an average yearly rainfall of 467.88mm and their close proximity to the sea, provides a freshness from sea breezes in the height of summer.
Gratallops is situated right in the central part of the DOQ Priorat. The municipality is bounded by the river Siurana to the south and the river Montsant to the west, both of which converge in the south-western end of the municipality. The slopes of the southern half of the municipality are among the most gentle of the area, which makes it one of the most cultivated of the whole DOQ. From a distance, the village looks like a crown of houses nestling on the top of the small hill where it is situated. The silhouette of the village is recognisable from afar, being one of the emblematic skylines of the Priorat.
When originally replanting some parts of the vineyard, Álvaro intoduced some French varietals but since then he considered this a mistake and has undertaken a programme of re-engineering his plantings to eradicate the interlopers in favour of indigenous Garnatxa clones, largely taken from the L’Ermita vineyard. To use Álvaro’s own words referring to Priorat wines, “the music, the poetry, finesse and vibrancy is in the Garnacha”.
Both his ‘Finca Dofí’ and ‘L’Ermita’ vineyards are farmed organically.
The grapes are collected by hand and are all bottled without filtration after being aged in French oak ‘barriques’.
Álvaro’s Priorat wines fully denote the spectrum of tastes the region has to offer in a hierarchy commencing with two regional wines: ‘Camins del Priorat’ and ‘Les Terrasses’. This is followed by the first (of nine) of the recently legalised village-level Priorats: ‘Vi de Gratallops’, the village where the winery is located. Finally at the apex of the hierarchy are the two single vineyard wines: ‘Finca Dofí’ and ‘L’Ermita’.
‘Camins del Priorat’ is Álvaro’s relatively new entry level release -a regional wine, made of grapes taken from younger vines to be found below the hilltop extremes and all throughout the hills and valleys growing along the ‘Camins’ or pathways of Priorat, after which it was named. Typically, these wines are 50% Garnatxa, 15% Samsó, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Merlot.
‘Les Terrasses’, is also a regional wine but differs in that the grapes used in its production are taken from old mountain bush vines grown on the llicorella soils of the ‘cims’ or hilltops around the rim of Priorat’s high country. Typically, these wines are composed of 55% Garnatxa and 45% Samsó.
‘Vi de Gratallops’ one of the recently legalised ‘Vins de Vila’ or village-level Priorats The wine is produced from fruit sourced from Álvaro’s various holdings in-and-around the village of Gratallops and importantly includes grapes from his two single-vineyard wines, ‘Finca Dofí’ and ‘L’Ermita’. The proportions of the wine’s composition is approximately one third each of Garnatxa, Samsó and Cabernet Sauvignon.
‘Finca Dofí’ a single-vineyard wine, originally composed of 55% Garnatxa with the rest Samsó and French varieties, since 2008 ‘Finca Dofí’ has gradually increased the percentage of Garnatxa from vines cloned from ‘L’Ermita and other old vines from Priorat. Root stock is typically 95.5%.
‘L’Ermita’ is essentially a pure Priorat (no Cabernet has been used in the wine since 2005-6). There’s a bit of Samsó and a tiny bit of permitted white varietals – a mixture of Pedro Ximénez, Macabeu (Macabeo). This expression of Priorat really is for lovers of delicacy, poise and refinement.
Àlvaro Palacios is in Priorat just south of Barcelona in Catalunya off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s long history with wine started almost 1,000 years ago. In modern times it was consigned to producing bulk wines through co-operatives. It’s renaissance, started in the mid-1980’s, with several producers pushing to make quality wines.
Deep, brilliant violet. An expansive bouquet evokes fresh red and blue fruits, candied licorice, exotic spices and smoky minerals, and a candied lavender note builds in the glass. Shows impressive depth as well as energy on the palate, offering finely detailed cherry, boysenberry, floral pastille and spicecake flavors sharpened by a hint of smoky minerality on the back half. Youthfully chewy tannins build slowly on a strikingly long, mineral- and floral-tinged finish that shows solid thrust and vibrant lift.
Where in the world does the magic happen?
Álvaro Palacios, S.L., Gratallops, Spain