Alvaro Palacios’ name seems to be on every Spanish wine lover’s lips these days and it’s no wonder – this exciting winemaker makes outstanding and compelling wines. Born in a Rioja winery into a family with 350 years experience in the wine industry, wine is definitely and passionately coursing through his veins. Some see him as a visionary and even as a revolutionary of Spanish wine, and while the wines of Alvaro Palacios are modern, they also show a deep respect for tradition and the unique terroir of each of his vineyards.
Alvaro currently makes wine in 3 very different Spanish wine regions – Priorat, Rioja, and Bierzo. There are certain ingredients Alvaro believes are necessary to make great wines and he looks for these when deciding on a new region to grow and craft his wines. He believes that a monastic or religious background is very important. “Monks brought viticulture to a spiritual level,” he says, and he adds that the old monasteries “add a sense of mystery to the place.”
A traditional culture in the region is also important. Alvaro told the crowd of wine professionals in Toronto earlier this week that “a traditional culture along with a special site makes magical wines.” He has returned to traditional methods of cultivation by using an organic approach and by reverting to bush-trained vines, which he feels do better in the hot Spanish sun.
He admires French winemakers who understand the importance of vineyard sites, or crus, and who have developed some of these sites for centuries, which is why Alvaro is attracted to sites with very old vines.
After Alvaro studied winemaking in France, most notably at Bordeaux’s Ch. Petrus, he began making wine in Priorat, an hour and a half drive south of Barcelona, Spain and an hour west of the Mediterranean Sea. He was attracted to the area because of the rugged beauty of the place, the ancient monastery, the old vines, the steep slopes, and the slate soil. Rene Barbier, an important Priorat winemaker who had asked him to join a new vineyard project in Priorat, made the region even more attractive. He couldn’t refuse such an offer. It was 1989 and Alvaro describes Priorat as being a “diamond in the rough.” In 1993, he bought L’Ermita, the vineyard that produces the grapes that go into his flagship wine of the same name. Unfortunately, we did not taste L’Ermita at this event.
Camins del Priorat 2010: This wine is made with grapes from relatively young vines and are sourced from 7 different villages. A small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is added to the Garnacha and it was aged for 8 months in wooden vats and barrels. This wine is full of red berry fruit with spice and fennel. Soft and silky on the palate with rich red fruit and a strawberry finish. Good length. $26
Les Terrasses 2010 Priorat: The vines are older (about 75 years old) and as Alvaro says, “Old vines have wisdom.” The grapes are grown in the same 7 villages as the Camins wine but there is also more Carignan added to the blend. Rich aromas of ripe red fruit, black licorice, fennel, and spice. More concentrated than the Camins and with a firmer structure. Long finish. $45
Gratallops 2010 Priorat: This is a Village Appellation wine and the grapes are sourced from 6 vineyards in the village. The 2010 vintage we tasted is still in barrel (it will be bottled sometime in the next couple of months after spending approximately 16 months in barrel.) The blend is about 60% Garnacha with Carignan making up the rest. This wine is very fragrant with aromas of blueberry, red plum, spice, pink flowers, vanilla, and a hint of dill and fennel. This is still a very young wine and the somewhat aggressive tannins will mellow with time. Very concentrated and balanced with creamy vanilla on the long finish. An excellent wine. $66
Finca Dofi 2009 Priorat: A single vineyard wine made up of 80% Garnacha with the remainder being Cabernet and Syrah. The nose is very complex with a perfume of strawberry, cherry, turkish delight, cinnamon, cardamon, and a hint of mint. Concentrated and velvetty on the palate with rich fruit flavours and spice. Beautifully balanced with a finish that lingers seemingly forever. $99
The wines of Alvaro Palacios are available in Ontario through Woodman Wines and Spirits.