My favorite wines at the moment are those tangentially related to greatness, at a fraction of the cost. A Nebbiolo that its almost as good as a Barolo. A Bourdeaux-style red from Washington state. An Oregon Pinot Noir that runs neck-and-neck with many Burgundies. Some wines will always be out of my price range, and I guess I’ll just show my respect to them by buying and drinking their less-coveted counterparts. They’re probably every bit as good.
Let’s add Alvaro Palacios’ Camins del Priorat to the list. This rich and poignant wine hails from a region that is now regarded by many as Spain’s finest. But as recently as 1990, the Catalan government thought it was insignificant, and excluded it from their official history of Catalan winemaking. Priorat who? A mere 10 years later, Palacios and a handful of other winemakers — most notably René Barbier — had catapulted Priorat to international acclaim …and sky-high prices.
Photo credit: ©Ryan Opaz. Flickr user / Creative Commons license.
The Priorat DOQ is located less than a 2-hour drive west of Barcelona, where the land is hot, wrinkled, rocky and hemmed in on one side by the Sierra de Montsant. It looks more like New Mexico than the Mediterranean, but its hills have nourished grapes since the 12th century.
Palacios seems enamored with the regional splendor of Spanish wine. His winemaking efforts extend from Priorat to Rioja (where he originally hails from) to Bierzo — another up-and-coming pocket of Spain where he is leading the renaissance with mysterious and unusual reds made from the Mencia grape. But he made a name for himself in Priorat with a wine called “L’Ermita,” which today goes for around $700/bottle for the latest vintage. (An added note: one reader has informed me that the upcoming vintage may go as high as $1,500).
Fortunately, for the rest of us, Palacios also makes Camins del Priorat, a grenache-focused blend that hails from the schisty hills of Priorat, and only goes for about $23. Mostly the same grapes, same winemaker as L’Ermita, 3% the price.
It spends eight months in oak barrels, and if you like ’em oaky, my God, this one is oaky. It benefits from a good hour of air-time, but then opens up with rich, inky blackberry flavors that handle lamb, steak and stressful Mondays just fine.
And I’ve gotta say: it has a great label. The rose looks stitched onto the bottle. It’s a nice metaphor for the wine inside: deceptively delicate.
2012 Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat
Grapes: 40% Grenache / 30% Carignan / 20% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10% Syrah
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 (out of 5)
• Profile ★★★★ 1/2
• Food-friendliness ★★★
• Value ★★★★
Perfect for: Lamb in all its forms.
Tasting Notes: Raspberry colored. Powerful on the nose, yet very refined and inviting. Noticeable black currant at first, with quite a bit of pencil lead and oaky tannins. Mellows out an hour later, into a beautifully smooth wine decorated with black cherry, rose, flint and the darkest of dark chocolate.
The vineyards for Camins are actually from all over Priorat and very few border l’Ermita as the grapes from further south in the villages of Bellmunt or El Molar are cheaper. It’s a decent wine, but in this style, Nita is a far better value and a better blend with more pronounced fruit. I think you can get it stateside as Meritxell is exporting it with great success. There are probably 20 more that are worth mentioning as well given that most wineries now have a sub 15€ wine in the post-2008 period.
Oh and the new vintage of l’Ermita will be 1,000€ (the reasoning being that early rains knocked off the buds and reduced the yields) which probably translates to $1,500 or more. Great wine in the vintages I’ve tasted but the price is absolutely ludicrous.
Miquel … Good to know. Thanks for the wealth of background info. I had read something that made it seem like Camins came from at least nearby vineyards, but I’ll admit it was tough to piece it all together from afar. I’ll correct, and definitely look for Nita next time. The label doesn’t look familiar from my shopping.
I hope you enjoy the content on Opening a Bottle. I’ll be sure to follow Vinologue.
Be careful of what you may read as Priorat is especially prone to revisionist accounts of history. I think after writing the first edition of my book and just now starting to work on a second edition, I’m nearing a full picture but still learn more every day. Piecing it all together ain’t easy.
Just keep in mind that Álvaro is producing upwards of 300,000 bottles a year in Priorat and you don’t do with with old, sloped vineyards that give between 300-800g of grapes. But yes, definitely check out the Nita if you can find it. It sells out rapidly as it’s one of the best quality/price wines from the region. And then of course you start talking about the DO Montsant wines which are a very different style, but still excellent and very well-priced.