Priorat gets Class
2012 MAS DOIX ‘Salanques’ – Priorat, Spain
The photographic “triptych” above was captured just two weeks ago and essentially represents the special wine before you. On the left you see vines struggling to survive, but they’ve managed to do so for many decades. Age, along with depriving soils, makes for tiny yet expressive fruit yields. This wine utilizes old vines contributing but a pound of grapes each. Two of those hardworking plants were necessary to provide each of you with one bottle.
Middle Frame: A close-up of an exposed face of “Licorella” slate, the prevailing mineral here. There is very little in the way of actual “dirt” in this Priorat region an hour-and-a-half’s drive (and a world away) from Barcelona. Shy-bearing slate is all the poor farmer gets.
Finally, the photo on the right introduces you to Valenti Llagostera whose family has toiled in these unforgiving parts (specifically, Poboleda in northeast Priorat) for over a century. We include him in our triptych for more than his enthusiasm and amiable way. Valenti’s attention to detail invokes a Priorat wine with more elegance than most. Folks, this is a pretty hot, sun-blasted place with a propensity for conferring cowboy-style alcoholic ruggedness on its blends of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan). Valenti’s watchful eye and appreciation for restraint reigns in Priorat’s more rambunctious tendencies. Yes, this Priorat betrays its source with airy scents of sundrenched slate but the style is more refined than many I’ve had and rejected on your behalf. That’s Valenti at work, and because of its restraint ‘Salanques’ (65% Garnacha and 35% Cariñena, though some tech sheets betray a small Syrah addition) has the potential to last longer than most. Valenti shared a magnum of the 2007 Salanques over lunch and it was beautiful, fresh and exuberant, untouched by age except in softening.
This is a very special little region in Spain where no wine is inexpensive. The formidable farming prevents that - no tractors can traverse Priorat and you already read about the barely-producing, margin-defying vines. However, the wines are distinctive. Heat, slate, and – in this case – proprietary precaution add up to something not duplicated anywhere else.
Wine Spectator awards Valenti’s 2012 ‘Salanques’ 93 points saying:
“Fresh and focused, this firm red delivers bright cherry and wild berry fruit, with floral, citrus and mineral notes. Harmonious to the point of seeming simple, but the elegance masks impressive depth and intensity. Exhibits power with grace.”
Savor this hard-won wine now or later.
Carignan Plays Again . . .
2010 CANTINA SANTADI ‘Shardana’ – Valli di Porto Pinot, Sardegna, Italy
We say too little about Carignano (regional synonyms “Cariñena,” “Carignan,” and “Mazuelo”), a vital player throughout what I call the “Mediterranean Wine Crescent” encompassing famous regions such as Priorat, Montsant, Corbieres, Languedoc-Roussillon, Southern Rhone, and here in Sardegna/Sardinia off Italy’s west coast below France’s Corsica.
Rarely playing a solo role, Carignan is especially felt in Priorat (as in the ‘Salanques’ described above) because Grenache is often the only other player in the blends. Grenache dependably sings the high notes: Strawberries, cherries, and flowers. Carignan’s part? The bass notes; contributing dark color, gutsy earthiness, and bittersweet dark chocolate. Carignan on its own can be downright “grimy” in aspect but as a part of the sum its contribution lays a solid foundation.
“Shardana” was the ancient seafarer’s name for the natives of Sardinia, and this wine by that name represents a partnership between Importer Neil Empson and Villa Santadi, who emphasizes wines from the southern part of the island. Their best known whites come from the Vermentino grape. Another variety important here is Cannonau, Sardegna’s Grenache clone. This wine is Carignano-dominant (much of itcoming from pre-phylloxera century-old vines) with a little graceful polish courtesy of a 15% Syrah visit. 12 months in French Oak also soothed this savage Carignano beast – to a point; the nose exhibits a gruff wildness, an attitude echoed in the earthy tannins on the palate. – But dark fruit and chocolate add an effect of sumptuousness. This is an important wine with a real regional and varietal voice; complex and very foodworthy. This 2010 has yet to be rated by the critics we follow, but its predecessor received 93 points from Parker’s Wine Advocate. We feel this 2010 deserves some accolades, too!