Acustic Celler Vinyes Velles Nobles 2010, Montsant, £14.75
From ancient garnacha and carignan, a smoky, dark- fruited, suave- tannined tour de force. Perfect match for grouse.
Available at: Lea & Sandeman
Celler Cal Pla Mas d’En Compte Barrel Fermented 2010, £23
Cedarwood nose laced with apricot and apple. Full, concentrated, peachy palate, flinty-fresh. Superb white. Drink with grilled sea bream.
Available at: Burridges
Mas Doix Priorat Les Crestes, £24.95
Superbly opulent, bright red cherry aromas and a briskly tannic palate, fresh acidity and fine red fruit. Drink yours with a serving of Moroccan spiced chicken.
Available at: Roberson
Celler de Capçanes, Peraj Petita 2011 DO Montsant, £12.95
Cherry on the nose, ripe split damson on the palate and perfumed, crunchy tannins. Mouthwatering acidity. Good with game.
Available at: Berry Bros
Celler Masroig Sola Fred Blanco, £9.99
Pungent nose with Seville orange and white flowers. Grainy texture to the palate, ripe and powerful fruit with saline tinge. Excellent food- friendly finish. Drink with salty, grilled sardines.
Available at: The Smiling Grape Company
A new wave of top drops from Priorat and Montsant offers superb value, while training the spotlight on a fine lineage, says Adam Lechmere
Priorat has the dubious honour of competing with Ribera del Duero to produce Spain’s most expensive wine. Corney & Barrow sells Alvaro have been made here since the Palacios’ L’Ermita 2005 for little over £430 a bottle. The region is awash with £100 cuvées and its wines are still coaxed from the slatey soil – known by the delightful word llicorella – with real graft, justifying the price.
Priorat’s wines are fierce, bright things. Traditionally, the garnacha and carignan that comes from these broiling hillsides has had extraordinary intensity and concentration, and the wines are high in alcohol, deep in colour and robust in tannin. But there’s a revolution going on – and it means a more favourable deal.
Priorat was first transformed a generation ago when Josep Lluis Pérez of Mas Martinet, René Barbier and a motley crew of inspired dreamers released the first wine of a cooperative that went on to spawn some of the greatest names of the area: Clos Dofi, Clos Erasmus and Barbier’s Clos Mogador.
The hippyish Barbier (who still drives a battered van with dusty velour seat covers)w as one of the first to recognise the potential of the forbidding slate of Priorat. Wines have been made her since the Carthusian monks founded the monastery of Scala Dei in 1194. By the latter half of the 19th century there were 25,000ha of vineyard. Then came phylloxera, decimating all but 2,000ha. The region was depopulated as farmers migrated to Barcelona in search of better ways to harvest a living.
Arriving in the late 1980s, Barbier and his colleagues crafted heavily oaked, powerful wines that attracted the attention of influential critics like Robert Parker. This was when a wine was expected to make its presence felt. But great wine regions evolve. There’s now another generation, embodied in the inspiring persons of Sara Perez (daughter of Josep Lluis) and her husband René Barbier (son of the aforementioned René). Perez’s genius was to see how Priorat’s wines were beginning to fall out of favour. She saw that everyone was making big, bold reds. ‘Everything started to taste like Priorat,’ she told me. In turn she reined back the luscious fruit by careful vineyard management and restrained tannins by easing off the oak and storing the wines in clay amphorae. The results are astonishing. Her single-vineyard Els Escurçons (Justerini and Brooks, £30) is a marvel of precision.
Priorat’s fame has had a galvanising effect on its neighbouring appellation, the lower-lying Montsant. The reigon’s roots are as ancient as Priorat’s (Pliny the Elder was a fan of its wines) but it hasn’t hit the spotlight in quite the same way. Which is a good thing: land is cheaper, and experimentation therefore more possible.
The wines of Montsant are as exciting as those of Priorat: the reds laden with earthy fruit, bright minerality and warm, sweet tannins, the whites fresh and crisp. And they are more affordable – Celler el Masroig’s Sola Fred can be as little as £10, which is rather easier on the pocket than it used to be. These are wines that make you think; you have to work harder to find them, and concentrate a little more to appreciate them, making them all the more rewarding.
This article was published on 12th October 2015 so certain details may not be up to date.