A Visit to Priorat
Sometimes choosing what wines to feature each week can be a challenge because there are so many wines to choose from. Then other times, an idea pops in your brain and you just know the selection is super easy. This week we are featuring Desnivell from Priorat, Spain. To get why this wine is a “no brainer” we have to go back to the history of this winery in relation OWS&B.
I made my first visit to Priorat in 2012. I had fallen in love with the wines from this region many years earlier but to actually visit the region gave me goose bumps as we drove through Falset and into Gratallops. The first things you notice are the steep slopes planted in grapes (all of which had to be done by hand as they are so steep no equipment would be able to get around) and the roads had no guard rails.
As we made our way into Gratallops, a town with less than 500 residents, we visit our friend August of Celler Cecilio, the oldest registered winery in Priorat. We tour the tiny winery with him and his assistant winemaker Blai Ferrar, who also happens to be his son-in-law. After tasting through several vintages of Celler Cecilio in August’s office, Blai talked about a vineyard he had planted and started producing wine from called Billo. We had been fans of the first vintage of Billo and we re-tasted that first vintage and his soon-to-be-released second vintage. There was a dramatic improvement in the wine and we were very pleased to see the quality in what many believe was an “off” vintage. He said he wanted us to return the next day to visit the Billo vineyard as well as another parcel he recently purchased.
To get to the property the following day, we turned off the main road onto an un-paved road which looked like a road cut through the forest by the Romans when they occupied the territory centuries before. As we made the final turn and turned up a hill we arrived at the beautiful Billo vineyard with rich soil and vines that had just been pruned for the upcoming season. Blai explained how he bought the property and hand tilled the land and planted all of the vines himself. Then how he and his mother had trained the vines and harvested the fruit. You could see the pride in his eyes as he gazed around the property. We then walked up to this “house” which had been built in the 1920s but abandoned decades before. Blai discussed his plans to repair the building himself with them goal of making it a tasting room and guest house. While the first vintage of Billo I tasted the 2007 was good, it was not impressive as 2008 and 2009. And those vintages have led to a succession of great value wines for Priorat and Billo such that Billo has become our “entry level” Priorat.
Afterwards he wanted to show us his newly purchased property. Off we went back towards the town of Falset, and once again turned down a road which quickly turned into a dirt road winding up the foothills of the Monstant mountains. Parts of the road had washed out and tree branches are brushing along the side of the car and we are lurching up the hill and finally we got to a very steep part of the road where it was not possible to driver further. We got out and walked up the final several hundred yards. The view was amazing. The vines had been planted in the 1940s and were coastal-style plantings (very low to the ground). Blai explained the vineyards were planted in two very impressive grape varietals – Carinyena and Garnaxta. He then opened a bottle of his new wine -- the 2009 Desnivell -- and poured it into glasses for us. If you have never had the chance to drink the wine in the vineyard where the fruit was grown, you really need to try it. Immediately the rich color of the wine showcased itself as it swirled around the wine glass. The flavors were spectacular and it was the evident the vines were producing high-quality and highly-concentrated wine which would age for many years. Upon my return from this trip we were able to introduce Desnivell to many of you, and thankfully you all agreed with us on the wine and became fans of the wine.
Fast forward to 2017. I returned to Priorat and wanted to revisit both of Blai’s properties to see how the vines on his younger vineyard had progressed and of course the beauty of the Desnivell vineyard. We met Blai in Falset and headed off to Desnivell first. Not much had changed on the road to the property except maybe a little narrower as the trees were a little more overgrown. The vineyard had not changed except there were a few less vines and a few new vines which were being trained to grow in their places. Blai explained the changes and the challenges of the newest vintages. But understanding the challenges of the various vintages was best explained when Blai opened the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 vintages and so we could taste them in the vineyard on a beautiful May morning. I was blown away how the wines had matured and how they were showing. We then went over to the Billo vineyard where the 13-year-old vines had become majestic. The property had changed a bit since Blai cleared entire hill and began to plant Garnaxta Blanc on the property.
We sat down to revisit all of the Desnivell wines and a few vintages of Billo. On the Billo lineup we tasted the 2007, 2013, 2015, and barrel sample of the 2016. They were each unique to the vintage but the one consistency was the core of the wine – a great balance of acidity and fruit. The more important tasting for this blog’s purpose is the Desnivell, here are my notes from the trip at the time:
Starting with the 2009 – The rambunctiousness the wine showed in its youth has calmed down and created a wine which is now elegant with multiple layers of fruit and complexity of tannins and acids. All culminating into a glass of wine which showcased the place the wine was produced.
The 2010 – inky, dark, brooding and a powerhouse of wine which is still youthful. The wine shows no signs of slowing down, and in fact is still partially closed down. Give it some time in the decanter and make a big pan of paella!
The 2011 – a tough-as-nails vintage upon release, but slowly opening up and beginning to resemble a younger version of the 2009. A wine which will surprise and delight many a wine drinker.
The 2013 – youthful and expressive, one of the best vintages Blai has produced. His understanding of the vineyard is clearly showing and the use of barrels, aging and harvesting show his true spirit and connection to the land.
All in all these wines will transport you to a different time and place. They also give you a sense of how wines made by hand, with great care and concern for the land, not only make great wines to consume today but also in the future.
Bravo Blai for making wines which make us want to drink more of them and share them with friends and family now and for many years to come!!