Magisterial Tasting: Priorat 2007

Different points of view surge in an event where wines from the Priorat appellation were tasted

Text by Marcos Mercado- special for Por Dentro of El Nuevo Dia of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Sunday, November 16, 2014

A priory is a monastery. The relationship between the church and the production of wines is known history. By 1924 the Commune of Priorat de Scala Dei (made up of the villages of Bellmunt, Gratallops, La Morera, Poboleda, Torroja and La Vilella Alta) petitioned for the recognition of the area and in 1928 proposed to the local authorities a regulating body, the Consejo Regulador del Priorato de Scala Dei, to protect this viticultural denomination, the use of the collective name and to oversee production methods. In 1932, the republican government recognizes the area of Priorat as a viticultural region to protect, but because of the Spanish Civil War, it is not until 1954, when the formal Denominacion de Origen (Appellation of Origin) Priorat was established, as we know it today.
At the end of the 1980’s, the oenologists Daphne Glorian, Alvaro Palacios, Rene Barbier, Josep Lluis Perez and Carles Pastrana got together to create a different way of interpreting the terrior of the area, rooted in their academic and viticultural experiences outside of Spain. These five pioneers together produced a wine in the harvest of 1989, that they bottled under five different labels, to distinguish themselves from the group. From this point onwards the style of Priorat, as we know it today is established. After numerous difficulties with the Spanish bureaucracy and agricultural industry, Priorat is elevated to Denominacion de Origen Calificada (Appellation of Quality Origen) in 2000 (it had to be after Rioja).

THE AFFAIR. After some successful projects in California, Emmanuel Kemiji manages to form a project in Priorat and makes his first wine in the harvest of 2005. The project is called Clos Pissarra and produces three wines of unique and specific characteristics. La Vinyeta is the first purchased vineyard on a “coster” (synonymous with a steep slope) of about 2.5 acres. El Riu is a vineyard planted solely to the grape Samso (the local name for Carignan), on a slight slope above the Siurana River in the village of El Molar. El Mont is a parcel on volcanic and clay soils, an accident in an area where the best-known vineyards are on rocky soils made up of a slate locally called licorella.

Like all ambitious and serious winemakers, he accedes when the occasion presents itself to taste his wines next to his competitors, under controlled conditions, and of a single vintage. As a Master Sommelier, the challenge of the tasting contains an additional dimension.

THE CHALLENGE. The tasting group “In Vino Veritas” convened the tasting this past Saturday, the 8th of November of 2014 at La Bodega de Mendez in Anasco, Puerto Rico. The harvest of 2007 was chosen and along with the three Clos Pissarra wines, there were six wines from the Five Pioneers of Priorat (there were two wines from Alvaro Palacios) and two wines from other producers. The tasting used a double blind format. The employees of La Bodega de Mendez choose the order of the wines randomly and served them while the room was empty and out of sight of the participants. I verified that none of the wines were tainted, after they were served but before they were tasted.
Each participant received a tasting sheet to write their comments and select their three favorite wines, which all the tasters did.
The wines from Priorat are solid, of great intensity and extract, made primarily from Grenache and Samso (Carignan), although the generation of the Five Pioneers introduced Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other non-indigenous varieties into the area. These are very dark red wines, with violet tones. The effort necessary by the vines here to develop fruit in such a harsh combination of climate and soil translates into wines capable of generating a lot of minerality, high tannins with black fruit, elevated alcohols and noticeable acidity.

According to my tasting notes, two of my three favorites were Clos Pissarra wines (El Riu and La Vinyeta, Clos Erasmus was my third favorite). The determining factor in my preference for these wines was the fact that they exhibited a harmonious structure, with rounded tannins that were well integrated into the fruit. The tasting was a great lesson in relation to the alternatives styles possible in the making of wines in Priorat, without distancing themselves from the tradition here and the identity of the varieities and soil. In terms of varieties, it is worth noting that the favorite wine in the tasting was 100% Samso (Carignan) and the second and third favorites were from 100% Grenache, both traditional varieties of the Denominacion de Origen (Appellation of Origin).

The general results of the tasting revealed that the wines of Clos Pissarra were favored above the ”national expressions” of the winemakers of Priorat. For some this tasting will be a topic of study and reference for many future tastings in relation to this viticultural region, as well as the influence of style in the making of wines and the debate between maintaining the integrity of origin versus that of innovation.
An important fact: Clos Pissarra, like the other projects of Kemiji, starts off on the basis of Emmanuel’s experience as a Master Sommelier. It is necessary to realize that wine occurs as a result of what one wishes to construct out of the material given, based on a creative process that can vary technically but has special traits based on all the elements that are found in a unique place. The tasting in question and its results merit paying attention to the point of view of a Master Sommelier that successfully develops exemplary wines (“true wines” in the argot of the aficionado), indifferent to whatever wine region he is producing them. It can be argued that the sommelier/winemaker has a different point of view, distant and particular in relation to that of the local winemaking community, viticulturally, oenologically or inherited tradition speaking. Even when there are many convergent factors, the exercise of conceptualizing a wine comes from accumulated experiences common to the rest of the winemakers in the world (tasting, analysis and the appreciation of each wines’ merits), the sommelier departs from here based on very different circumstances (the experiences of a sommelier in tasting varied wines, studying different palates and the harmony between wine and food being amongst them).
The tasting reveals that there exist and it is possible to have a much closer work connection between winemakers and sommeliers, much more so than mere visits, commentaries on enjoyable tastings, or a trip to a vineyard based on achieved quota sales. Emmanuel, thank you for a magisterial afternoon. After tabulating all the results and the identity of each wine revealed, the look of surprise and joy was plastered all over his face. I think it still is.

11 Priorats from 2007

Details Of The Tasting

Listed in order of preference by the judges. They are followed by the names of the winemakers and the points given by the group, the grape composition and the approximate retail price for the bottles for the occasion. There were 14 tasters and votes were given by each individual for first place (3 points), second place (2 points), and third place (1 point). The blind tasting was held in silence without commentary on the wines until the votes were tallied.

  • 1ft place: Clos Pissarra, El Riu
    Emmanuel Kemiji & Maruxa Roel winemakers. 100% Carignan. $125. 16 points
  • 2nd place: Clos Pissarra, El Mont
    Emmanuel Kemiji & Maruxa Roel. 100% Grenache. $90. 14 points
  • 3rd place: Alvaro Palacios, L’Ermita
    Alvaro Palacios. 100% Grenache. $750. 11 points
  • 4th place: Clos Figueres
    Christopher Canaan. $65.
    80% Grenache & Carignan, 20% Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon & Monastrell
    10 points
  • 5th place:Clos de L’Obac
    Carles Pastrana. Cabernet, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot & Carignan. $70. 8 points
  • 6th place:Clos Erasmus
    Daphne Glorian. 90% Grenache & 10% Syrah. $175. 7 points
  • 7th place:Clos Pissarrra, La Vinyeta
    Emmanuel Kemiji & Maruxa Roel. 80% Grenache & 20% Carignan. $125. 6 points
  • 8th place:Clos Mogador
    Rene Barbier. $65.
    40% Grenache, 20% Carignan, 20% Syrah & 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.
    5 points
  • 9th place:Clos Martinet
    Josep Lluis Perez & Sara Perez. 90% Grenache & 10% Syrah. $60. 3 points
  • 10th place:Alvaro Palacios, Finca Dofi
    Alvaro Palacios. 60% Grenache, 40% Cabernet, Syrah & Merlot. $75. 2 points
  • 11th place:Huellas
    Frank Massard. 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah & 5% Carignan. $65. 2 points