Wine of the Week: Priorat

Wine of the Week: Priorat

Not wishing to neglect my inner wino, I thought I would introduce a ‘Wine of the Week’ post — a quick review of where to find a decent drinkable, fast. Being in Ireland right now, I fully understand the dearth of good wine at a a correspondingly good price.

I lived in France for a couple of years and now I regularly lament the lack of affordable, good wine in Ireland. In my experience, Ireland seems the worst, most expensive country for wine shopping — overpriced to the point of being quite laughable. I found more affordable French wines in the US, including an excellent Bordeaux Superieur located in Harlem for $10, which quickly became my ‘house wine’ (can you have a house wine if you don’t have a house?’) Let me offer some relief — every week I will suggest a bottle under 15 euro that ticks all the boxes.

In Ireland, the news of a nice bottle in Lidl or Tesco travels fast — slowed only by the game of Chinese whispers that ensues, the tail-end of which you can hear in frenzied and furtive phone calls while navigating the magic aisle (‘Mary! What was it again?! Riburo-di-doodah?!)

The stress, palpable, does not carry to the correct syllabic stress, or the imminence of alcohol produces a momentary befuddling of vowels. It’s okay, I understand. Now repeat after me: ‘ree BEAR ah del doo AIR oh’...

No Ribera del Duero this week, but another big Spanish favourite: Priorat.

Vinya Carles Priorat Crianza 2011

€9.99, Lidl

This is a bargain Priorat for a region which usually (and deservedly) attaches a hefty price tag, even in Spain. While Lidl’s Vinya Carles may not have spectacular depth, it still has the Priorat characteristic density, black cherry flavour, herbal notes, good tannin structure, and a certain mineral quality. Priorat wines are usually high in alcohol, and this wine is no exception at 14%. It offers some vanilla from its time in French and American oak barrels, and has some nice spice on the finish.

If you enjoy full-bodied Spanish wines with a bit of backbone and big vanilla, I suggest you branch out and start working Priorat into your drinking repertoire. This good value example has more complexity than a typical Rioja for the same price, and is a great introduction to a wine region which produces some of the most profound reds in Europe.

The rugged terraced hills of Priorat.

The rugged terraced hills of Priorat.

Priorat

Priorat is a tiny rugged wine region outside Barcelona. This craggy, mountainous place has a unique terroir owing to a superstar soil called ‘Llicorella’ which is made up of slate and quartz, which adds to the magic with its glitzy terrain.

The grape varieties Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) will usually dominate the blend. The vines are about 100 years old, which lessens the overall grape yield and results in a concentrated, intense wine with strong fruit flavours and buckets of character. (Tip: Lower yields will nearly always result in a better tasting wine.)

A premium Priorat will show stunning complexity, exceptional concentration, and be as dramatic as the landscape from which it hails. It will have a deep colour, a distinct licorice finish, and a certain elegance and freshness that harmonises with the intense fruit flavours and sturdy tannin backbone. Good Priorat has all the components for ageing well.

If big, bold reds are your thing, this is definitely a region to explore and fall in love with. Personally, my torrid enthusiasm for this region knows no bounds. There’s something feminine about these wines, but not in a delicate, ethereal, Burgundy way. More like a strong, capable, but very stylish and feminine woman. Think fiery Joan from Mad Men.

Buying advice

Recommended years: 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

Montsant DO

If regular Priorat is out of your budget zone, first of all, welcome to the club! Luckily, there is an alternative, as you can look to the region of Montsant for value. Montsant surrounds the Priorat area, and the wines are similarly full-bodied and fruit-driven. The vines are also very old. Montsant may lack the unique power and superb concentration of Priorat, but the area offers plenty of delicious, elegant, and approachable wines — both in terms of character and price.

PS: I also run wine workshops. If you are interested in organising an evening tasting session (perhaps for an office party or group of friends), do get in touch. Examples of themes include ‘Exploring French Wine Regions’ or ‘Old World vs New World Wines’. I also offer wine tasting sessions/ Blaiseadh Fíona as Gaeilge.