Heart in Priorato

At its best, wine is a product of passion. Grape growers, winemakers, merchants and consumers all contribute to the story of a great bottle of wine. At the moment of its opening, the story is individualised by the location, the accompanying food, the occasion and, most importantly, the company with whom you enjoy the wine.

A great wine isn’t made great by its price tag, its reputation, or even its technical flawlessness. Plenty of characterless wines are made (usually in bulk) that are technically ‘in balance’, yet they lack the charm and individuality of those from the boutique producer. I’ve also been privileged enough to taste one or two of the world’s most famous wines and not enjoyed them anywhere near as much as I thought I would.

The more I’ve come into contact with those in the wine trade, the more I’ve discovered this real sense of passion that they share. No doubt I generalise, and even romanticise, but it seems that whether they press the grapes or sell you the bottle at your local wine store or write a wine column in your local newspaper, these people are all driven by a love of this inimitable beverage and are more than happy to share this passion. In addition, those with a love of wine have a strong love of life too and are some of the most generous people I have met, willing to open their homes, their vineyards, and their cellars to the passionate amateur.

My most memorable wine experiences have all involved great wine made by passionate people shared with good friends. It’s a rather simple recipe, yet one that is often sadly overlooked.

I had one of these experiences recently at a fabulous wine bar in Barcelona called Monvinic. Amongst other wines, I tasted two local wines from the Priorato region made by Vino Amor y Fantasia and exported by Epicure Wines. These companies were set up by Christophe Brunet and Franck Massard, two French ex-sommeliers who turned their hands to winemaking in arguably the most exciting wine region in Spain. Their passion for wine is unquestionable, as is their belief in terroir, and letting the earth speak for itself through the vine and into the bottle.

Humilitat vintage 2008 (‘humility’) is a 50:50 blend of classic Priorato grapes: Garnacha and Cariñena. It was a relatively light ruby in the glass with a wonderful concentration on the nose. Jammy, though certainly not ‘baked’, raspberry and boysenberry, along with violets and vanilla hints. The ripe fruit enters first on the palate, though gives way to more savoury overtones – licorish, molasses, and thyme. The structure was balanced – the 14.5% alcohol very well integrated – with tight, smooth tannins and a surprising amount of acidity for a hot place. The 20-40 year old vines are well adapted to the conditions and found at 700m altitude. They are thus able to preserve a mineraly acidity not often seen in Priorato wines in my experience.

Huellas vintage 2009 is 50% Cariñena, 40% Garnacha with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It was a bright, medium-ruby in the glass, showing powerful, juicy aromas of strawberry and blueberry, with hints of mulling spices and violets. As the wine opened, subtle licorish and wood spice came through. surprisingly, the palate was more savoury, with a darker fruit character, earthy licorish and herbal garrigue notes. A powerful wine (14.5% abv) yet remarkably balanced and elegant. The acidity again was notably higher than you might expect. The tannins were soft, rounded and ripe. A very expressive wine that shows off the best Priorato has to offer.

Huellas literally means ‘fingerprint’. The idea seems to be that the wine shows the signature of the terroir in which the grapes are grown, with the subtle but indelible touch of the winemakers. In these two wines I feel Massard and Brunet have succeeded. They are wines with a story and wines with heart.

Postscript

While in Barcelona, I stayed at a wonderful independent Bed & Breakfast run by Fleur Salsas. Very accessible to Las Ramblas and other regions of interest, I highly recommend it as a place to stay if you are ever in Barcelona. Fleur has impeccable taste in decor and is also an incredible cook. She offers cooking lessons too – an experience anyone who loves their food will not regret having!

The sitting room at Salsas at Co Bed and Breakfast in Barcelona

Gaudi's famous Parc Guell in Barcelona, one of the many attractions.

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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