Winemakers in the northeastern Spanish region of Priorat are becoming increasingly divided over the region’s two flagship grapes: Garnacha and Cariñena.
Firmly back in favour over international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, winemakers are chosing to champion one or the other.
Priorat pioneer Alvaro Palacios is the chief flag-bearer for Garnacha in Gratallops and is steadily increasing the percentage of old vine Garnacha in his top wines, L’Ermita and Finca Dofi.
“Garnacha is the queen bee of Priorat. I’ve had amazing results in the last three years with it,” he told the drinks business.
“The wines are magical, heartbreakingly good. Garnacha reflects the nuances of the terroir in which it grows and manages to transform Priorat’s heat into fresh, vibrant wines.
“I’m not interested in Cabernet or Syrah, we have to defend our historic grapes,” he added.
Like Palacios, Daphne Glorian, owner of Clos Erasmus, is shifting her focus back to old vine Garnacha for her top wine, with the ultimate goal to get as close to 100% Garnacha as possible.
Berry Bros & Rudd’s Spanish wine buyer Simon Field MW is full of praise for how old vine Garnacha performs in Priorat.
“It has a depth of flavour and exquisite texture reminiscent of Château Rayas in the Rhône. The best become ethereal and Pinot Noir-like in age, sharing its red fruit profile and aromatic harmony,” he told db.
South African Eben Sadie meanwhile, favours Cariñena at Terroir Al Limit in Torroja with his top two single vineyard wines, Les Tosses and Arbossar.
“Cariñena is sturdy and flowers well. The era of Cabernet and Syrah in Priorat has subsided,” Sadie told db.
“It’s time to go back to the region’s roots. We don’t need to be modern or international, we need to be true and make wine that has the imprint of the terroir’s DNA,” he added.
Siding with Sadie, Victor de la Serna, deputy editor of Spanish newspaper El Mundo, believes the role of Garnacha has “diminished” in Priorat in recent years.
“There has been growing awareness that Garnacha’s high alcohol is turbo-charged to even greater heights when grown on Priorat’s hot llicorella soils, often making for fearfully alcoholic monsters,” he said.
“Meanwhile, Cariñena has been embraced by many of the new growers in the region. With old vines and tiny yields, it produces elegant wines with class and minerality,” he added.
Mireia Torres of the Torres wine dynasty agrees: “Cariñena is the better fit for Priorat as it ripens slowly and is more balanced than Garnacha, giving rise to wines with an interesting fruit structure that acts as a backbone,” she told db.
Her top wine, Perpetual, is made from 100-year-old Cariñena vines, while the proportion of Cariñena in second wine Salmos is increasing every year.
An in-depth look at Priorat will appear in the drinks business Spain 2012 report, out next month.