Always one of Rioja’s great bargains, this wonderfully juicy cuvée of Tempranillo and 5% Viura from brothers Arturo and Kike de Miguel is a classic carbonic maceration style that dates back to the 19th century and was popularised by the so-called “cosecheros”. Showing masses of perfume, it’s a tangy, crunchy, cement-fermented delight that combines perfume with vibrant summer berry fruit. Unwooded Rioja at its individual best.
Mas Deu comes from a single vineyard at 800 metres planted on clay and limestone soils and is a stunning expression of Mediterranean Garnacha. Floral and alluring, with notes of thyme, rosemary and white pepper, chalky minerality, redcurrant and raspberry flavours and a long, tapering finish. One of the best wines in Catalunya.
Called Heretge (heretic) because it’s made, unusually for Priorat, with just Cariñena, this is produced with grapes from two vineyards, planted in 1908 and 1918, that face north and south-east respectively on classic slate soils. Grippier and more savoury than the other Scala Dei wines, but this is still refreshing, stony and red-fruited, with some underlying grip and tannin and notes of bramble and red cherry. A stairway to hell rather than heaven perhaps?
St. Antoni is on of the oldest vineyards at Scala Dei, dating back to the late 17th century and planted in a natural amphitheatre at 600 metres. First made as a single release in 2010, it’s the essence of higher altitude Priorat Garnacha, justifying the variety’s name as the “Pinot Noir of the south”. Fermented with 100% whole bunches before ageing in founders, it’s a refined, delicate red, despite its 14.5% alcohol, with raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, graceful tannins and a stony flourish.
Based on Garnacha, with the remaining 35% made up of Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Prior is what Ricard Rofes calls a “key in the door of Priorat”, in that it introduces you to the different zones of the denominación. Wild, savoury and intense, with floral black cherry and damson fruit, a herbal undertone, pithy minerality and some clove spice from 30% whole bunch fermentation. One of the most structured wines in the range.
“I love stems,” says Ricard Rofes of this marriage of Garnacha with 20% Cariñena, fermented with 60% whole bunches and sourced from the best sites in the northern part of the estate. This historic red, first made in 1974 and marking the rebirth of the area, is taut, spicy and complex, with refreshing acidity, classic Priorat minerality and some tobacco spice. The tannins are savoury and granular framing the scented red berry fruit.
Formerly sold as plainer Blanc de Scala Dei, this rare and unusual white hails from an east-facing site at 700 metres, planted with Garnacha Blanca and Chenin Blanc in the late 1960s and 1980s, when the idea of climate change was unheard of. Co-fermented in cement tanks, before ageing in wooden foudres, this 80/20 blend is taut, refreshing and leesy, with stony intensity, citrus and wild flower notes, a drizzle of beeswax and a long intense finish. Should age well too.
Sourced from parcels on slate and red clay soils, this entry-point Garnacha is all about what Ricard Rofes calls “fruit, freshness and easy drinkability”. Fermented with 15% whole bunches, it’s a juicy, bouncy, unoaked delight, with stony minerality, cranberry and raspberry flavours and a whiff of wild Mediterranean herbs.
The four friends who run this small, yet hugely exciting winery in the hills of Ribeira Sacra specialise in hunting down tiny vineyard plots and turning them into refreshing, refined, palate-cleansing reds. This is potpourri of at least five local grapes – Mencía, Mouratón, Garnacha Tintorera, Caiño and Bastardo – and is a like a Spanish take on Beaujolais mixed with a little Syrah and Cabernet Franc, albeit with a personality that is all its own. Scented, peppery and elegant, it has notes of rose petal, tangerine and red berries with crunchy acidity, granular tannins and a long, spicy finish. Utterly delicious.
Spanish retailers appear to be on the 2016 vintage of this wine at the moment, which I haven’t tasted, but this is well worth waiting for and needs more time in bottle in any case. VO used to come from the lower part of the ROC vineyard, but because of the frost in 2017, Verónica Ortega sourced the grapes from an old parcel at 650 metres on slate and sand soils in Villabuena instead. Fermented with 100% whole bunches, it’s an intense, well-structured, very lightly wooded red with notes of fresh tobacco, incense, liquorice and black cherry, impressive focus and the concentration and structure to age further.
ROC was the first wine Veronica Ortega ever made, back in 2010, and comes from two old-vine parcels at 400 metres in Valtuille de Abajo. It’s firmer, riper and more structured than her other reds, with more colour, backbone and extract. Showing the very low yields of the first-hit 2017 vintage, this is dark and grippy, with damson and blackberry fruit, plenty of tannin and some added texture from 50% whole bunches.
Verónica Ortega worked in Burgundy (at Domaine de la Romance-Conti, no less) before she set up her own winery in Bierzo in 2010. This hauntingly delicate wine isn’t made from Pinot Noir, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a line up from Chambolle-Musigny. Sourced from seven parcels at 750 metres on slate soils, it sees no wood (only amphoras) and is wonderfully poised and balletic. Raspberry, tobacco pouch and wild strawberry flavours are complemented by rose petal aromas and a nip of sinewy tannin. You may have trouble tracking this down right now, although I’m assured that UK agent Vine Trail will have some next spring.