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.
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.
Production is small on these Pequeñas Vinícolas wines, alas, but the quality is very impressive indeed. This is an experimental cuvée of Macabeo and Merseguera, aged in amphora under a veil of the flor yeast. It’s an engagingly complex white with notes of wild flowers, camomile tea, tangerine peel and a hint of sea salt. Yeasty and long, it’s one of Spain’s greatest Mediterranean whites. Utterly delicious.
This is a small production red from Pepe Mendoza, fermented and aged in amphoras and made with a combination of the rare Giró grape and Garnacha (Gironet). Lightly oxidative in style, it has raspberry and pomegranate flavours, sinewy tannins and undertones of wild Mediterranean herbs. The acidity of both varieties freshens and lengthens the finish.
The vines used to produce this impressive, well-priced Verdejo from the go-ahead Cuatro Rayas co-operative are “only” 40 years old, but that would be considered ancient in some parts of the world. Rich and almost exotic, with notes of lychee and white peach, some subtle oak from 20% barrel fermentation in 500-litre barrels and zesty, crunchy acidity.
Made with a selection of the co-operative’s most venerable vineyards, this hails from plots that are all over 100 years’ old. It’s an oxidatively handled style that will appeal to fans of traditional white Rioja, with a mix of French and American oak, lots of toast and spices and flavours of pear, saffron and beeswax underpinned by salinity. Developing nicely in bottle.
One of the most ambitious Rueda whites, this comes from a selection of pre-phylloxera vineyards and is built to age. The oak is better integrated than on the 2015, which is also available in the market right now, supporting a wine with amazing intensity and focus. Nutty and intense, it has flavours of pear, citrus and marzipan, with undertones of fennel and cinnamon, good structure and racy, palate-cleansing acidity.
Something of a tribute to the fortified wines that were traditionally produced in Rueda – and dominated the region’s production until the 1980s – this is a Sherry-style, solera-aged cuvée of Palomino and Verdejo. Pale, nutty and dry, it’s like a lighter version of a Palo Cortado, with yeasty complexity and a salty, refreshingly tangy finish. Unusual and complex.
Pinots from the clays of Moutere always remind me of the wines of Pommard in Burgundy. They are rich, bold, even slightly sturdy wines that are textured, a little gruff even, and extremely impressive. Structured and concentrated, this is savouery, spicy and intense, with notes of incense and sweet summer berries, supported by tannins.
Neudorf makes some of the most characterful Chardonnays in New Zealand. This is their unoaked, Kiwi-meets-Chablis style that sess no oak, but seven months on lees to pick up some extra texture and weight. Supple and fruity, with notes of white peach and pear, taut acidity and a long, satisfying finish.