The BSFW blog offers a periodic airing of our staff's observations and musings about things we find in our market and, frankly, can't live without. This is not a dispensing of erudite information from high on the mount; this is us sharing with you the aspects of the fine wine, craft brew and gourmet worlds that pique our interest.
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This post was written while I was on the road - Day 2 - in Spain two weeks ago.
Now, where was I? Ah, yes... Leaving the car in its ‘hiding place’ and deciding to walk all of 5 minutes from my hotel to my hosts at Clos Figueres earlier this morning, I am happy to be in a quiet town where the only obstacles in my path are not even dog poop (Barcelona), but mama gatos protecting their kittens as I, an unexpected intruder, walk past. I guess on the directionals, hoping my inner compass will guide me to my destination. Luckily, it does.
At Clos Figueres I find Jaume, winemaker extraordinare, who has been at the winery for three years. We speak largely in Espanol, me understanding mucho, pero hablando muy mal. I learn that they use three different fermentation vats – stainless, fiberglass, and barrels. Each has their call of duty, depending whether the intended wine is for a more approachable, fruit forward offering that lends an ‘introduction’ to consumers, or the more complex wines for which the Priorat is famous.
I had hoped to video tape my time at Clos Figueres with the young expert winemaker/Master Sommelier Jaume, and Miguel, the wine manager. But our conversation was largely in animated spanglish; they both nodded enthusiastically at my very rusty Spanish and, thankfully, my Spanish training meant I could understand nearly all of what they were communicating. Was I romanced? Absolutely. Am I always romanced by the Priorat? No. It is historically a region that I quite love, but my love/hate price-point/value rationalism keeps things real.
Clos Figueres, like many of their elite neighbors, produces wine meant to age. Of course, they produce a wine that is more ‘accessible’ or fruit forward, knowing that many do not have the patience or wallet size these wines demand. They also produce a gorgeous white blend (Font de la Figueres) that is largely Viognier – a varietal that was mistakenly sent to proprietor Christopher Cannan when he set up shop in 1997; fortunately, the Priorat proved an interesting and worthwhile testing ground. I’m sipping the 2009’s worthwhileness while I write (my hosts were too kind in allowing me to take a couple of bottles with me to enjoy at my hotel later, to see how they would open, or evolve with a bit of oxygen in their ‘lungs’).
For the sake of argument, I just re-poured the second offering: the 2006 Clos Figueres red. It was a gem, arguably in its prime, even freshly uncorked this morning; now its anticipated chewy black plum and black raspberry (fraboise) fruit, with an edge of strawberry leaf, forest floor (sabroso…), dried herbs, bittersweet chocolate and black pepper spice flourish even more. Yet, I know it will continue to open and deliver even more.
Jaume used his pepito (plastic theif) to “steal” a bit of wine from each of the 2010 barrels enjoying their siesta (pre-aging/bottling) in barrels below the alfresco tasting porch so I could taste them each au natural. What an experience! This is the sort of opportunity that drives home the essence of varietal expression. Grenache is uniquely Grenache, with natural variation depending on the vineyard site; but at the end of the day, a Granny Smith apple is too tart to be called Macintosh just like Grenache is too red-berry fruited to be called Mouvedre, a more smoked meat, gamey, blueberry/redberry fruit flavored varietal. How varietals work together is what makes a particular Clos stand out in their efforts (aka when to pick, in what vessel one should ferment each varietal, and later, what balance of grapes will comprise the final wine).
Clos Figueres delivers an authentic expression of the Priorat. Their reds are structured but elegant, chewy but savory, juicy but teeth-sinking. If you can get your hands on a 2006 (or have one in your cellar) this is the time to uncork!
This post was written while I was on the road - Day 2 - in Spain last week.
To say the Priorat expresses itself on the drive in, up and curving painstakingly through the mountains is one thing. Certainly. As I write (after a day of exploring this part of the Priorat and tasting at Clos Figueres – more on that later), I’m perched in my semi-private patio, overlooking life as the 240 person town of Gratallops knows it – children (all of them?) playing on the basketball court below not more than 100 feet from me, the quiet office of my hotel and the cellars (Onyx) they run, and the “parking lot” – a lucky plot of land not more than 1200 square feet with a place for you to turn off the engine without worry one of the narrow former cow path roads will lend itself to some sort of collision while you rest in the dormitory more or less above.
Purple flowers are in bloom while the vines are still largely dormant, with just a few buds appearing in the fairly warm, temperate spring air. The ground is a bright green, that is where grass is poking through, hanging in there for just a few weeks before the ever-warm sun cooks it to browness in the absence of rain.
Whereas Penendes was an amalgam of soil types, the Priorat is nearly completely (frighteningly, re: drive) terraced licoricella, or a sandy/rocky slate. Here in the lower Priorat at least, it is largely Grand Canyon orange-red. Olive (dark green) and almond (lighter green) trees are scattered throughout the vineyards. Visually they add a natural texture and romantic call to the landscape.
A vinous comparison? There is not really one. You could stretch to the complexity and arguably ‘fierce’ structure (well balanced but more tannic) wines of Bordeaux, but the fruit forward, teeth-sinking, chewy wines of Chateauneuf du Pape (last year’s trip) are perhaps better comparisons – at least one of the primary grapes used in both their reds is one in the same: Garnacha/Grenache.
The most fascinating thing – the thing that becomes particularly self-evident once you visit a wine region such as this – is that you can taste the terroir. It is visceral, it is not really something you can put your finger on, but it is very apparent. You “see” the red slate as you taste, the texture (fine tannin) is as animate as touching the soil, the olive and almond trees, the purple flowers…. The downright freshness of this place is alive in the wine. The best wineries (I think, humbly) capture this local essence no matter where you are. In Priorat you gather a survival of the fittest, but a sleepy-town (quiet) elegance as well.....