As a longtime fan of the southern Rhone, it was only so long before I started to look for Grenache in other regions. However, for the most part, what I found didn’t thrill me. That is, of course, until I found Priorat.
This actually makes sense since Grenache came to the Rhone from Spain, where it’s known as Garnacha Tinta. The secret to high-quality Garnacha is a warm, dry climate, poor soils and small yields, resulting in a low-acidity, dark-red wine which can obtain high levels of richness and concentration but also alcohol. In the hands of an experienced winemaker, the results can be pure examples of hedonistic pleasure. However, in the wrong hands and terroir, you’ll end up with a hot and flabby wine, lacking any serious depth.
It takes a very special microclimate to tame Garnacha, and Priorat has just that, with its extreme hot summers and warm, drying Mistral winds. The soil here is of volcanic origins, called llicorella, a mix of disintegrated black slate and quartz, which retains heat and forces the vine’s roots to dig deep in search of nutrients. Pour a glass of water on Priorat soil, and watch the earth soak it up in mere seconds.
You wouldn’t expect anyone to want to make wine in such a place; in fact Priorat was all but abandoned in the 1940’s and ‘50s, as its population searched for a better life. What remained were a relatively small amount of vines (numbering only in the hundreds of hectares), which had adapted to the harsh conditions of the region. However, it was in these old vines that a small group of visionary winemakers saw tremendous potential.
This started with René Barbier, who convinced a group of friends that the region could produce world-class wines. This group of friends started the first wineries in the region, Clos Mogador, Clos de l’Obac, Clos Erasmus, Clos Martinet and Clos Dofi, which is now called Finca Dofi. To this day, these remain the wines that are the most sought after in the region. With time, other passionate growers and winemakers began to make their mark.
Mas Doix was one of my first experiences with Priorat, and the one that set me on the path to digging deeper into what made the region special. Although Mas Doix as a company didn’t arrive on the scene as early as the founding families, what they did have were five generations of vine-growing experience in the region. Going back to the mid 19th century, Juan Extrems Doix was already producing award-winning wines. However, over time, the family’s production of grapes began to be sold off to the local co-operative winery. That ended in 1998 with the creation of Mas Doix.
It’s from their families’ stock of 80-year-old Garnacha and over 100-year-old Cariñena vines that Mas Doix has gone on to create their flagship wine, Doix Costers de Vinyes Velles. What’s even more interesting in the lineup, is the 1902, an extremely rare wine composed 100% of Cariñena planted in, you guessed it, 1902. Yet, the real value in the range is the Salanques, a blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Carignane, and 10 % Syrah, which you could say is their young-vine bottling—even though the vines are between the ages of 70 to 90-years old. Salanques is a very serious bottle of wine, and the one that started it all for me.
What has always surprised me the most about the entire portfolio of wines is their ability to maintain freshness in contrast of their deep and concentrated persona. A young Mas Doix would easily be described as massive, and a question that I’ve heard asked around many tasting tables is, will Priorat age well in the cellar? What better a way to see how well these wines age, then by placing two vintages next to each other in a comparison tasting–which we did. What I can say from the results, is that the answer is a definite yes, and the reason behind their longevity is in their impeccable balance.
Much of this has to do with location of their vineyards, in Poboleda, which is in the North Eastern section of Priorat and protected by natural boundaries on two sides. There, the vineyards enjoy a cooling wind that sweeps through the valley and moderates the temperature of the vines. This results in a longer maturation process and more characterful grapes.
In the end, if you are one of the many who think that Priorat has seen its day, I challenge you to give them another shot. What you find may surprise you, and I believe that the region has only just started to show the world what it’s capable of. Only time will tell, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that Mas Doix is right at the forefront of Priorats’ reemergence to greatness.
Speaking of that comparison tasting–On To The Notes:
2006 Mas Doix Priorat Salanques – The 2006 is a testament to the longevity of Salenques, as a bouquet of dried fruits, florals, dusty soil and minerals greeted me. It’s just starting to show beautiful tertiary character. Then on the palate, a juicy wave of silky wild berry, spice and minerals splashed against the senses. It finished delicate and refined, in a beautiful place now, yet far from the end of it’s drinking window. Out of the entire group, the 2006 Salanques really stood out for it’s qualtiy to price ratio, and gorgeous maturation in bottle. (93 points)
2012 Mas Doix Priorat Salanques – The nose was rich with intense dark fruits, herbs and minerals. On the palate, this was surprisingly fresh and lifted, showing wild berry and spice with beautiful balance and poise. It finished long on dark fruit, bitter chocolate and palate cleansing acidity. The 2012 Salenques is a pretty and understate wine that is drinking well now, yet has the potential to develop much further in the cellar. (92 points) Find it @Morrell
2007 Mas Doix Priorat Costers de Vinyes Velles – The 2007 takes the intensity of Priorat and balances it perfectly with a nose of ripe blackberry, raisin, dark floral tones, tobacco and herbal lift. On the palate, I found silky textures on a mid-weight frame with notes of wild berry, dark chocolate, herbs and hints of tannin tugging at the palate. This was balanced throughout and finished on focused fruit intensity. The 2007 should enjoy a long drinking window and improve for over a decade in the cellar. I hope to taste it again some day. (94 points)
2009 Mas Doix Priorat Costers de Vinyes Velles – The nose was rich and intense with blueberry and raspberry fruits, floral tones, spice and crushed stone. On the palate, I found velvety textures with an energetic wave of acidity keeping things fresh and lifted as sappy dark fruits, cocoa and minerals coated the sense. The finish showed a hint of its warm vintage heat, with rich fruits and a hint of herbs. This may not be the most balanced Mas Doix, yet it is undeniably enjoyable. (92 points)
Click HERE, for Morrell’s selection from the top names in Priorat.
Article and Tasting Notes by Eric Guido