Tasting With Ester Nin at The Cellar Table
We have all witnessed something quite unique in Priorat. Here we have a wine region that has seen not one, but two rebirths in the time that many of us have been collecting wine. What’s even more interesting is how much the vineyard management and winemaking have flexed, or morphed, to appeal to what consumers are looking for in today’s market.
With a history going back to the 12th century, Priorat suffered heavily after the phylloxera epidemic. The majority of the population left to seek a new source of income, abandoning their homes and vineyards. It wasn’t until the early nineties, when a group of winemakers decided that they would resurrect this forgotten corner of Catalonia, that the first rebirth took place. At the time, Priorat only consisted of some 1500 acres of vines, yet due to their efforts, today the number has literally tripled. Clos Mogador, Clos Dofí (currently Finca Dofí ), Clos de L’Obac, Clos Martinet, and Clos Erasmus were formed, becoming the icons of the region, which to this day are still hunted by collectors.
However, with the attention that the region received through this mix of quality-minded producers, a wave of new interests descended upon Priorat through the following decades, and with them the region began to build a reputation of large-scaled wines built of brute strength. Suddenly, the traditional Garnacha and Cariñena were being pushed to the side to make way for new plantings of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Then came the oak, and before long the wines of Priorat began to be shunned by consumers who were looking for wines of purity and terroir.
Which brings us to today
The reality is that most collectors haven’t realized that a change has taken hold in Priorat. Many are still afraid of the large-scaled, oak-influenced wines of the past. Can you still find those wines? Yes, and there is still a market for them as well.
However, the new generation has been slowly taking hold, and now the results are quite apparent. This influx of talent has created a great opportunity for collectors in the know to get in on the ground floor, often at prices that are agreeable.
At the head of this charge is Ester Nin
Ester Nin, of Familia Nin Ortiz, cut her teeth in the vineyards of the renowned Mas Martinet and Clos Erasmus; in fact, she was the leading proponent of converting the vineyard practices at Clos Erasmus to fully organic and now biodynamic. Today, Ester continues to spend her days at Clos Erasmus as the second woman (next to Daphne Glorian) behind these wines which still drive critics wild.
However, in 2004, Ester began to seek out her own vines on the treacherous and rugged slopes of Mas d’En Caçador, a terraced vineyard of old renown on the border between Porrera and Torroja del Priorat. The combination of ancient vines, high elevations (some of the highest in the region), llicorella soils, and northern expositions inspired Ester, who believed that this location could create wines of remarkable balance–Nit de Nin was born.
It was also here that she practiced and perfected her biodynamic principles, which are now catching on throughout the region. The best part is that Ester is more than happy to share and teach these principles to other winemakers throughout Priorat. In fact, it was the sharing of knowledge which led her to meet the second half of Familia Nin Ortiz, Carles Ortiz. Seeing eye to eye on biodynamic principles, and with his own Garnatxa (Grenache) and Carinyena (Carignan) vines in the Finca les Planetes vineyard, Carles found something of a kindred spirit in Ester. Together they formed Familia Nin Ortiz and began producing the two wines which propelled their brand to international renown, Nit de Nin from Mas d’en Cacador and Planetes from Finca les Planetes.
Since that time, the portfolio has slowly continued to grow with care, as the desire to experiment can often be irresistible, especially when new terroir becomes available to them. Of note is their Planetes de Nin Blanc, produced 100% from Carinyena Blanca, which Carles recognized as a perfect fit for the Finca les Planetes vineyard. More recently, the new Nit de Nin Coma d’en Romeu, from 70-year-old Garnacha planted in schist at 400 meters on a steep slope, which is fermented whole-cluster is a wine like none other in Priorat–seeming to capture the Mediterranean in a bottle.
In the vineyards, the biodynamic approach continues to evolve, as the pair work to return biodiversity to their soils, plowing by mule and tending everything by hand. Picking is done quite early by Priorat standards, with the goal of achieving ripe yet balanced fruit. From there, Ester and Carles produce their limited-production, artisanal wines in a small winery built within the confines of their home. Here you will find a mix of foudre, demi-muid and clay amphorae–all neutral vessels.
Granted, it’s one thing to read about it and a totally other thing to taste the wines and listen, as Ester goes into detail about her beliefs and how she applies them to her wines. It’s her passion that has turned her into something of an icon in her own right. In fact, many would tell you that Ester Nin is one of the most important female winemakers in the world today, and I certainly wouldn’t argue. The fact is that what she and Carles have achieved in Priorat is breathing a whole new life into the region, and it seems like this is just the beginning.
I’m here to say that it’s time to give Priorat another chance. Purity, tension, terroir, minerality, energy and verve–all of this can be found here, and much more. Welcome to the second rebirth of Priorat, courtesy of Familia Nin Ortiz.
On to the Tasting Notes
Nin-Ortiz Planetes de Nin Blanc 2016 – Here I found a gorgeous perfumed expression, showing savory herbs, giving way to ripe apple with a spritz of lime, then yellow florals, sea breeze and minerals. On the palate, I was greeted to soft textures with mineral-infused stone fruits and brisk acids that made the tongue curl. The finish was medium-long and zesty, as a mix of minerals and green apple lingered long. (92 points)
Nin-Ortiz Planetes de Nin Blanc 2017 – The nose showed masses of minerals up front which morphed into a mix of mulled apple, spices, dried citrus, yellow florals and backed by notes of crushed seashell (an odd mix yet wonderful all the same). On the palate, I found soft textures brought to life by zesty acidity, as tart apple and citrus tones washed across the senses. The finish was long and quite floral with lasting minerality and mouthwatering acidity. (93 points)
Familia Nin-Ortiz Penedès Terra Vermella de Nin 2015 (100% Parellada Montonega) – Here I found a unique blend of fresh spiced apple, sweet yellow florals, almond paste and crushed stone minerality. On the palate, soft, caressing textures gave way to crisp apple with nutty richness, a spritz of citrus and zesty minerals. The finish was long and fresh with lasting stone fruit and inner floral tones that seemed to go on and on. (92 points)
Nin-Ortiz Planetes de Nin Garnatxes en Amphora 2016 – The bouquet was a mix of of crushed stone with mulling spices, intense raspberry, hints of savory herbs and floral undergrowth. On the palate, I found soft textures with medium-weight, spiced up by zesty cherry, hints of sweet spice and lifting, juicy acidity. The finish was medium-long and incredibly fresh, resonating of tart red fruits. (93 points)
Nin-Ortiz Planetes de Nin 2015 – The nose showed a mix of blackberry and spiced cherry, with mint leaf, dark soil tones and stone dust. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by tart raspberry tones with balsamic spice and minerals, as a concentration of tart red fruit seemed to coat the senses, leaving hints of tannin and sweet spice to linger. The finish was long and spicy with remnants of savory herbs and balsamics. This is simply gorgeous, especially at this price point. (94 points)
Nin-Ortiz Nit de Nin Mas d’En Cacador 2015 – The nose was dark and intense, showing Christmas spice and crushed ripe black cherry up front, as balsamic spice with hints of lavender, violet florals, and a sweet dusting of minerals formed in the glass. On the palate, I found the silkiest of textures, along with sweet-and-sour black fruits, balsamics and spice, yet all kept lively and fresh through brisk acidity. The finish was medium-long, displaying cheek-puckering tart black fruits, minerals and the slightest hint of forgivable heat. (95 points)
Nin-Ortiz Nit de Nin Mas d’En Cacador 2009 – The 2009 Mas d’En Cacador was in a beautiful place on this day, displaying a bouquet of dark balsamic spice, with sweet floral tones, crushed cherry, blackberry and a hint of acetone. On the palate, I found a soft expression, like a silk sheet draped across the senses, as a mix of red and black fruits came together with sweet inner florals, savory herbs and dark soil tones. A wave of fresh acidity grounded the experience in reality, as the wine finished dry yet fresh, resonating in a mix of red and black berry fruits. (93 points)