The region of Priorat in Catalonia, north-eastern Spain, has fascinated me for some time, partly as I am interested in Grenache/Garnacha in all its many guises and partly as the character of this region isn’t so easy to pinpoint on account of the varied winemaking approaches that have evolved. The style of Priorat has changed greatly over the last two decades as producers have sought more elegance and refinement over power and intensity.
Near top of the tree for me are the wines of Daphne Glorian at Clos I Terrasses – these are mesmerising wines. The story goes that it was Alvaro Palacios and René Barbier, two stalwarts of the Priorat winemaking scene, who encouraged Daphne to purchase a vineyard near the village of Gratallops in the heart of Priorat. She invested her savings in some old plots of Garnacha planted on terraced hillside vineyards that Palacios and Barbier believed could produce something interesting. It is worth remembering that this was in 1989, long before Priorat became a recognised region on export markets. While Daphne considered where to set up her cellars, the first vintages were made at Barbier’s Clos Mogador.
The decision to invest in that Garnacha vineyard was inspired. Today, Clos Erasmus, the flagship wine from Clos I Terrasses, is one of the most highly regarded wines in all of Priorat, and one of the great wines of Spain. It won early endorsements from Robert Parker for its 1994 vintage, in which only 300 cases were produced – in his note for that wine he commented, ‘Try to imagine a hypothetical blend of Petrus, l'Evangile, Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Napa's 1993 Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon.’ I have a good imagination, but I am not sure I can match up to that task; the point is he rattled off the names of a number of illustrious wines in his praise of an early vintage of Clos Erasmus and that is notable for such a young project. Since then, this estate has, frankly, gone from strength to strength. The winemaking approach has adjusted over time and there was a notable shift in 2012 towards a style which is fresher, less oaky and less extracted. The 2013 remains one of the finest Spanish wines I have tasted – it was truly spellbinding.
The vineyard now extends over 18 hectares in Gratallops and El Lloar, which has led to the creation of a second wine, Laurel. A wine that drinks a touch earlier and is testament to the skill and dedication of the owners to high quality. To produce just 3,300 bottles of your Grand Vin and something like 23,000 bottles of your second wine is a quality conscious ratio if ever there was one. The decision is all the more startling when you taste the second wine – since being introduced in the early 2000s, it too has stepped forward in quality. From the 2014 vintage onwards it has received terrific plaudits from our go-to Spanish reviewer, Luis Gutiérrez at robertparker.com, with all vintages scoring over 95 points. I only cite that to indicate how highly regarded the second wine is.
During a brief tasting trip to Spain recently, I had the chance to taste both the 2019 Clos Erasmus (as yet unscored) and the 2019 Laurel from Clos I Terrasses and both were exceptional. I had to remind myself that I was only tasting the second wine as I scribbled my note; the 2019 Laurel would stand out next to the great and good of Priorat on its own merits, let alone the Clos Erasmus.
Laurel is made from the younger vines planted on the estate and contains some barrels that are declassified from Clos Erasmus, as well as all the Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the estate. Invariably, the blend is around 70% Garnacha allied to 15% each of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is fermented in old oak and concrete vats and is largely aged in huge 20,000 litre oak foudres, as well as some concrete vats, some second fill barriques and increasingly some clay amphorae. The point of all these vessels is they do not impart anything heavy to the flavour, since they are basically inert and retain the freshness, therefore the fruit really sings and takes centre stage.
See my full note below.