Visiting Priorat in spring of this year was utterly fascinating. Visiting Carles Ortiz at Nin-Ortiz confirmed my earlier belief that they make some of the most head-turning wines I have tasted in the last few years from anywhere.
This small estate, situated in Priorat in Catalunya on north-eastern Spain’s Mediterranean coastline, crafts a breath-taking array of diverse wines. Their ethos is refreshingly straightforward; they only work with their own vineyards and therefore do not purchase fruit from other sources to augment their production, as they want to ensure that their entire range is produced from grapes certified 100% organic. They also belong to a group of biodynamic producers who aim to ensure that all their wines are made from healthy fruit produced without chemical intervention. And they use low levels of sulphur dioxide – they add none during fermentation, only a small amount to protect the wine during ageing and bottling.
Whatever they are doing, it is working. Their wines reveal striking purity and a freshness, or sense of energy, that is common to very few wines from the region. Such attributes have propelled this estate’s reputation ever higher and today they are regarded among the handful of truly great Priorat producers. Ester Nin and her partner Carles Ortiz have achieved so much in a relatively short space of time. Ester remains the viticulturalist at Daphne Glorian’s Clos I Terrasses ‘Clos Erasmus’, where her views on old vines, traditional varieties and biodynamic/organic viticulture are shared. Ester owns a tiny plot of old vines on remarkably steep slopes above the village of Porrera, stretching to 650 metres above sea level, which supplements the five hectares that Carles bought in Finca Les Planetes, a site which is home to their winery. These holdings are gradually added to as and when interesting parcels of old vines become available, which underlines the potential of Spain, not just Priorat. Spain is home to many old vineyards, and in Priorat many have been reclaimed by nature and therefore need re-establishing afresh. When Carles pointed to a sloping vineyard on the opposing hill from their cellars and explained his wish to replant, I could only visualise months of back-breaking work. Let’s be honest, there are easier places in the world to grow grapes than Priorat. The vineyards are planted directly into schistous rocky ground with little soil to speak of. The vines’ roots weave their way through fissures in the fragmented rocks in search of valuable moisture to sustain them through the hot Mediterranean summer. Fortunately, altitude provides some moderation to the heat, and vineyards in this region can extend up to 650 metres over sea-level. And even once the vines are established, yields are unsurprisingly low…it takes a certain kind of character to look upon the vineyards of Priorat and dream.
Priorat wine styles are changing – growers are looking for freshness in their wines. They are championing Cariñena and Garnacha rather than a handful of international varieties that were fashionable 20 years ago. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are gradually disappearing – unsurprising as Merlot in this climate overripens easily. The indigenous varieties are delivering more characterful wines and wines with greater typicity and freshness, and so the image of Priorat is gently changing, moving away from the heady, almost balsamic characters of yesteryear, and, as a consequence, there are a whole host of really impressive wines on the market today.
One of the very best values is undoubtedly Carles’ Planetes de Nin – a wine worth buying in almost any vintage such is its consistency. I have tasted examples with approaching 10 years of bottle age that have been superb. All of that said, the 2020 is a vintage to load up on to my mind. It is stunning and the gulf to the finer wines in the portfolio is closer than you might think. If you have tasted the outstanding Mas d’En Caçador, you’ll love this. See my note below along with yet another glowing endorsement from Luis Gutiérrez.