Putting it simply, I continue to be blown away by the quality of the wines from Familia Nin-Ortiz – they are some of the most head-turning wines I have tasted in the last few years.
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 Carlos 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 Carlos 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; with the right management and winemaking approach they can deliver outstanding quality. We are seeing a new wave of producers do just that and breathe new life into regions and vineyards – that is exactly what Ester and Carlos have achieved and the results are incredible.
To anyone new to Priorat, it is a region rich in history situated in the province of Taragona. It offers a range of different microclimates and soil structures on account of its steep, sloping vineyards that range from 100 to 700 metres in altitude. Many of its vineyards are craggy escarpments or terraced vineyards in separate mountain valleys. The name ‘Priorato’ means priory and legend has it that a shepherd boy awoke to see angels descending from a celestial ladder. He told a priest about his vision and in 1163 an order of Carthusian monks founded the ‘Priorato de Scala Dei’, literally the ‘Priory of the Stairway to God’. Today the Cellers de Scala Dei is a producer based in the old priory cellars! Modern day Priorat incorporates 11 different small villages, and extends over 2,000 hectares. The wines of the region gain their distinctive character on account of the topography and the schistous soils that dominate; schist is well-suited to vines (think of the famous Port vineyards of the Douro). The vine is able to sink its roots deep into the soil accessing rainwater stored underground to see the vines through a hot Mediterranean summer. Lower lying vineyards tend to have more slate and are unsurprisingly, more alluvial soils. The most famous soils of the region are called 'llicorella', where you find alternating layers of slate and quartzite making a black/gold tiger skin pattern, showing up in bright sunlight. Yields are naturally low in Priorat making for intense wines. Garnacha (Grenache in France) is incredibly well suited and dominates many of the finest examples made here, with Cariñena (Carignan) in support. Other ‘international’ varieties are grown, but today there seems to be a championing of traditional varieties above Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot among others.
Coming back to the wine in question, Familia Nin-Ortiz’s ‘Mas d’En Caçador’ is an extraordinary fine wine. It is made from the small parcel of vines that Ester bought in Porrera where many of the vines exceed one hundred years of age. It is one of the higher vineyards in Priorat with old stone terraces preventing erosion. The soil is the llicorella described above. The wine is made with 70% whole clusters, meaning that the stems, a valuable source of tannin, spice and freshness when fully ripe, are utilised in the fermentation. The wine is aged in large old oak foudres like those that are common to traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is produced with two varieties of Garnacha, along with Cariñena and some white grape varieties that assist in building complexity and aroma.
I can’t recommend this wine highly enough – it is truly exceptional, and while I opened this young wine just recently, I couldn’t help but enjoy it even now. It opened up superbly in a decanter to reveal outstanding poise and complexity. I would be inclined to hold it for four to five years before opening but if you cave into temptation, just be sure to allow it a chance to open. Please see my full note below as well as a ringing 98-point endorsement from Luis Gutiérrez when he tasted in August 2019. I puzzled over what this reminded me of for a few hours after tasting…it was Domaine du Pegau’s much heralded Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée da Capo, the 2016 vintage of which sells for around £1,300 per 6 bottle case.