A heretic is born: Cellers de Scala Dei – l’Heretge 2016
According to all facts and figures available, the Grenache grape is what dominates the vineyards and production in DOQ Priorat, standing at 39% of the total as of 2017. It used to be a bit higher historically but foreign varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah were introduced mid-20th century to take a bit away from its dominance and then, in that last few years, the total of white grapes has been growing as well, rising from 4% to nearly 7% in just a couple of years.
Thankfully Grenache has remained strong as it’s a lovely grape when done well and Cellers de Scala Dei do indeed do it very well; in fact something like 80% or more of their annual production is focused upon this grape. From their youngest “Garnatxa” wine that’s an outstanding value at 10€ up to their individual “Les Garnatxes” at 75€ from higher altitudes, the grape is framed perfectly, year after varying year, by the steady hand of head winemaker, Ricard Rofes.
Ricard isn’t one to sit by idly however and regularly tries to challenge himself and his team with projects that require a bit of out-of-the-box work. In 2014, this culminated in bringing back a fantastic Rosé to their line of wines (94 points in my recent book revision tasting!). Then there was the “blanc de negre” which is a white Grenache wine made from red grapes they first experimented with in 2015. But all of this is playing with their main grape of Grenache and the real challenge has long lay in working with a classic grape from the region that has long been maligned of which I’m of course talking about Carignan.
Scala Dei has worked with Carignan for some time and it’s part of the blend of both their Prior as well as Cartoixa wines. But that was all it was, part of the blend and a minor part at that with Grenache taking the vast wealth of the spotlight. Ricard, like many others these days saw that the grape was capable of more and thus they have just released an individual bottling of Carignan under the name, “l’Heretge” or in English, “The Heretic”.
Sourced from old vines in the village of la Vilella Alta (just to the south of Escaladei) and produced in low quantity, the name probably seems pretty rock & roll at first. One might go so far as to think Scala Dei guilty of copying a name such as Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner” but it fits in with the theme of their wines in general. Given that their cellar forms the modern day inheritor of the original Carthusian monk holdings, they have something of a religious theme to the names and look. “La Cartoixa” is the name of the monastery, “Prior” is the “priory” or historical monk holdings, “Pla dels Àngels” is the “Angels’ field”, etc. The labels are all crisply white as well, holding the original monastic seal of the realm.
L’Heretge being the oddball in their wines, given that it’s 100% Carignan forms a break with tradition and thus, it’s been given a fitting, black label. Apparently all the wines have received something of a dust up, dropping the rather classic, text-based labels in favor of an illustration to make them stand out a bit more. All in all welcome changes and it will be exciting to see where this wine goes from here.
Note that this has been added to the “Grand Carignan Tasting List” which now totals 90 individual Carignan wines at this point.
Plush dark cherry and wild strawberry, very spicy and nuanced, licorice, anise, dark chocolate, sage. Red fruit dominant on the palate, chewy, clean tannins, medium plus acidity but a great wealth of structure. Considerable quantity of wine packed into this, will need a good deal of time to open and bloom at its maximum potential.
100% Carignan 14.5% 60€