Let’s talk about ’16 and Álvaro Palacios
A decade ago, despite living just an hour away in San Francisco, my visits to Napa Valley were readily-dwindling in regularity as tourism was then and is now, out of control. But in a nearly-final visit before moving to Spain, I decided to stop in to one of the most classic of classics, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
The $45 wine tasting (no visit) had at its end, either their Cask 23 or Fay eyedropper-ed into my glass and what I found was something that tasted so raw, oaky, rough, and unbridled, it was like it’d just been pulled from the barrel as a prank to see if I was paying attention. The tasting room employee told me, “It will be excellent in five years.” to which I replied by dumping what I didn’t taste in the spittoon and saying, “Then sell it in five years.”
It is admittedly one of the biggest fudges in wine production that wines are put on the market far too early for optimal drinking. Often the wines simply don’t live up to the praise they initially receive and they’ll never actually reach this point of “excellent” that’s claimed.
It’s not every year, but there are definitely some vintages that take longer to mature than others. For example, when I was in Napa last year tasting the 2013, 2014, and 2015 wines against each other, the 2014s were showing the best evolution at that point despite the fact everyone had been singing the praises of the 2013s just two years previously. Did wine critics get it wrong? Hard to tell really as the wines will undoubtedly go through many more ebbs and flows over the years and maybe the 2013s will come out on top for those who actually allowed the vintage to show instead of just creating a “wine-based product” each year, although I honestly doubt it and would stock up on 2014s if into the Napa style.
New World is one thing however and classic European wine regions such as Bordeaux and Barolo are another. A lot of what you see in Napa is based upon the premise of those regions needing 10+ years in order for the wines to start showing the least bit decently although Old World Europe arrived to this more organically over centuries whereas New World just sorta adopted it from the start–or at least from the 1990s.
There are definitely Old World wines made in this fashion still but there has also been a large shift in winemaking to get the wines to express earlier. As is the fashion to point out right now, Millennials don’t have their own wine cellars nor the bankroll to stockpile wines and age for this traditional amount of time thus the believe is that they only want to drink “glou glou” wines. This is of course an asinine oversimplification as their tastes will change and evolve over time as has every generation’s. Admittedly, as a Gen-Xer, while I finally have the cellar, due to purchasing the house that sits atop it, I most certainly don’t have the bankroll. But I don’t really want to wait for wines to come into their own and most everything in my cellar is ready to be opened tonight, which is always a great idea.
This isn’t just me and those of the un-cellared class however. It’s also an older set of wine drinkers in their 70s on up (ie Baby Boomers) who think, “Shit, will I even be around to enjoy this in its prime?” The answer is often a depressing, “no” although we Gen-Xers will be happy to have you buy these wines so that we may pick through your cellar remains upon your passing like drunken vultures–we know our place and are okay with it.
This is one of the aspects about much of modern Spanish winemaking that I enjoy. While you do have wines that are aged forever like Viña Tondonia in Rioja and a few others, you also have a wealth of wines from all over the country that are ready to drink starting the spring after they’re made to at most, 1-2 years later.
Before you think that this is great but it’s all Spain has to offer–because it’s not–we need to have a chat about the 2016 vintage. This is universally an excellent vintage in the entire world. Keep this in mind when buying wine and trying to remember if it’s the “Rule of the Fives” or the “Rule of the Years of the Pig” (don’t worry, I made that up) or whatever to know if you should buy a wine or not. 2016. Great, everywhere. Goes down like glou glou, sorta.
The only problem with it is that the wines can run a bit concentrated in certain regions and thus, you do need that time for them to age–in this instance it really isn’t a rehearsed tasting room spiel. The aging in the bottle is required for the wine to “integrate” which is a nice was to say “allowing harsh, pointy flavor compounds to break down to a point of being smoother”. In Spain, 2016 was probably one of the finest vintages since modern winemaking took over the country a half century ago and it offers an interesting point to see how the various regions approached it.
With Priorat, you have the hot, dry vintages of 2015 and 2017 as bookends of 2016 which offer up wines that are already great to drink. They won’t be able to age as long in the bottle as a trade off however and in fact, I’d recommend getting through any 2015s you have within the next three years with the standard caveat of certain exceptional wines from exceptional vineyards and producers are going to have some staying power.
The 2016 wines still need more time to reach their peak but as I noted with Mas Doix Salanques 2016, certain wines are already starting to show well. This is what makes it interesting to take a look at another top name in Priorat, Álvaro Palacios as his range of Priorat wines covers a lot of territory in terms of quality levels from younger to über icon.
If people know about DOQ Priorat, it’s often because they’ve had one of his wines, especially if you’re based in the US where he has excellent distribution. More than likely it was a bottle of Camins del Priorat or maybe Les Terrasses. These are both interesting wines but I feel they generally overlap each other in terms of profile despite Les Terrasses being double the price of Camins. Where you can see a marked difference however is in the 2016 vintage and I assume from here going forward as Les Terrasses has made a massive jump in terms of quality and depth but again, this vintage will need more time to age. If you want one to try now, get the 2015 but it will be a much, much different wine.
Where things get crazy are with Álvaro’s top two wines, Les Aubagetes and L’Ermita. The prices you see below are indeed the retail prices and yes, they’re zany to put it mildly. The question I always get asked, especially with L’Ermita is, “Is it worth it?” to which the answer is, no wine is worth that much but if you have that kind of money to drop on a bottle, you won’t be let down as year upon year, it’s a staggeringly-precious wine, even when not taking the price into consideration.
But these are two wines very much worthy of aging if you can as they are simply nowhere near ready to drink and will continue to evolve in wild and wonderful ways, possible starting to get very exciting in 2021. Note that this is a big difference from the past as top wines in DOQ Priorat would have needed at least 10 years aging to get this point. Thankfully, tastes have come back around to wanting a more balanced and approachable wine, which allows those from DOQ Priorat to shine and let the excellence of the terroir sing loudly and proudly. For this, I’m thankful.
So the grand takeaway for 2016 is, wait. And if you can’t wait, get yourself a fine bottle of 2015 to drink now. If you can’t get a 2015, well, just get something!
For all the revised tasting notes, you’ll receive the full DOQ Priorat & DO Montsant reports free with any purchase of the books
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle but is developing wonderfully.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Álvaro Palacios - Les Terrasses 2016
Dark cherry, black currant, chicory, white pepper, licorice, lifted floral notes. Light on the palate, good depth of character, clean and linear fruit with medium plus acidity and a long finish.
55% Grenache 44% Carignan 1% "Others" · 14.5% · 31EUR
Álvaro Palacios - Finca Dofí 2016
Crisp red cherry, cranberry, fresh fennel, black pepper. Fresh and crisp on the palate, medium acidity and a lengthy finish. Well defined and showing classic complexity.
98% Grenache 1% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 89EUR
Álvaro Palacios - Gratallops – Vi de Vila 2016
Dark cherry, bit of earthy, truffly notes, cumin, licorice. Crisp red fruits on the palate but a touch confected at the edges. Despite that, it holds medium plus acidity and medium finish.
63% Grenache 35% Carignan 2% "Others" · 15% · 57EUR
Álvaro Palacios - Camins del Priorat 2017
Bit of blunted red cherry, light raspberry, sweet red licorice, powdery mineral notes. Fresh fruit on the palate, but a bit light in acidity and persistence.
35% Grenache 25% Carignan 17% Cabernet Franc 13% Syrah 10% Merlot · 14.5% · 18.50EUR