Tast del Decenni 2018: The DOQ Priorat 2008 vintage

The 2008 vintage for DOQ Priorat was something of a crossing-the-Rubicon, come-to-Bacchus, everything-has-changed vintage. The wineries started the year coming off of one of their best vintages ever, 2007 (read more) and they ended the year with what was overall a very hot, dry vintage, but more to the point, the arrival of the Global Financial Crisis. From 2008 onward Spain plummeted into what is still referred to as “La Crisis” although given that it’s 10 years on now, I think it’s just safe to say it’s, “La Spain” in regards to any lingering aspects of that period.

I recently tasted a selection of 19 wines from 2008 at the annual Tast del Decenni and it was definitely an “assortment” of wines. This marks the fifth one of these tastings I’ve attended and you could taste that a great deal of money had been spent on that vintage–probably the last big expenditures for most cellars until at least 2012. Expensive-tasting medium to high-toasted oak with fine-grained tannins was prevalent on many of the wines. Also prevalent was clear cellar work that I felt boxed in many of the wines, leaving little to chance via the advising of consulting enologists that saw fit to make 2008 one of the last vintages (along with 2009) to taste of the “old modern” Priorat.

Some of these wines have aged well and I’m always amazed to see when tasting with the enologists from the wineries at this tasting that what I think is excellent and evolving well is most definitely not what they think. I thought I might have been missing something until one year Ferran Centelles tasted for JancisRobinson.com and his conclusions (paywall) were very similar my own. I felt some vindication in this but at the same time, worry as it meant that there is something of a disconnect between the small winemaking community in the region and the greater wine drinking world.

In terms of weather, as I mentioned, 2008 was overall hot. In the big scheme of things, the average temperature and rainfall was mostly in line with other years, but with winemaking it’s all about when the meteorological events happen that makes all the difference. For instance, it appears that over half of all the rain for the year fell in May. Sure, Priorat doesn’t generally have a lot of rain, but that’s a rather large imbalance and it made for a great wealth of fungal problems which reduced harvests for some winemakers by up to 50%. But then ironically, it boosted production for others. Due to this and many new vineyard plantings coming of age, the year was consistent at 480 million kgs–nearly double of what it was just seven years earlier to put into terms the amount of growth in the region.

Despite this, the wines overall showed signs of a hot vintage. Many stewed fruits and high alcohols were prevalent. Many did quite well to manage the negatives of the vintage to produce wines that still have a good deal of life in them. For others, this was definitely the time to change what was being done to that point, especially as seen in Vall Llach who, starting in 2009, split their flagship eponymous wine in to the Mas de la Rosa and Porrera Vi de Vila. Changes such as these and a rethink of what it meant to be Priorat should hold a number of surprises in store for next year’s tasting of the 2009 and even more so for the 2010 wines which honestly just started to fully open up 18 months ago.

Note that I’ve not assigned scores this time around as I’d just come off a week of judging and I was thoroughly drained. Thus I simply focused on getting a sense of the wines and trying to convey that which I suppose is better than 2006 where I didn’t write anything at all. All wines were served blind, although I’m still not sure if the three source bottles from the wineries were blended into one carafe as they have been in previous years or were served one at a time.

Cal Pla – Mas d’en Compte Blanc
Quite surprising amount of color, good deal of drift at the rim. Cured lemon, soft brioche, sandalwood, creamy, leesy minerality. Generous on the palate with full, creamy mouthfeel, aged lemon aspects more prevalent, fruit quite low at this point and the mineral notes pull out into a very long finish.

Buil i Giné – Giné Giné
Minor dark fruit notes, lightly bramble, but the alcohol is quite prevalent in the nose at this point, giving a hit of volatility. Very light, delicate fruit on the palate, fleshed out, long, very long in the finish. Has some minor plum aspects, still with a wealth of tannins that have thinned a bit but speak to originally being a good deal of new oak on the wine.

Mas Sinén – Negre
Dark fruit, currant plum, quite volatile around the edges. More red fruit on the palate, tannins showing quite heavily, sensation of more aggressive oak, integration hasn’t been reached at this point.

Mas d’en Gil – Clos Fontà
Aromatic intensity down in the nose, minor touches of fruit. Light red fruits on the palate, oak quite aggressive, very little left in terms of fruit, oxidized character seems prevalent on the palate.

Mas Doix – Mas Doix
Stewed dark fruits, quite massive in profile, showing off fig and tar. Fruit more fleshy on the palate, still boxed in by a wallop of oak tannin that seems to be getting further away from the alcohol with age.

Vall Llach – Vall Llach
Red berry fruit, touch of sweet vanilla, very balsamic, bit of good brett that leads to savory aspects and oak flair. In the mouth, powdery, chalky in texture with a minimal amount of fruit staying. Seems to hold a bit of foreign varieties that are given good length but covering much of the character.

Joan Simó – Les Eres
Light touches of dark fruit, thin plum and dark cherry notes, little funk of reduction. Reasonably full on the palate with decent fruit definition but a very short finish with some volatile notes coming through.

Balmaprat – Dempeus
Plump boysenberry, it rustic and volatile in the nose. Quite decent fruit definition and length on the palate. A rather massive wealth of tannins, but overall the wine is driving itself well in terms of structure and fruit definition.

La Conreria d’Scala Dei – Iugiter
Dark cherry with a tinge of nail polish and oxidation around what is otherwise quite pleasant fruit. Very jammy and ripe on the palate. Fruit sticks around but puts all the wine upfront without much persistence behind it.

Pasanau – Vell Coster
Big giant dollop of fruit at the frontal attack, stewed undertones, still very youthful. While big and fruity on the palate as well, there’s actually some very good definition of character with some tar and volatile notes in the finish. Very forward wine and New World feeling.

Capafons Ossó – Sirsell
Quite syrupy and ripe fruit, minor spice notes of licorice, and herbal bits. Big and upfront on the palate as well, very dusty dry tannins in terms of profile, medium length. Feels overly constrained.

Nunci – Negre
Plump dark fruit, licorice and tar, mineral notes still quite prevalent. Surprisingly fresh and juicy on the palate. Great deal of life tucked away under quite dry and potent tannins.

Gran Clos – Cartús
Just a tiny bit of wild strawberry. Red fruit on the palate but definitely short in the finish with the tannins on overdrive. Felt like its moment had just passed.

Mas Martinet – Clos Martinet
Red cherry fruit with a scratch of tar, vanilla. A bit plump but still controlled. More brambly on the palate although the oak has integrated very well to form fine tannins.

Roca de les Dotze
Dark fruit with baking spice, chocolate, cocoa. Quite fine tannins on the palate and a linear, lovely fruit.

Clos del Portal – Somni
Dark fruit, cherry with a bit of leafy currant undertones, touch of oxidation, quite alcoholic in the nose. Very direct, potent dark fruit on the palate with a tar-ish finish to it that’s a bit short. Seems oddly like Syrah but not quite.

Clos Figueras – Clos Figueres
Light fruit, verging on prune, with the alcohol coming up in the nose quite a bit. Fruit notes more balanced on the palate but holds a quite spicy character from the alcohol that makes for a menthol aspect on top of the tannins.

Clos Mogador – Clos Mogador
Dark cherry notes with a touch of bramble, leathery, red fruit base, black pepper. Fleshy and full fruited on the palate, quite fine tannins however and a medium plus finish. Very much worthy of longer aging.

Hidalgo Albert – 1270
More muted profile, minor fig notes, menthol, nail polish, wavering on higher volatile aspects. Balanced fruit on the palate but very dry, puckering tannins and a short finish.