A funny thing happens when you attempt to complement one of the organizers of Hospice du Rhone – he or she points to another organizer and say "S/he is the one you should really thank". I believe that, over the past three years of attendance, I’ve made a complete circle, being sent from one organizer to the next. A rare humility.
And they certainly deserve our thanks for organizing sessions such the Friday morning "Priorat Posse"! Not just one but NINE producers of wines from Priorat presented their wines to the 550 attendees (a sold-out event again this year). For one of these garagiste producers, the samples poured for 550 made up 10% of their total production! Very generous.
Lovers of wines made in the International Style and its "new wood order" didn’t like this session. These wines are high in acid, loaded with minerality, and surprisingly high in alcohol (though only one of them actually felt hot), and for the most part they feature oak in a supporting role. The one thing they had in common was a wine that did not have fruit gushing out of the glass, despite the use of the usually aroma-effusing Grenache (Garnaxta, in Catalan). One of the wine makers said it best when she recommended that we "Stick your ear into this glass and listen, really listen, for the wine has a tremendous story to tell".
And that story is one of amazing vineyards. Priorat is located in Catalonia, the Northeastern-most area of Spain just below the French border, where the geological profile is dominated by Schist – small fragments of crushed Shale with a depth that can extend for many feet before more rich, water-retaining, organic material is found. This sort of growing condition tends to produce vegetation fiercely determined to live so that even plants that normally posses a sweet personality are forced to develop a real street-tough attitude in order to survive – think of a lavender plant turned "Little Shop of Horrors".
The dominant grapes in this area are Carignan (Carinena or Carinyena in Catalan) and Grenache (Garnaxta), with some Syrah and Cabernet to round out the field. Those in the tasting will long remember the flavor profile of these wines – acidic, mineralic and tannic with very deep, dark fruit.
A very interesting story to tell, indeed.