For us, the wines of Priorat share some of the infuriating beauty of the red wines of Burgundy. Not in flavour, but in the way that one or two magical experiences keep you forever hooked, like a lovesick fool grateful for small mercies, while many expensive disappointments mark time between those memorable infatuations. It’s a region with a wealth of raw materials, some of the most enviable vineyard sites in all of Spain, but it seems as if the struggle to balance sweetness of fruit with the vibrancy of acidity - while not drowning either out with too much oak - is a trick that few are able to pull off. And, more often than not, those that do succeed are, shall we say ‘punchy’, with the prices they charge.
We often hear the same complaint from customers. They say they can’t afford the Priorat wines they like, but they don’t like the ones they can afford. It’s no fun being the piggy in the middle in that game, but we have found a Priorat red that lets us join in without shelling out party-pooping pounds.
We say that with some degree of context, because just before discovering this beauty we tasted several of the top wines from Priorat, including Nit de Nin Ortiz and Clos Erasmus, which were absolutely stunning, but at £70 and £165 a bottle respectively, you rather hope they would be. The Clos 93 L’Interrogant didn’t embarrass itself in that company at all, in fact it was comfortably the equal of all the others that hovered around the ‘industry standard’ price of £40 a bottle for good Priorat, confirming something we already knew: this is the best value wine from Priorat that we have ever tasted.
Clos 93 'L'Interrogant', Priorat, Spain 2016 - £21.50
It’s a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 9 months in 300 litre French oak barrels and it tastes surreally good! It’s not impenetrably dark, like many of Priorat’s top reds, which can often taste like chewing on liquorice sticks, it’s lifted and perfumed and sweetly seductive. Imagine fragrant cherry skins, peonies and umeboshi (that’s not the expletive that a samurai cries out when he stubs his toe, it’s the name of a sweet and sour Japanese condiment made from pickled plums), followed by suggestions of tamarind paste, orange peel, damson and sheer splendour. It’s rich, but silky and the tannins are saturated in velvety purple fruit, so it doesn’t stall on the palate, but glides down much too easily and is beautiful to drink with or without food. A dark mineral streak leads to a long, precisely tapered finish where all the delicious elements happily converge. 14.5% alc. Limited production (9,800 bottles). Drink now-2025.
Clos 93… Behind the name
Inspired by French winemaking, winemakers in Priorat traditionally adopted the French term of Clos meaning “protected” or “walled” vineyard in their winery name to champion the idea of site specificity (Clos Mogador, Clos Erasmus, Clos de L’Obac, for example). The number 93 was chosen because it was the 93rd winery to register with the Consejo Regulador de Priorat (Priorat’s regulatory board). It was created in 2008 by two brothers and an uncle who established the winery: Rubén Sabaté (the winemaker), Pepo García (the grape grower and vineyard manager), and Josep Sabaté (the general manager), in whose house and garage they make the wines. The grapes themselves come from vines in El Lloar where it is just one of two wineries. And whilst it may not be the newest winery, it is officially regarded as Priorat’s smallest winery, producing just 12,500 bottles across its range.
Priorat is a tiny mountainous region, rugged and dry, pretty much unsuitable for any other crop… except for wine grapes and olives. It lies in the south-west corner of Catalonia, just south of Barcelona and is one of only two wine regions in Spain to qualify as a DOCa (the other being Rioja DOCa), the highest qualification level for a wine region according to Spanish wine regulations, affording them much higher pricing and much more stringent quality control. The area is of volcanic origin, which confers interesting characteristics to the soil. The basis (called licorella in Catalán) comprises reddish and black slate with small particles of mica, which reflects the sunlight and conserves heat. The 50 cm thick topsoil is formed of decomposed slate and mica. These characteristics force the roots of the vines to reach the base for water, nutrition and minerals, conferring distinctive qualities to the wine as well as keeping the vines firmly anchored to the earth during the strong winds and storms, which are common to the area.