From the small Priorat village of Porrera, owners Lluis Llach and Enric Costa specialize in old vine Grenache and Carignan. Their velvety-rich wines are strikingly concentrated and loaded with sweet, spicy berry fruit, with normally suave tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah have recently been added to the mix to add complexity and refinement to the wines, thus Vall Llach, the cellar's flagship wine, a blend of Carignan, Merlot and Cabernet. As far as the people of northeast Spain are concerned, Vall Llach boasts a pseudo-celebrity staff -- owner Lluis Llach is a wildly popular rock star in the area, and Salus Alvarez, Vall Llach's current winemaker, was former mayor of Porrera!
Priorat (Priorato in Castilian) is a small, favored area within the greater Tarragona region that benefits from a hot, very dry, sheltered, and hilly microclimate; distinctive mineral-rich brown slate soil (llicorella); and a good stock of very old Cariñena and Garnacha vines, with the steepest and best sites concentrated around the town of Gratallops. A group of five Priorat wine makers led by René Barbier essentially reinvented this area, beginning with their releases from the 1989 vintage. Priorat wines have been on fire ever since, with a reputation for superconcentrated, high-octane Priorat wines from traditional varieties supplemented by mostly new plantings of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Spain has more acres under vine than any other country and ranks third in production behind Italy and France. Much of this output continues to be hot-country jug wine made to satisfy the everyday thirsts of the domestic and greater European markets. But many inexpensive Spanish wines that once were rustic, tired, or dried out have been replaced by bottlings that are lush, round, ripe, and cleanly made. Regions that previously made blended Spanish wines that were virtually too strong to be bottled on their own, such as Tarragona, Valencia, Yecla, Jumilla, and Toro are now firmly in the table wine business, even if these wines of Spain can be alarmingly high in alcohol.
At the high end are exciting new bottlings from the historically important Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in north-central Spain and from the wild, hilly Priorat in Cataluña, in the northeast corner of the country. A new generation of Spanish wine makers has begun crafting wines in a distinctly modern international style: deeply colored, very ripe, and high in alcohol, generally aged in a high percentage of new French oak, and often quite pricey. The majority of these wines are based on Tempranillo, Spain's most distinguished red variety. While the ultimate quality and longevity of these Spanish wines are yet to be proven, these new bottlings have unquestionably captured the attention of wine drinkers both inside and outside Spain.
Although much of Spain bakes in the sun for at least half the year, the country actually covers a vast range of climates-from the cooler and much wetter Atlantic-influenced northwest, to the arid, blazing Mediterranean south and southeast-so vintage generalizations are tricky with Spanish wines. Moreover, the majority of Spain's better vineyards lie at relatively high altitude, where summer nights are cool even when afternoons are stifling. " e wines and is perfect with any chocolate dessert.
Intense, ripe, fruity wines
Grilled meats, stews, game
One of the more versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache thrives in southern France and Spain (where it is known as Garnacha). Ranging in style from light and fruity to deep, brooding and intense; the grape also suits a variety of ambitions: Grenache can be used in inexpensive wines that offer immediate satisfaction, but it is also successful in barrel-aged, cellar-worthy wines that don't come cheaply.
Grenache vines tend to perform best in dry and hot growing regions. For example, in the southern Rhone, Grenache is the dominant grape in the appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which has emerged within the last decade as one of the "hottest" categories in the North American market. These wines are generally 75-80 percent Grenache, generally with some Syrah and Mourvedre blended in to provide color, spiciness, and complexity. Even in the space of this one appellation, we find that wines range from restrained middleweight entries to low-alcohol, high-acid powerhouses that ooze ripe fruit. The latter wines are responsible for much of the current attention being paid to the area. For rich, Grenache-dominated wines, look to bottlings from Clos du Caillou, Deomaine de Marcoux, and Chateau Rayas.
Elsewhere in the Rhone Valley, many wines produced under the Cotes du Rhone appellation are also dominated by Grenache. Compared to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, these wines are significantly less expensive and can't compare with regard to richness and intensity. Still, we can recommend the more interesting entries on their own merits: bright fruit flavors and immediacy. Look to Chateau Pesquie and Chateau de Segries.
Further down the Mediterranean, Grenache (or, rather, Garancha) shines in the up-and-coming Spanish region of Priorat. In this rugged, rocky area in Catalonia, ancient vineyards have recently been upgraded, and production has shifted from bulk wines to high-quality bottlings. These wines are either 100 percent Garancha, or they also have some Carignane blended in. Expect inky wines with both sweetness and spice. We like the offerings from Cellar Vall Llach and Clos Erasmus.
Rhone varieties have become increasingly popular in New World vineyards, and Grenache is no exception here. In California and Australia, these wines can be even more rich and luscious than their Old-World cousins. From California, we recommend wines from Alban Vineyards and Beckmen Vineyards; while in Australia, we like Clarendon Hills.
Single varietal Grenache wines as well as Grenache-dominated blends are best paired with grilled meats, stews, and game.