Incredible Value from a Spendy Region in Spain - 2011 La Cartuja Priorat

 Credit: Friederike Paetzold

Credit: Friederike Paetzold

2011 Bodegas La Cartuja Priorat
70% Garnacha, 30% Carinena
Priorat, Spain
14.5% Alcohol
$16
Highly Recommended

I'm one of the last to sing the praises of this wine but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to include it on the blog. It hails from the region of Priorat in northeast Spain that has a long history dating back to the Carthusian Monastery of Escaladei in the 12th century. Winemaking in Priorat was more or less stuck in the dark ages until it experienced nothing short of a revolution in the 1980-90s when several pioneering producers invested heavily in modern winemaking equipment and began exploring and experimenting with the unique terroir of the region. The region's soil is composed of a mix of slate and quartz, known locally as licorella (see photos below), which the locals say contributes to the distinct minerality present in most of the red wines from the region. Garnacha and Cariñena  are the star grapes, though Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other international varietals are commonly seen as well.

The only problem? Most Priorat wines, at $50-100, are prohibitively expensive for the majority of us. Regardless of whether the price is deserved, most of us aren't able to indulge, even on special occasions. Enter Bodegas La Cartuja and their $16 bottle of Priorat. As you can see from the photos below, the winery is surrounded by beautiful terraced vineyards and mountains in the distance. Grapes for this bottle are grown in organic estate vineyards and aged in French oak barrels for six months before bottling. 

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This wine has come together nicely since I first drank it more than two years ago. On the nose, the wine shows a mix of bright blue and black fruits (blackberry, blackcurrant, plum?), vibrant violet floral notes, a restrained smoky/spicy component, and an underlying earthiness. Still smells very fresh, despite having several years of age on it.

On the palate, medium to full bodied with soft dark fruits, a hint of sweet sappiness, spice, chocolate, generous minerality and a wonderfully silky mouthfeel. Long and well-balanced finish with mild and smooth tannins. Good amount of oak on the palate but it’s not excessive. The alcohol is in check as well. Unlike many of the wines from Priorat that are exported to the US, this bottle manages to be both restrained and well-balanced and full of flavor.

What struck me about this wine, both when I first tasted it and now, is the distinct streak of minerality that characterizes the palate and the bright, dark fruits that accompany it. It reminds me of a cooler climate Syrah but with darker, more pronounced and sweet fruit. This bottle is well-structured and the generous minerality and acid on this will make it a great pairing for rich, meaty dishes, even BBQ. 

I bought this 2011 several years ago and it aged well but more recent vintages, including the 2012 and 2013, should be more widely available and are equally lauded by the wine critics. Check out the photos below of the winery and vineyards, courtesy of Ole Imports and Friederike Paetzold.