Wine Talk

Snooth User: Barcelonaguy

Mont Sant the next big thing?

Posted by Barcelonaguy, Jun 26, 2011.

Is Mont Sant the next big area in the wine world? 

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Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Jun 26, 2011.

Can you tell us why this small area of Catalonia, which almost completely surrounds the Priorat, is all that?

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 3, 2011.

My predictions is that Puglia will be the next big thing.  Just because. (And because Antinori is investing there.  That's more backup than the theory promulgated above.)

Kind of like saying Crozes Hermitage instead of Hermitage, eh, dmcker?

I love Catalonian wine as much as the next guy, and I drink Montsant wines often, but I don't see people lining up. I kind of like it better when it's not the next big thing: More bargains for me.

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Reply by Fenderbaum, Nov 12, 2011.

I agree with Foxall - hopefully Montsant is not the next big thing - great wines at reasonable prices. If it goes the way of Priorat a lot of us could be priced out. In reply to dmcker, the wines I have tried have been mostly very good. I find them to be nice, earthy grenache wines. I would recommend the Brunus 2008 as a fine example.

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Reply by gregt, Nov 12, 2011.

That's right Fender. I used to sell that wine.  It's a nice very nice wine all the time. Problem is that the people who are buying Priorat want to spend money for the "prestige" of the appellation and the fact that much of the surrounding area has the same licorella soil and similar grape varieties doesn't matter because it doesn't have the same cachet.  People tend not to go into a store and drop $60 for a wine just to try it out.  If they're spending that money, they either know the wine or they've heard of it and want to find out more or impress someone.  It's a very wide generalization I know, but in any event, they're not looking for the cheaper alternative and Monstant doesn't have enough of an independent identity to matter.  Moreover, a lot of those more expensive Priorat wines aren't really moving these days, so Monstant is suffering all the more.  Too bad because as I said, it offers some wonderful wine at fair prices.

That particular one is never over the top, always has great ripe fruit w/out excess alcohol or sweetness, great structure and balance, and it's a fine example of the Carinena in the region.  That wine is usually around 60% Carinena, with most of the rest being Garnacha and a bit of Syrah. It never has the aromas of shoe-polish that you get in some of the Priorat Carinena.

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Reply by Fenderbaum, Nov 13, 2011.

Good insight Greg, thanks. Do you think it's the economy that is hitting the Priorat sales or the fact that they don't have the shelf life of other high end wines, due to the tinkering that goes on with them? I'm starting to get a bit dubious myself. I have heard that some wineries actually use grapes from outside the region - Penedes - essentially to pimp the wine and give it more of a "new world" fruityness.  

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Reply by gregt, Nov 13, 2011.
Edited Nov 14, 2011

Interesting questions and assumptions.  I don't know.  I think the sales are affected by a few things.  The economy for sure. Inconsistency for another. And while it's hard to quantify, I think the lack of a credible champion is yet another. In the US, high-end wine sales are driven by buzz, controversy, and scores. 

At the lower end of the market, sales are driven by a number of things and sites like this are one of those. You have friends, social networks, store recommendations, sheer availability, advertising, and perhaps also scores. Magazines like the Wine Spectator have some influence among collectors, but more at the lower and mid-priced ranges.  They can give a wine like Cinq Cepages or Columbia Crest Reserve their Wine of the Year honor and the price will go from $35 to $100+, but that's only for that vintage of the wine and the price doesn't stay there. However, 90 points for a $15 wine will help move that wine. The NY Times is probably the most influential but their influence is short-lived, as is that of most newspapers. By far the most influential individual in the wine market for many years has been Parker.

I don't want to go into the history of Priorat again, but the region sort of came out of nowhere in the early 1990s based in no small part on the work of Josep Lluís Pérez, who was a professor at the local university and who realized that the land was great and super cheap.  The area had produced a lot of Garnacha, and then went into bulk wine production so planted a lot of Carinena, and many of those plots were abandoned because the wines were pretty bad and the locals looked for opportunities elsewhere.

So the "first" five producers planted Cab and some Syrah and Tempranillo because who made good wine from Garnacha and Carinena? Their wine got an importer who brought them to Parker and he loved them.  At the time he was covering Spain himself.  He had been there once in the 1970s and while he never went back, he liked those wines, gave them high scores and long drinking windows, and they were off.  Prices went up accordingly.  People jumped on the wines. Parker's attention and approval mattered to the people who were buying first growth Bordeaux and Cali Cults, i.e. people with money. Suddenly there was this hitherto-unknown region that was putting wines out at the $50 - $100 level and above, while places like Penedes had been plodding on for decades w/out really breaking the $25 barrier.

The 1990s were kind of Parker's heyday in terms of influence, which was accompanied by rocket-like growth in the US wine market, the birth of any number of "cult" wines, and a lot of Wall Street types throwing money around on wine because it had become "cool".

The Priorat wines themselves also evolved.  Eventually the five friends became five non-friends and they started experimenting with different blends, in some cases going to the native grapes.  So Clos Erasmus for example, is now all or nearly all Garnacha while Perez likes Carinena. 

In the early 2000s, I did some tastings with friends in the business who had picked up their wines from the importers or directly from the bodegas and they started thinking that the 6-8 year mark was kind of the peak for a lot of them, as they didn't improve much beyond that. Around that time Parker hired Rovani to cover Spain and then he hired Jay Miller, who, in his first reviews, passed out scores in the high 90s to 100 and provided positive predictions for many wines. Then it turned out that he knew absolutely nothing about Spain and didn't even know what grapes were in which wines. Finally he engaged a guy to teach him about Spain but that guy's method is to tell people that for a fee they can have their wine reviewed. So it won't look like pay to play, the producers are told to come hear a lecture too.

Eventually that kind of nonsense completely killed the WA as a credible source for info on Spain, both in Spain and in the US. In Spain they want to sell wine so even though they have to pay for visits, they do but they know it's a sham. In the US, the economy really hurt Spanish wine at the higher end. That was coupled with the fact that some of those expensive wines didn't age as promised.  The super scores aren't helping any more, although they keep coming, no matter how bad the vintage or the wine.  For example, the 2007 Clos Erasmus was something I found pretty much undrinkable. It got 98 points. It's on the market for about $200 a bottle.  And as I said, scores from WS and other mags don't have the influence on the top end.  Priorat is unusual in that it doesn't produce much wine at the low end so unlike say Rioja, they don't have the fallback wines.  Too bad because at the lower end of the market, Spain is OK.

I think it's ultimately a combination of the economy, the reliance of Priorat on hype and scores, the destruction of the WA's credibility regarding the country, a realization by consumers that comments about a wine in the 1990s may not apply today because the cepage is different, and a realization that some of the wines just weren't that great to start with. 

Too bad because some are quite good.  When put into blind tastings with CdPs, they usually come out on top. But CdPs are overpriced these days too. Anyhow, Monstant is about where Priorat should be in terms of price because these days the wines need to sell on their own merits.

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 13, 2011.

Greg, any Catalan producers and vintages you might recommend?

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Reply by Fenderbaum, Nov 14, 2011.

Thanks for the feedback Greg. I might try that Priorat/ CdP blind taste sometime!

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 14, 2011.

Great backgrounder, Greg.

I've had a few very-enjoyable bottles from Priorat, but not at that upper end. Imagine the only way to get a truly clear view is to go spend a few weeks in the area and taste around. All the money in Barcelona and its restaurants as well as the Costa Brava, so nearby, also has to provide upwards pressure on the prices, especially because of the tourists there not merely from North America, but Europe and Western Asia

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Reply by gregt, Nov 14, 2011.

Jon - yes but no time at the moment - I'll mention some later. However, just came across this if your'e interested. It's for la Universal Venus and it's a decent price w free shipping. I think it's a 50-50 split  between Cariñena and Syrah, so not a good ringer for CdP but a good example of what good Cariñena can do.  And the alc level is really reasonable at 13.5.

I'm not affiliated with either the store or the importer, just listing it as a consumer.  The offer expires tomorrow at noon.  Normally the wine is in the mid - 40s.

http://cinderellawine.com/


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Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 17, 2011.

Thanks as always to Spanish wine guru GregT.  My own fondness for Priorat comes from experimenting in some of the lower ranges, esp the garnacha-based Scala Dei Negre, a good sub-$20 bottle that I have purchased at even lower prices. But grenache is not everyone's favorite wine (my dad doesn't like it), and is not a well-known "international" variety in spite of its ubiquity in jug and cheap wines. It lacks the name recognition of cab sauv, merlot, or even syrah.  It's also not phenolically up to the same kind of aging--which is why a lot of grenache-heavy CdP doesn't age all that well, for one thing, and might explain why some of those wines the WA recommended didn't do that well.  Adding Syrah or Cab helps, but then you are growing something that isn't traditional and might not like it as hot and dry as Priorat can be. And it's those overripe Cab Sauvs that have been shown not to age like good Bords or classic Calis.  Tradeoffs all around.  Unfortunately, I didn't touch Priorat for years because the things you got here were all the "super" wines of the Gratallops folks, way out of my range, and inconsistent with my perception (that I still hold) that Spain is a place of relative wine bargains.  "Bargain" to me and a lot of other drinkers doesn't generally include $100 bottles, even if they drink like $200 bottles.In the long run, RP did them a disservice by singling out atypical brands of high price and not taking time to understand the possibilities of grenache based traditional wines.  Weird from a guy who more or less put the S. Rhone back on the map, or is at least perceived as its champion (in spite of the long years that Kermit Lynch put into importing the stuff, among others).

I love Spanish wine, but as anyone who has seen my list on CT knows, I don't have much in my basement.  Why?  Because those amazing agers from Rioja (and sometimes Ribera del Duero) are sold aged and ready to drink, and the gutsy, more CdP-than-CdP Priorats aren't great bets to age.  So my wines from Montsant, Priorat, Rioja, and even RdD come in the door and go on the table within days. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 20, 2011.

Actually had my first Priorat in downtown Paso Robles last night at Villa Creek's restaurant. Incidentally, if you ever find yourself there, i'd recommend getting a glass along with the "Not Nachos" appetizer, which is mixed with duck meat, onions, corn, and feta cheese. Then move on to Artisan's for dinner.

Anyway, the Priorat was big and bold, not for the faint of heart, and actually after visiting 5 wineries yesterday this may not have been the most ideal wine to drink, but I could definitely appreciate what it was even so. Big fragrant nose, and flavors of plum, berry, prune, and licorice on the palate. Good medium + to heavy texture, with a very nice finish. Oak and acidity is well integrated.

Garnacha (30 %), Carinyena (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Syrah (10%) and Merlot (10%).

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Reply by Fenderbaum, Nov 20, 2011.

The low percentage of grenache would suggest one of the newer style Priorats. Out of curiosity Jon, were there other Spanish wines on the menu, apart from Rioja? 

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Reply by gregt, Nov 21, 2011.
Edited Nov 22, 2011

Not sure about that.  Dont forget, when the original five made their first wines, they planted Cab, Syrah, Merlot, etc., not really trusting the "native" Garnacha and Carinena. Scala Dei, which is probably the oldest winery in the area, of course does 100 pct Garnacha.  But even that winery was kind of "reborn" after the other five started. In fact, a lot of the Garnacha in the area was replanted with Carinena after phylloxera, although nowadays Garnacha makes up over a third of the red grape plantings in the area.  Mostly however, people are trusting the Garnacha more now but many people are just as enamoured fo Carinena.

For example, Palacios is a fan of Garnacha and it's around 60% in the Finca Dofi, with the rest being largely Cab followed by Syrah and even Merlot. No Carinena that I know of.  Clos Erasmus (WILDLY popular with critics) is moving to more and more Garnacha. Newer producers like Buil y Giné, Vall Sanzo with their "Nassos", Mas Igneus and others are also doing mostly or even 100% Garnacha.The Dofi is actually really good IMO.

But then Perez is a fan of Carinena and tends to rely on that more than Garnacha.  He's made a few bottlings of 100 pct, Carinena although I don't know if they were ever released. But his Cims de Porerra "classic" is like 90% Carinena, while the Solanes usually has more Carinena than any other grape.

That wine Jon had sounds like something like Vall Llach, maybe Embruix, which was originally made by Perez for the singer. Not a bad wine actually, at any level - the Idus, the Vall Llach, and the Embruix. Of course, he also made Cims de Porrerra, which was another I liked. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 21, 2011.

Yes, Greg you got it.  I had the Vall Llach.  Meant to put that in the post, but I was a little fatigued at the time. Was tasting so many young rhone blends over the weekend in Paso, that this was quite a jump. Definitely liked it though.

Fender - There were only a couple international wines on the list, everything was local from Paso.

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 21, 2011.

So I take it, Jon, you were fatigued from all the local stuff, so you reached for the Vall llach?

Where did you like that you visited?

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Reply by JonDerry, Nov 22, 2011.

Full trip report coming, but I liked pretty much everything we visited on the west side. The surprise was probably Terry Hoage and the most forgettable Caliza, though still pretty good.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 22, 2011.

GregT, I checked recently and not all the Scala Dei is all garnacha.  In fact, to remember which I had (I've had the more expensive blend, too, didn't like it as well), I went to the website of the distributor Aveniu Brands.  Cartoixa is 48% Cab, 47% Garnacha, 5% Syrah--more than half "international" varieties. (Grenache is everywhere, but I understand "interneational" to mean cab, merlot, syrah on the red side. Feel free to correct me.) Prior is still a blend, but the tech sheet does not list the amounts of the others.  The Negre might be all garnacha, but the website has no mention of it at all.  It's pretty inexpensive at $15 or so, and a nice one by me. In any case, what I like about the big G is often overwhelmed and smoothed out too much by blending with cab or too much syrah.  I'm not aging any of it, in any case.

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Reply by gregt, Nov 23, 2011.

Fox - I didn't mean to say that every wine they did was 100 pct. If I misled, apologies. They do a lot of stuff, but they do a 100% bottling, the Negre Scala-Dei, which I believe was 100 pct. Only point was that as people in the region grow increasingly confident, they're also increasingly willing to rely on Garnacha rather than hedging their bets with Cab, Syrah, etc., both at the lower end, with things like the Negre, and at the higher end, with things like Erasmus. 

As far as aging, a friend told me a couple days ago that he's put all of his Priorats up on WineBid. Provenance is great - he keeps them at 53F and they're mostly straight from the Bodegas on release. His contention is that they don't really seem to go anywhere (he put some Napa wines up too). Others strenuously disagree.  Fro me, I can only think of a small handful of people who might know more about those wines, so I take his opinion seriously. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 23, 2011.

GregT: Not misled at all.  I was actually surprised based on my own experience with Scala Dei that they used as much Cab and Syrah as that, since they are in essence the oldest winery in the area, or at least the oldest operating still. I'm a little confused about the last part re: aging.  I haven't tried to age grenache/garnacha because I have relied on what I read, although I do have a couple Gigondas that are presumed age-worthy.  My cellar, as I've mentioned before, is passive and although pretty consistent, it's far from perfect conditions, between a bit too low and probably a bit too high, certainly not a steady 55 deg. At 53, I imagine you see very little change in anything, for better or worse.  And I think that even with a weaker phenolic structure (whatever a phenolic structure actually looks like), you can still count on 5 years at those temps, if not more.  With variability in growing conditions, probably some of my Gigondas has a 20 year window at 53. But I take your view quite seriously:  Better to drink it on the way up than on the way down. (Especially now that you can hunt a bottle down somewhere if you really want another to drink in a year or two.)

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