Álvaro Palacios is one of the most famous winemakers in Spain, one of the most internationally renowned, and the person who best represents the oenological revolution that Spain experienced from the 80s and onwards. Currently, it has its small wine-growing kingdom in the emblematic D.O.Q. Priorat, where some of the most coveted and distinguished labels of our country come from. Here, we can find Finca Dofí, Les Terrasses or L'Ermita, the winery's star wine and one of the flagships of Priorat worldwide.
Without any doubt, all great wines have great stories behind them. And this story is starred by Álvaro Palacios, a young man who was born right on top of the family winery in Alfaro (La Rioja), in the lands of Priorat.
Álvaro Palacios is the son of a large and traditional family with five generations of Rioja winemakers. He is the seventh of 9 siblings. He studied oenology at the University of Bordeaux under the supervision of Jean Pierre Moueix, and he carried out his internship in some of the most renowned winemaking properties in the world, including Château Pétrus, provided by René Barbier. There he learnt what a "great wine" is, its origins, always monastic, and its almost mystical expression. He also travelled to the Napa Valley. There he became aware of the expectation caused by the cultural legacy in the New World, and of what was expected of Spain because of its historical and winemaking importance.
However, back home, family differences on how to make wine in the family winery led Álvaro to leave the family business and move on to other jobs, without leaving the wine industry. In 1989, when he was only 24 years old, his marketing work led him to meet René Barbier, a former employee of the Palacios family business. He invited him to join a group of enthusiasts such as José Luís Pérez, Carles Pastrana and Later Daphne Glorian, to make great classic wines in that area, as abrupt as isolated and forgotten in time, but with a long wine tradition and, above all, monastic.
Álvaro was captivated by the monastic aspect, and he hesitated to choose between Priorat and Bierzo. However, he finally accepted the challenge of Priorat, although in 1999 he also started his own winemaking project in El Bierzo, with his nephew Ricardo Pérez.
Álvaro was the youngest of the triumvirate, so he was informally baptised by his colleagues as "el delfín" (the dolphin), a nickname that later became the name one of his most famous wines, the Clos Dofí, currently Finca Dofí.
At that time, Álvaro had no money, and to start the project he sold his motorbike and bought a vineyard, which he named Finca Dofí. His philosophy was to make wines, but not to sell them, so he began to work with Magreñán, the cooperage of his home village, and sell barrels.
He travelled for three years all over Spain and France driving second-hand cars, and everything he earned he invested in Priorat. He used to visit the region on the weekends to take care of the vineyard, until in 1992 he decided to move there. It was at this point when he launched Les Terrases, a blended wine, in the style of La Rioja.
In 1993 he got to see the vineyard of L'Ermita and bought it. He produced wine that cost € 100, at that time the most expensive wine in Spain, until Pingus 1999 arrived. Here began an adventure sustained in recovering the old glories of the Priorat and producing those monastic reds, concentrated and robust, in the style of the new market demand.
They bought and recovered some old Grenache vineyards, they planted new Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah vineyards on the steep terraces, they renovated humble wineries, some of them shared. They chose quality French oak barrels and started with small, extremely expressive wine productions, with a powerful personality marked by the poor soils, the harsh climate and the taste of the terroir.
And speaking of the man himself, Álvaro has been given several awards and recognitions, but recently, in 2016, in Düsseldorf, he received the unique and distinguished award granted every year by the wine producers that are part of the Institute of Masters of Wine and the British magazine The Drinks Business, to acknowledge the essential contribution of one of their colleagues. As a result, Álvaro Palacios joined an exceptional list of names, including Egon Müller, from Egon Müller Scharzhof (2015); Anne-Claude Leflaive from Domaine Leflaive (2014); Paul Draper from Ridge (2013); Peter Gago from Penfolds (2012); and Peter Sisseck from Dominio de Pingus (2011).
In 1979, a series of vineyards of traditional and foreign varieties were replanted in the area. However, although the main grape used by the Palacios winery is the native Grenache, other varieties were also cultivated, like Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon or, as an experiment, Touriga Nacional. Right now they own around 30 hectares of vineyard, in the emblematic municipality of Gratallops. 17 of them are on terraces and the remaining 13 planted on the traditional "costers" of Priorat. The Grenache is the variety they have planted the most, with 16 hectares, followed by the Carignan, with 6.5 hectares, the Cabernet Sauvignon, with 3 hectares, the Syrah, with 3.5 hectares and the Merlot with 1 hectare.
The building of the determined winery is modern, spacious, luminous and diaphanous. Its spectacular tasting room, built in the shape of a half underground barrel stands outs. The new winery is located on the outskirts of Gratallops and was designed by architect Jesús Manzanares, who also designed Enate and Pago de los Capellanes. It is an example of modernity and light that gathers the tradition of new oak vats for the fermentation at a controlled temperature, and a spectacular stock of barrels in the style of the most famous châteaux of Bordeaux.
The style of the first wines from Álvaro Palacios were a sensation in markets such as the United States and Switzerland thanks to the prescriptive strength of the wine guru, Robert Parker, since these wines are tremendously dark, powerful, concentrated and with the distinctive minerality provided by the slate soils of the region.
This is why Álvaro designed a range of wines with Les Terrasses as a base wine, followed by Finca Dofí, and the top-of-the-range L'Ermita. However, over the years, the market demand has changed, just like Álvaro Palacios wines.
First with the launch of the fresh and fruity Camins del Priorat, with the 2007 vintage, which opened the market of Priorats at a very affordable price. This, with the added interest that it was produced by those who made the most expensive wine of D.O.Q. Priorat.
Also, at that time they launched Gratallops, which adhered to the new designation "Vi de la Vila", the first genuine attempt in Spain to limit the territory and to delimit the character of the different municipalities (villages) within D.O.Q Priorat.
However, this trend has also passed on to other wines of the range, especially Finca Dofí, which from the 2012 harvest is mainly made from Grenache, with just a touch of Carignan. On the same line, L'Ermita has also turned into an almost pure Grenache wine, also with some Carignan and white grapes that barely represent 1% of the blend.
Therefore, the current Priorats from Álvaro Palacios are definitely less structured, but much more expressive and drinkable since they were launched on the market. Now it is in line with the modern and contemporary consumer markets, which appreciate the character of the origin, the variety and the terroir much more, even the nakedness of the wine.
Wines from Álvaro Palacios
Camins del Priorat is made from 50% Grenache, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carignan, 10% Syrah and 5% Merlot. It has aged in French oak barrels and vats for around 6 months. The vineyards, aged between 10 and 40 years, come from the municipalities of Gratallops, Porrera, Torroja, Les Vilelles, Bellmunt, El Molar, El Lloar and Poboleda. They are planted on steep slopes and terraces with different exposures, at 350 and 600 metres of altitude, on slate floors (licorella) with a laminar structure. It is a cherry red wine in the middle layer, with aromas of ripe red fruit, cocoa and a hint of liquorice. It has an immersive and voluptuous palate, with good acidity and tanning of ripe red fruit. It is fresh with a lingering finish.
Gratallops Vi de Vila is made from 85% Grenache and 15% Carignan, from six vineyards in the Gratallops municipality. This vineyards occupy an area of 8.5 hectares, cultivated on very steep slopes and oriented to the north and east, at 300-400 metres above sea level. The vines are aged between 15 and 70 years. This wine has remained 16 months in oak barrels.
Les Terrasses is a wine made from 55% Grenache and 45% Carignan, from 60 and 90-year-old vines.It has been aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% new and the rest from 1, 2 and 3 years. It is a cherry red wine, with balsamic, spicy and vanilla notes, as well as nots of tobacco and ripe fruit; very well structured, tasty, with fresh fruit. Silky tannings and enough acidity to keep it fresh.
Finca Dofí is made from 96% Grenache and 4% Carignan from the farm Finca Dofí: Camp d´en Piqué, la Baixada and Coll de Falset .It has aged in oak barrels for 16 months. On the nose it has notes of roasted coffee, tiramisu, cocoa, nutmeg, vanilla and cigar box, with seasoned fruit such as red currant and blueberries. It is an elegant, fine wine, with a lot of nuances. Pleasant when it enters the mouth. Meaty, ample and voluminous. With a load of ripe fruit and very lively tannins.
Just like the other wines, L’Ermita is made with a different percentage of grapes depending on the harvest. However, its main one is the Grenache, even up to 90%, as well as Carignan or Samsó, 8%, and some white varieties, among which are the White Grenache. It has aged for 16 months in French oak barrels. The farm Finca L'Ermita is located in Gratallops. It has 1.4 hectares, and it is located on a very steep slope with orientations north and east, at 400-500 metres of altitude. Its vines, aged from 86 to 106 years, are planted on slate soils (llicorella) of laminar structure, crossed diagonally by sandstone rock. L'Ermita 2013 has achieved 100 points on the list of American guru, Robert Parker. Its complexity is full of red fruit compote, aromas of licorella and sweet spices, and nuances of lavender; a sensation between minerality and fruitiness. In the mouth it is fresh, with an extraordinary acidity and quite mineral.
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