Anyone who has ever visited the Priorat would wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to attempt to grow grapes there given the crazy quilt topography of almost vertical canyons between randomly occurring hills and rock outcroppings. But, when you taste the amazing Garnarcha and Cariñena (locally known as Samsó) blends that are produced from the broken slate "licorella" terroir and have your taste buds filled with refreshing flavors and minerality, you will understand why wine is produced here.
The Cal Grau vineyards are located in a prime south facing site high in the hills just below the northern ridge which is the boundary between the Priorat and Monsant. Across the vineyard site are 26 parcels that are all vinified separately and then masterfully blended into the estate's "Crianza" and "Reserva" wines, Le Petite Agnes and Clos Badaceli. There is also an extraordinary "Gran Reserva" (Les Ones) that is made from 100 percent Carinena that I may import in the future.
The individual parcels are on steep and mountainous terrain arranged in terraces that run through Mediterranean forest areas, almond-trees, and centenary olive trees. Within each parcel are separate "micro blocks" that are usually picked separately given the wide range of changing soils and micro-climates that exist even within each parcel. The master of all this is the incredibly precise and articulate Fran, the vineyard manager and head winemaker, who then ultimately creates the masterful blends of the wonderful Cal Grau fruit.
By the way, another fun part of visiting the Priorat area is experiencing the Catalan culture. The language itself is closer to French than Spanish but from knowing both it was interesting how much Catalan I was able to understand. The people of the area are also very warm, friendly, and full of life. Part of that is just part of the culture and the beautiful place where they live but maybe part of that is also from the area's wonderful wines!
Undulating Vineyards - "Les Ones" - the waves!
Rocky slate "soils" and with a view to the ridge
Garnacha clusters forming
Irregular rows of vines required by the Priorat terrain
Underground view of the slate from the barrel cellar
Map of the estate
La Petite Agnes 2015
This wine is considered the "Crianza" of the estate although Cal Grau prefers to vinify and mature each of their wines according to what is best for each vintage instead of strict schedules. The name is from an elderly lady of the area who viewed the rocky and undulating terrain as being good for her health from her daily walks through the vineyards. I have my own view of why this wine is good for your health as its delightful flavors are definitely good for your spirits!
The blend of 50 percent Garnacha and 50 percent Carinena produces initial aromas of violets, dark plums, rich old roses, and cherries but there are also interesting hints of smoky minerals from the broken slate terrain. Flavors are of rich plums, blackberries, blueberries, and dark cherries along with hints of licorice and tobacco. The flavors are actually quite bold but perfectly complemented by the wine's refreshing minerality and firm tannins which flow smoothly across the palate. The medium mouthfeel is also perfectly balanced with very nice acidity.
Food pairings would include filet mignon, New York steak, rib eye steak, wild boar, lamb, beef stew, veal, sausages, Asian beef dishes, pork shoulder, grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, and vegetable stir frys.
Clos Badaceli 2016
This is the estate's "Reserva" wine that includes more extensive barrel aging. The blend is 60 percent Garnacha and 40 percent Carinena and uses grapes from only the best micro-blocks across the estate. The name is from the historical name of this small area of the Priorat that is about six miles west of Gratallops between El Lloar and El Molar and with even more striking minerality as it is directly below the ridge that separates the Priorat and Montsant.
The aromatics are complex and extensive and include dark cherries, dark plums, dark chocolate, nectarines, pomegranate, cassis, ripe strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and boysenberries. Flavors include blackberries, boysenberries, and pomegranate and which are fully saturated across the palate. There is an elegant medium body, perfect balance and acidity, and an interesting finish which initially feels a bit restrained but which is actually long and memorable.
Food pairings would include filet mignon, New York Steak, short ribs, beef stew, grilled and roasted veal and pork, pork shoulder, wild boar, duck, coq au vin, salmon, tuna, swordfish, steamed clams and mussels, grilled shrimp, seafood soups, paella, tapas, Iberian ham, Asian and Mexican beef, pork, and chicken dishes, Indian Tandoori and mild curries, charcuterie, and mild, medium, rich, and creamy cheeses.
Les Ones 2015
*** Ratings:, Decanter World Wide Awards (London), Best in Show 2019, 97 points.
This is the estate's "Gran Reserva" that is sourced only from two of the estate’s 26 parcels and which contains vines that are 55 years old. The wine is 100 percent Cariñena (Samsó in the local dialect) and the name means “waves” in Català and expresses the interesting contours of the steep vineyard terraces in the vineyards as the terraces appear to be undulating waves across the terrain of the estate.
The aromatics are complex and extensive and include rich dark cherries, blackberries, dark chocolate, ripe strawberries, and cantaloupe. Flavors include blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, dark cherries, pomegranate, and red peaches. There is a medium to full body but with an elegant lightness across the palate, perfect balance and acidity, and a saturated and refreshing minerally finish.
Food pairings would include Filet Mignon, New York Steak, Rib Eye, roast beef, veal chops, lamb, pork chops, roast pork, duck, grilled chicken, shrimp, salmon, tuna, jambon iberico, paella, jambalaya, Asian and Mexican beef and pork dishes, Indian lamb dishes, charcuterie, and medium and rich cheeses.