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!
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 2015
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.
Fran has also then created some magic with this wine as there are really interesting aromas of plums, violets, dark rum, cognac, molasses, lilac, and honeysuckle. There are then rich deep flavors including cedar, cherry, stony minerality, blueberries, blackberries, and dark chocolate along with hints of tobacco and vanilla. Initial perceptions of a medium mouthfeel then progress to a much fuller and very memorable finish. Overall, this is very smooth across the palate and has interesting nuances of slightly spicy tannins and some hints of being an Amarone on the finish.
This very interesting wine has many versatile food pairings which would include New York steak, rib eye, short ribs, veal chops, veal scaloppini, veal stew, game or braised meats with fruit sauces, beef stroganoff, sausages, duck, ahi tuna, steamed clams, cassoulet, ratatouille, paella, Middle Eastern foods, Asian Beef dishes, and desserts including cheeses (mainly rich cheeses and blue) and dark chocolate.