For connoisseurs of fine wine, Alvaro Palacios doesn't need much of an introduction.
The tickets sold fast, the queues gathered early and an air of eager anticipation circulated round the room ahead of a whistle-stop showcase of the handiwork of Spain’s critically-acclaimed Mr Modern.
He’d never done this before – he let slip – as proceedings got underway. 12 wines from 3 regions in 90 minutes: The pressure was on.
You could understand his apprehension. For a man whose world revolves around precision, detail and nuance, doing justice to a lifetime’s obsession in a short window wasn’t going to be easy.
But, such is the nature of the man and his philosophies, by the time he left the stage, those present were left in no doubt as to his profound winemaking motivations and inspirations.
In short, Palacios embodies the spirit of terroir.
In his own words, ‘In the glass, I’m always just trying to show a captured moment; the picture of the landscape, the geology, the climate, the soil and the tradition.’
It’s what he called ‘the guarantee of Old World wines’ as he talked through an in-depth dissemination of his Riojan vineyards’ geography and soils.
But as the second of the day’s three masterclasses, all of which featured at least one Rioja, what’s so different a Rioja made by Alvaro Palacios?
The answer: Garnacha – or as he described it, ‘The queen of Mediterranean grapes.’
Palacios cited a Tempranillo invasion in the 1980s, meaning suddenly it was planted everywhere in Rioja, and became the staple of Riojan wine, principally because it was its cost effective (Tempanillo means ‘early little one’ because of its early-ripening properties) and was easy to manage in the vineyard.
He spent ten years trying ‘to rescue the traditional ways’ of Ganarcha-led wines and is particularly proud of the fact that this is reflected in his cuvees. The percentage of Garnarcha in his Bodegas Palacios Remondo Montesa for example (containing only grapes from his village, Montesa) is increasing over time. The 2008 Montessa contained 65% Ganarcha. The 2011 will have 95%.
Of course Palacios doesn’t just produce wines in Rioja. He spent years seeking out Spain’s best vineyards, wherever they were.
‘Twenty years ago, no-one was thinking about working the slopes. But I knew when I studied in France – living away from my country – my perspective was very different. I knew Spain had great vineyards that had not yet discovered.’
Palacios had already been to Bierzo, the last resting stop of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, by the time his nephew Ricardo suggested setting up another venture there. Fast forward a few years and the resultant wines are a real terroir tour-de-force, including the Descenientes de J. Palacios, La Farona 2007 which Palacios described as ‘intriguing and supernatural’ before go on to crown it ‘the best wine in Spain. …up to now.’
Priorat is where Alvaro Palacios made his name and a tasting in his presence wouldn’t be complete without a few examples of ‘Alvaro Palacios’ wines, including a mini ‘localisation’ tasting of 2009s, from regional level (Les Terrasses), to village (Gratallops Vi de Vila), to single vineyard (Finca Dofi). ‘My quality is driven by localising the product,’ he says.
Palacios was keen to stress that he always harvests very late in Priorat, aiming for particular saints’ days in October, and doesn’t ever add yeasts.
‘All the wines for village category are organic. I don’t have the biodynamic persuasion – my newphew does – but always organic for me.’
Finally. The wine that everyone had come for, and been made to wait for, was his L’Ermita 2005 made from a vineyard dubbed ‘the most beautiful vineyard in Spain’ and a homage to his beloved Garnarcha.
At the end of the tasting, a passionate Palacios raised his glass to the room. ‘Salud,’ he said.
‘Salud’ everyone replied, L’Ermita in hand. And they sipped, and they smiled.
Wines that accompanied the masterclass:
•Palacios Remondo, Plácet, La Rioja 2008
•Palacios Remondo, La Montesa, La Rioja 2008
•Palacios Remondo, Propiedad, La Rioja 2008
•Palacios Remondo, Propiedad, La Rioja 2010
•Descendientes de J.Palacios, Las Lamas, Bierzo 2008
•Descendientes de J.Palacios, Corullón, Bierzo 2008
•Descendientes de J.Palacios, Moncerbal, Bierzo 2008
•Descendientes de J.Palacios, La Faraona, Bierzo 2007
•Alvaro Palacios, Les Terrasses Velles Vinyes, Priorat 2009
•Alvaro Palacios, Gratallops Vi de la Vila, Priorat 2009
•Alvaro Palacios, Finca Dofí, Priorat 2009
•Alvaro Palacios, L’Ermita, Priorat 2005
Related Spanish Fine Wine Encounter content:
- Video highlights SFWE 2012
- The day in pictures: Vega Sicilia lunch, Grand Tasting room, Murrieta masterclass, La Rioja Alta masterclass and Alvaro Palacios masterclass
- Masterclass write-ups: The Legendary Wines of Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta and Pioneering The New Spain – Alvaro Palacios
Written by John Abbott