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Scala Dei Negre 2010
Tiny and entirely composed of craggy, jagged and deeply terraced vineyards, Priorat is a Catalan wine-producing region that was virtually abandoned until the early 1990s. Its renaissance came with the arrival of one man, René Barbier, who recognized the region’s forgotten potential. He banded with five friends to create five “Clos” in the village of Gratallops. Their aim was to revive some of Priorat’s ancient Carignan vines, as well as plant new—mainly French—varieties. These winemakers were technically skilled, well-trained and locally inspired; not surprisingly their results were a far cry from the few rustic and overly fermented wines already produced.
This movement escalated Priorat’s popularity for a few reasons. Its new wines were modern and made with well-recognized varieties, namely old Carignan and Grenache blended with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When the demand arrived, scarcity commanded higher prices and as the region discovered its new acclaim, investors came running from near and far. Within ten years, the area under vine practically doubled.
Priorat’s steep slopes of licorella (brown and black slate) and quartzite soils, protection from the cold winds of the Siera de Monstant and a lack of water, leading to incredibly low vine yields, all work together to make the region’s wines unique. While similar blends could and are produced elsewhere, the mineral essence and unprecedented concentration of a Priorat wine is unmistakable.
Full-bodied but light in both color and tannin, Grenache loves the sun. It thrives in hot climates where it can easily achieve full ripeness. Grenache is best known in the Southern Rhône, where its plush texture and ample alcohol are tamed by savory Syrah and structured Mourvèdre, most notably in Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grenache originates in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha and is important throughout the country, particularly in Rioja, where it is blended with the more austere Tempranillo, and in Priorat in tandem with savory Cariñena (Carignan). It is also responsible for dry, fruity rosés in Navarra. In Sardinia, the variety is known as Cannonau and produces bold, rustic reds. In California, Grenache has achieved popularity both flying solo and playing a supporting role in Rhône-style blends.
In the Glass
In sufficiently warm conditions, Grenache produces smooth and generous wines that are loaded with red fruit flavors ranging from strawberry to cherry to dark berry. Richer examples can also show plum, chocolate, and licorice.
Despite its bold flavors, Grenache has very mild-mannered tannins, which makes it eminently quaffable on its own, yet easy to match with food. With its uncomplicated, friendly nature, Grenache is the ultimate barbecue red, pairing happily with lamb loin chops or spicy Italian sausages. Unlike most other full-bodied reds, Grenache’s low tannin level ensures that it will not be fazed by a good chili kick.
Sardinia’s Cannonau is often revered for its association with a long, healthy life. Residents of the Italian island often live well into their 90s and beyond, and they credit this antioxidant-rich wine—along with their healthy Mediterranean diet—for their impressive longevity.