Waking up at 6am on a Sunday is not something I usually look forward to - especially after a late night Halloween Party where you could have been mistaken for a part of the new Walking Dead series. But as I was invited to go along with Spanish agent extraordinaire Ben Henshaw and his team for a few days in Priorat, it was all worth the early, spooky wake up. After arriving at Barcelona airport and an hour and a half drive south, the landscape changes drastically from flat sea views to an infinity of wild rocky mountains. My first thought when arriving in Priorat was that you would have to be a bit crazy to plant vines on such steep dry slopes; this is surely partly true, but in reality it took the great vision of winemaking pioneer Rene Barbier (Clos Mogador) to set up vineyards there back in 1979. He was initially joined in his winemaking adventure by a small group of friends including Carles Pastrana (Clos de L'Obac), Jose Luis Pérez Verdú (Clos Martinet), and Dafne Glorian (Clos Erasmus), who were later joined by Alvaro Palacios (creator of L'Ermita). They would become the first face of Priorat, a challenging land literally full of challenges. However the reason for my visit was the harvest party of Terroir al Limit, an ambitious project set up in 2001 by terroir-obsessed Dominik Huber and South Africa’s golden boy Eben Sadie. Dominik is now in full control of the estate and his designs on the region might be seen as even more aspirational for Priorat than what Rene Barbier already did…
On arrival at the picturesque village of Torroja where TaL is based, we were welcomed by a beautiful glass of rosé, sunshine, blue sky and 20 degrees. Not bad for 30th of October. After this refreshment, 2 pick-up 4x4s arrived and I soon found myself in the back of a pick-up on our way to a “special lunch”. 7 kilometres on a dirt track away, and a few bruises later, we arrived at the 800m high Les Tosses Vineyard where Dominik had set up a lunch with friends and supporters. The view is just incredible; I wondered if I have ever seen anything that beautiful before and I struggled to find such gobsmacking memories.
Soon the sun was setting and we were on our way back to Torroja for a Magnum party which was probably an even wilder idea than the landscape itself. If you ever go to Torroja, you will notice the village is almost part of the landscape. 50 Magnums were waiting for us and even with all the training I have had at BI over the past 6 years I wasn’t sure if I could cope with that much wine! There was a great live band and the music resonated for kilometres across the hills surrounding Torroja. This was a moment of pure fun and madness in a place you would only imagine in a dream.
Day 2 started with a hangover and a strong need for “bocadillo de Jamon con queso”. I left my hotel and found Dominik having his morning walk. I asked him where I should get some food and he told me to go to Cal Joc – a great restaurant in Torroja – in fact the only place to eat in Torroja! After mumbling a few rusty words in Spanish, I find myself eating a super breakfast, contemplating a really old building. This old building is a cooperative that was left abandoned but has found a new flush of youth thanks to Dominik who is employing locals for his new entry level Priorat wines (called “Terroir Historic”) which come from nine surrounding villages. As much as having in impact in the fine wine world, Dominik is very much having an impact in Priorat itself.
When it was time for lunch, we headed to the same place we were partying the night before, Cal Compte – a place I highly recommend you see should you visit Priorat – to indulge in a litte pre lunch wine tasting of Terroir al Limit wines along with some other European wineries owned by friends of Dominik. Being German, fantastic Rieslings were well represented but we also tasted some interesting Rhone Valley wines. As good as these were, the TaL range was spectacular: from the “village” entry of Torroja Vi di Villa up to the “Grand Cru” Les Manyes (100% Garnacha from high altitude old vines) while not forgetting the delicious “1er crus” Pedra de Guix (dry Pedro Jimenez, Macabeu, and Garnacha Blanca) and Arbossar (100% Carignan from 90 years old vines) Terroir al Limit are the pure reflection of Priorat’s diversity of terroir, whether it be clay, slate, schist or granite, but each with the typical ‘garrigue’ Mediterranean herbal notes which you notice in the final prioduct. These are wines with the potential to age but which are also approachable young, much younger than the “old style” of Priorat which generally requires a minimum of 10 years’ maturation. Les Manyes has the finesse of a Grand Cru Chambertin and the power of a great vintage from Bonneau or Rayas; and whilst we are always drawn to make comparisons with new wines, we are sure that people who have the chance to try them will be soon referring them simply as Terroir al Limit – such is the strength of their own personality.
The day was passing by, with cheese tasting, paella dishes, and some funky tunes played on old vinyl - all outside in the sunshine, so we could continue to contemplate the beauty of those hills. I will never drink Priorat the same way again. These were two days which went way too fast but they will never be forgotten.
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