2016 Celler Aixalà Alcait Pardelasses Priorat

Pardelasses, for the donkeys it seems and this ass thought this 50/50 blend of Garnatxa and Samsó close to the one of the most enthralling drinks so far this year. Despite opening a bit sulphur stinky, a quick decant revealed dark balsamic cherries, a beguiling scent of sweet smoky pimenton, olé, and liquorice earthiness. There’s also kirsch, morello cherries and a finish where that sweet smoked paprika taste pops up again. Like a lot of great red wine, there’s an incredible freshness and a paradoxically firm but soft textured end gently brushing things clean to a mouthwatering conclusion. A very special expression of grape growing and place. Just as good on the second day. Samsó or Carignan as it’s better known can be so special in old vines and low yields. So soft and luscious. This old donkey is smitten by Priorat now.

14.50%. Cork. Another from The Spanish Acquisition’s wonderful mystery packs.

96 points.

Lot 5/2017 Celler Aixalà Alcait DeStrankis Priorat

There’s no clear vintage year on the label apart from lot 5/2017 in small print tucked away on one side. So, 2017? A little research on the importer’s website says 2017 and the fact that Destrankis is a Catalan term for assets that were hidden from the Franco dictatorship. Ah, hence the bottle hidden under the coat on the label. Opens cleanly, lots of dried cherry skin, ethyl acetate balsamic, sweet roasting pan juices and a richness of fresh red fruit. Grapes left to ripen until they just started to shrivel a bit. Instead of dried fruit cake flavours, there’s still an extraordinary sweet swell of fresh ripe berries and then the thing that perhaps marks Garnatxa and Samsó (or Carignan) from Priorat, a smooth wall of polished rocky tannin and acidity. An amazing expression of grapes and place. Finally it’s dawned on me why there’s all the fuss about Priorat. Delicious ripeness that seems to glide on such a fine bedrock of the local llicorella stone. Paradoxically soft rocks? The blend’s 80% Grenache and 20% Carignan, beautiful wine.

14.50% alcohol. Cork. Enormous thanks to the importers, The Spanish Acquisition, for offering mystery six packs for $90 and included this and another Celler Aixalà Alcait bottle with RRPs well north of $60. Really hope they keep their heads above the dreadful Covid financial waters. Saludos.

93 points.

2017 La Vinyeta Llavors Empordà

An odd blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Samsó or Carignan. Llavors means some thing like then or formerly in Catalan it seems. The ‘then’ referenced was September 2017 and the referendum for Catalan independence. Two years on and there are crowds again massing on the streets of Barcelona and Girona. Choosing the local granite kitchen splash back as a background makes my eyes go a bit funny and the 2017 pro independence crowd photo on the label hard to see, oh well, perhaps the Madrid government would approve? The wine’s a typical Empordà mix of sweet ripe dark berry and chocolate fruit gripped firmly by those iron and granite tannins. Touch of oak seasons nicely. Clean and well made without losing the sense of place or it’s rustic grunt. On the basis of a brief flirtation involving two bottles, La Vinyeta could be a producer to pursue further if you’re lucky enough to find yourself Catalunya bound.

14.50% alcohol. Cork. 12 euro worth of value.

90 points.

2017 Celler Pujol Cargol El Missatger Samsó Negre

Carignan on its best behaviour. Dense, fresh and perfectly ripe. Unencumbered by woody flavour and full of black and blue berries, bruised plums, licorice, all firmly disciplined by ripe tannin and acidity. So good it unravelled effortlessly over three days with some profound weighty fruit. Some of those Carignan roasting pan juices and severe Catalan rocky frowns too. So good, the empty bottle went blithely to the recycling bin before it posed for a photo. The image above got nicked from some web images, apologies for copyright crime. Good thing few will look too hard…

13.50% alcohol. Cork. 10.75 euros for a great wine.

94 points plus kudos for pure deliciousness.

2018 Oliver Conti Indispensable Negre Empordà DO

Another Grenache Carignan blend with a small addition of Cabernet Sauvignon this time. Medium bodied, clean and indeed indispensable for the table without too much analysis, except for around here of course. Red crunchy fruits backed up by woody herbs and that serious faced tug of Catalan stoney resolution. Impressive how the ripeness pushes into sweet Grenache warm pleasure but still holds a cut of cool glistening acid. Just like the beach weather today, languid 26 degrees of late summer sun freshened by the cool Tramontane breeze blowing down from the Pyrenees.

13.50% alcohol. Cork. Good wine for all at 7 euros in the local supermarket.

90 points of assured pleasure.

2016 Domaine de Blayac Minervois

Seriously, this is probably the best under $20 Woolies’ import ever. There, bold statement. Probably a love of old vine Carignan from Languedoc Roussillon sways the claim. The blend is Carignan, Grenache and Shiraz but it’s that sweet, caramelised roasting pan juice character that drives this spotlessly clean, softly delicious mouthful. Somehow there’s a ripeness level where the bright red fruit and clunky acidity of Carignan turns dark, mysterious and soft. There’s also dark, dark berries and velvet tannin. If quality is judged by how quickly the bottle empties, two of us were looking for the last drops as we mopped up our pasta sauce, all gone…

13% alcohol. Cork. $14.30 in a six pack.

93 points but more pointedly, delicious.

As a post script, I’ve bought and drunk both the 2017 and very recently the 2018 vintages of this. Sadly neither has the life or interest of the 2016. Both looked a bit dead fruited, mostly full of prunes, dry skins and lacking freshness. Maybe very hot weather or just left hanging too long. Really hoped this would be a regular buy, sad. There’s one 2016 left, let’s see.

Post script to the post script. Opened the last of the 2016 and the original note still holds true. Just as delicious, with a core of dark but still sweetly fresh berries. Perhaps more 92 than 93 but relieved to see some consistency in both the wine and an old dodgy palate.

2017 Domaine des Montèzes Carignan IGP

From Larzac in Languedoc. Perfumed and primary, really fresh and bright, mid weight, clean and red fruited, nicely ripe but still hanging onto the crunchy, firm handshake of Carignan’s acidity. The tannin lurks behind. Great favourite country cousin sort of grape. Another unwavering selection from Juhlès leading to some frantic posting.

13% alcohol. Cork. 11 euros.

91 points.