In my mind a “badass” wine is one that goes against the dominant “new world” wine trend of big fruit, big extraction and high alcohol. A badass wine leans more toward an old world; terroir driven, place-specific, mostly un-manipulated wine that happens to be delicious as well.
It’s the artisanal not the industrial. The long shot not the favorite. The indie-film not the blockbuster.
The 2001 Finca Dofí is maybe not the obvious choice for “badass wine” because Alvaro Palacios is arguably the most famous winemakers in Europe and was recently named Decanter Magazine’s “Man of the Year”.
But in spite of Mr. Palacios’s super stardom, “Finca Dofí” is badass because the wine has taken a stylistic turn toward from big and rugged to restrained and delicate.
And that can be tricky in the American Market (where I work) because the average guy who pays $200 for a bottle of wine is usually expecting it to tear the top of his head off with tannins, deep fruit and high alcohol… But when you sell the average guy a more graceful, almost feminine wine, at $200… he will sometimes look at you wondering: Where’s the beef???
So I’m going to name the 2011 Finca Dofí from Rock-Star, Wine-God Alvaro Palacios as the Badass Wine of the Month because what used to be a very good, muscular wine suddenly became a very good intellectual wine. And I think it took a little nerve to make the change and I’m super impressed.
What was his big move with the 2011 vintage? What did he change?
Well, believe it or not, I reached out to Alvaro Palacios himself and asked: “Senor Palacios: What makes this new Finca Dofí so badass?”
It took him 3 months to reply, (he is a rock star after all), but to make a long story short: “The reason why Finca Dofí shows so refreshing and right is because, since 2011 vintage, we are not using Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.”
He took the Cabernet and the Syrah out of the wine! Why is this kind-of-a-big deal?
First of all: Cabernet and Syrah sell. But also what he’s done, by removing the French varietals, Palacios has made a strong move toward the indigenous grapes of Priorat, in this case Garnacha. And Garnacha to many consumers is like: Huh?
But the story of Finca Dofí and Alvaro Palacios really begins in Rioja.
The Palacios family (according to “The Wines of Rioja”, by John Radford) is believed to have been making wine for more than 350 years in the Rioja Baja area. In 1945 José Palacios Remondo established what is still today known as Bodegas Palacios Remondo. José had 9 kids and four of the sons went into the wine business, the most well known being Alvaro.
Alvaro is quick to point out that his father was his biggest influence. “My father is the one I really learned from. His passion for quality, his joy for work and his respect for everyone, really influenced my humble destiny.”
Alvaro went on to study winemaking around the world, but most famously at Petrus in Pomerol, Bordeaux. But where he really made his fame is in the hills outside of Barcelona in the wine-producing region of Priorat in Catalonia.
The Quick and Devine History of Priorat (D.O.Q.)
Priorat is located in the hills outside Barcelona. Let’s quickly go back 800 years to 1190 AD when a Devine Staircase carrying Angels up into Heaven appeared in the sky before some local sheepherders. This “religious event” was kind of like Mary at Guadalupe or the face of Jesus appearing in a grilled cheese sandwich. but instead of selling the sandwich on E-Bay, Carthusian Monks went to the site and built an epic monastery called Scala Dei (God’s Staircase).
As Monks like to do, they planted a bunch of vineyards and made wine in the monastery for a few centuries until 1835 when the land was taken from them by the state and given to small landowners.
Farmers and winemakers continued to develop the wine business there until 1890-ish when phylloxera finally destroyed the vineyards.
The area was replanted until the 1950’s, declared a D.O. in 1954, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Priorat really began to re-emerge as a major wine-producing region.
A group of five wine makers, lead by Alvaro Palacios and Rene Barbiere, of Clos Mogador, decided to buy land, plant vineyards and re-build the business.
In 1993, Alvaro Palacios produced a wine called L’Ermita that skyrocketed up the charts and put Priorat back on the map for good. Since then, Priorat has re-emerged as a major contender in Spain and all of Europe in terms of notoriety and pricing.
Finca Dofí could be considered the “little brother” of L’Ermita. But while the L’Ermita continues to be an Icon, the Finca Dofí continues to mature into this pretty interesting character.
“The first Finca Dofí vintages, they had 55% Garnacha and 30% Cabernet and 15% Syrah. Now we decided to produce the wine with the most transparent expression of the vineyard, the vintage and the historic identity of Priorat.”
This to me is badass… Here’s a really famous guy making really famous wine, but he decides to change the recipe. And why? Just to make it a more true expression of the terroir and the history of the place itself. This, to me, gets major props.
“We have been reducing the percentage of these varieties over the previous six years. When we made this decision, we started grafting all these vines (Cab and Syrah) to Garnacha and Cariñena and little of the white grapes from Priorat.” Mr. Palacios tells me. “Garnacha is not a very tannic grape, but it has others privileges, such as acidity and a special refreshing quality which make it the most musical and joyful grape of Mediterranean climates.”
Yes… He’s right. The wine sings.
“I do only understand wine when it expresses itself with the purity its environment and when it really performs with grace and the flavors and the mysteries of that culture and climate, at the end when we can perceive the whims of the nature.”
I barely even know what that means. It’s so badass, I can barely understand what he’s talking about. But it sounds cool, no?
Priorat now, thanks to Alvaro and the other pioneers, is incredibly successful and there is some argument as to weather all the new producers are really making good wine or if they are simply jumping on the Priorat-Brand Band Wagon… So I asked Mr. Palacios: “With the incredible success created in Priorat by yourself and other pioneers, does it break your heart or warm your heart to see so much development there?”
“Yes of course there is development in the region. Everything has been going really fast. But in terms of recovering and bringing back the real potential of Priorat, this experience still so young. The quality of these wines are so amazing but we also have the responsibility of doing better.”
Well, he certainly is practicing what he’s preaching. What’s even better news is that, if you can’t find anymore 2011 Finca Dofí, the 2012 was made with the same intention and the 2013 is supposedly going to be a great vintage too.
Copyright Albert Letizia 2015