As I type I am on a visit to San Diego. My hostess, a dear friend, served us two bottles of this amazing wine. It was new to me and I simply cannot wait to hunt some out once I get home. The 2006 Clos Les Fites is a blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah. It is fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 12 months in new French oak.
This blend is reminiscent of one of my favorites, the archetypal GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre) and also reminds me of other medium-bodied reds like the Riojas and Tempranillos. It is extraordinarily well-balanced, being neither too sweet or too dry– just as a food friendly red should be. While the winemakers listed a zillion notes to taste (They always do, don’t they?), I was able to readily discern notes of blackberry, anise, and black pepper. My particular word for this type of wine is “zippy.” Meaning in my personal vernacular that the wine lights up your palate. It also means- goes with pizza! Feel free to use it.
Tending as I do to be quite provincial and drinking mostly California wines, I was intrigued by this Spanish wine. What sort of wine making region is this? What’s a Priorat? What does Les Fites mean? Oh, Lordie, what ever did we do before the internet?
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I found out quite a bit.
It turns out that this wine making region in northeastern Spain is very similar to my own beloved northern California. Lots of sun and rocky soil (more about that in a second) add to the characteristics and sugar content of the grapes. Priorat is a place. It’s a county in the south-west of the Catalonian region. Priorat is part of the Denominacio d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ). This is one of only two of the highest ranked wine-making regions in Spain… so… good stuff.
This blend is sourced from 14-60 year old vines in one of the oldest vineyards in Priorat. It was founded by Carthusian monks in the 15th century. (Although I found another source who cited an earlier founding, but let’s err on the conservative side.) Apparently at one point the monks were tending more than 90,000 vines. That’s a whole lot of sacramental wine, eh? After a devastating phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century the winery was abandoned. Count Pirenne refounded the winery in 1998. The winery currently thrives and employs green techniques and dry-farming.
Fites are quite simply stone columns. As early as the 12th century, fites were used as landmarks. After building the monastery Mas Dels Frares in 1450, the Monks of Scala Dei built many fites all around the property in order to differentiate their land from those around them. Even today eight fites still stand on the winery. These ancient structures mark the property of La Perla Del Priorat and also form the southern most border of the DOQ Priorat wine-making region. I would have dearly loved to post a photo of these ancient columns, but sadly, in this the internet failed me.
In the course of my research I found some fascinating information regarding this winery’s terroir. In other words, the soil in which the grapes grow. This particular soil is known as llicorella. It consists of iron rich slate and quartz. The land contains small particles of mica. I found the mica fascinating as it reflects sunlight and conserves heat. In the rocky ground the roots of the vines are forced the bury even farther than normal for nutrients. With such a firm footing the plants are better anchored to survive the region’s frequent winds and storms.
All this makes for a tasty wine, retailing for around $30 a bottle, give or take a buck or two. My friend found it at her local Costco in San Diego for much less. It is currently sold out of many online sources, so I’ll be making a Costco run when I get home. Crossing my fingers there’s some yumminess left for me.
Of course, by the time YOU read this I will have gotten there first. After all, I’m writing on Sunday, I get home on Monday, and YOU will read this on Wednesday. More for me! Wicked cackle…
This post was written by Erika Gardner. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog. Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller. Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.