Álvaro Palacios is arguably the leading figure in the winemaking revolution that took place in Spain in the 1980s. Energetic and passionate, Palacios admires Burgundy and other wine regions with a monastic past. A media-friendly maverick, he has become a true celebrity in the world of Spanish wine. He is currently in charge of a small wine kingdom which produces some of the best labels from Bierzo, Rioja and Priorat.
Born into a wine family in Alfaro (Rioja Baja), he soon disagreed with his father over the way of doing things at Palacios Remondo. He thought it was far more attractive to join a crazy bunch of people (René Barbier, José Luis Pérez, Carles Pastrana and Daphne Glorian) who had just discovered Priorat, a beautifully rugged region located in an isolated backward hinterland. As the youngest in the group, Álvaro was nicknamed “the dolphin”. He famously shared winemaking facilities and equipment with his colleagues so that each member bottled his wine under his own brand. Álvaro's wine was named Clos Dofí, hinting at his monicker (Dofí means dolphin in Catalan).
This was the start of a new Priorat model which turned to foreign varieties, specially Cabernet and Syrah, to support the local Garnacha and Cariñena grapes aged in new French oak barrels. The style caused a frenzy in the US and Switzerland, due in no small part to Robert Parker's influence. The wines were dark, powerful and concentrated and showed a distinct minerality that bespeaks the slate soils in the region. With this base and considering that markets unreservedly accepted the steep prices from the very beginning, Palacios built his range of wines. They include the entry-level Les Terrasses (€26, around 100,000 bottles); his original label, later renamed Finca Dofí (€68, 20,000 bottles) which comes from a 10-hectare vineyard located in Camp d'en Pique, La Baixada and Coll de Falset with various aspects and vines aged between 19 to 31 years; and his top wine L'Ermita (€900, just over 1,000 bottles). This legendary label comes from a small 1.4 hectare plot planted with 84 to 104 year-old vines. It lies on a steep slope which climbs from 350 metres to 430 and is crowned by a shrine (ermita, in Catalan).
Things have changed considerably in recent years. The launch of fresh, fruity Camins del Priorat in 2007 (€14, only eight months in oak, over 200,000 bottles) opened the market to affordable Priorats thanks to the creator of the most expensive wine in the Denomination. The popularity of Priorat was underway.
Gratallops (€44, around 8,000 bottles) was born around that date. It falls under the new “Vi de la Vila” (Village Wine) category, the first serious attempt in Spain to circumbscribe the territory and define the villages' character within the Priorat Denomination. Made exclusively with local varieties (Garnacha and 20% Cariñena), it offers an airy, aromatic style which conjures up a Mediterranean landscape of rockrose and rosemary.
Other wines in the range are imbued with the same style, specially Finca Dofí which is curently made mostly from Garnacha and barely 4% Cariñena. L'Ermita is almost a pure Garnacha with a small dose of Cariñena and white grapes (Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo) barely representing 1% of the blend. The current Priorats made by Álvaro Palacios are clearly less structured, more expressive and drinkable from the moment they arrive at the market. Dofí and, of course, L'Ermita have plenty of potential for further bottle ageing.