Álvaro Palacios and Descendientes de J. Palacios - New Releases


I covered Spain in a professional capacity for Robert Parker just over ten years ago, and though my tenure was brief, the country made a big impression – the landscape, people, gastronomy and, of course, its wines. En route to another recent tasting in London, I made a short detour to Berry Brothers & Rudd to reacquaint myself with one of Spain’s most esteemed winemakers, Álvaro Palacios. Together with his nephew, Ricardo Pérez, they showed their 2022s from their vineyards in Rioja, Priorat and Bierzo.

Just to recap, Álvaro Palacios was born in Rioja, and his family owns Bodega Palacios Remondo. Naturally, Palacios was expected to one day step into his father’s shoes. But he had an adventurous spirit and wanted to furrow his own path. Palacios spent a couple of years working at Petrus in Bordeaux before buying his first vineyard, Finca Dofi, in 1990. Three years later, he acquired a steep north-east facing parcel cultivated by vines planted between 1900 and 1940 that he named L’Ermita, becoming the first vineyard to use the Gran Vinya Classificada qualification. It soon became one of Spain’s most iconic and coveted wines. In the following years, Palacios was instrumental in reinvigorating the Priorat region and bringing it to global attention, building a small portfolio of highly-regarded single vineyard wines using indigenous varieties, Garnacha and Cariñena (Samsó), as well as applying organic viticulture. He also began a joint venture with Perez in 1998, named Descendientes de J. Palacios, to exploit the potential of Bierzo.

I will let the tasting notes speak for themselves. I was reminded of the elegance of Palacios’s wines, perhaps more so than when I was tasting them regularly a decade ago. These terroir-driven wines benefit from aeration, so I took my time tasting them and allowing them to open. Though familiar with L’Ermita, I was taken with the La Faraona, virtually pure Mencia that blossomed in the glass.

The 2022 Quiñon de Valmira, Perez’s wine from Eastern Rioja, is a blend of 85% Garnacha and a mixture of other varieties, cropped at 14.5hL/ha. It has a light, airy bouquet with black fruit, chimney soot and subtle sea spray scents. The palate is medium-bodied with a smooth and velvety opening. Plush tannins, lightly spiced, fresh and focused with a twist of bitter cherry and soy towards the finish. This is going to be very seductive. I adore its seamlessness. 93/Drink 2024-2038.

Moving on to his wines from the region of Priorat, the 2022 Gratallops has a fragrant bouquet with brambly red fruit, pressed iris and background scents of powdered stone. The palate is well-balanced with a pleasing granular texture. With gentle grip and a finely pitched acidity, this could almost be described as a “laid back” Priorat, which is not written pejoratively. Unassuming might be a more accurate word. It fans out discretely in the finish, but at the end of the day, it just says, “Drink me”! 90/Drink 2023-2033.

The 2022 Finca Dofi comprises 88% Garnacha with Cariñena, Picapoli and a pinch of white varieties. It sports a well-defined bouquet with blackberry, raspberry and light pencil shaving scents, focused and understated, later unfurling temptingly with aeration. The palate is medium-bodied with fine grip, bright and vivid with black cherries, hints of blueberry and a dab of allspice. Sedate and alluring, it feels reassuringly persistent on the finish. Lovely. 92/Drink 2024-2040.

The 2022 La Baixada comes from 1.3 hectares planted with 98% Garnacha and 2% Cariñena. It is a little more opulent compared to the Finca Dofi: well-defined, high-toned black cherries, Medjool dates, blackcurrant pastille scents and an underlying tertiary element that emerges with time. The palate is medium-bodied with a more Mediterranean personality than other cuvées, yet it retains admirable balance, just a touch more pliancy and sumptuousness towards the finish. It slips down the throat almost too easily! 91/Drink 2024-2040.

The 2022 Les Aubaguetes is a blend of 86% Garnacha, 13% Cariñena and 1% of white varieties. It is cut from a different cloth from the preceding La Baixada. This is backward, sultry and standoffish at first, opening reluctantly with aeration, with dark berry fruit, melted tar and candied orange peel hints. The palate is medium-bodied with fine-boned tannins. Classic in style, not austere but with a fine backbone, this is a Priorat that deserves time in the cellar. Not completely unapproachable since there is underlying elegance, yet one feels it is hiding something up its sleeve to reward the patient oenophile. 94/Drink 2028-2048.

The 2022 L’Ermita is Palacios’s crown jewel, this vintage comprising 92% Garnacha, 7% Cariñena and 1% white varieties. It is clearly a step up from the Les Aubaguetes with intense, multi-faceted black fruit, freshly rolled tobacco, black pepper and wild mint hints. It uncoils seductively with time in the glass while retaining wonderful delineation and focus. The palate is utterly divine with saturated yet filigree tannins, perfect balance and a gentle, almost subtle crescendo with a peacock’s tail of mineral-driven black fruit on the finish. Fabulous and as sophisticated as they come. Utterly divine. 96/Drink 2030-2060.

Finishing with a quartet of wines from Bierzo with the Mencía grape variety at its heart, these wines are under the Descendientes de J. Palacios label. The 2022 Villa de Corullón has a pretty blueberry and cassis-tinged bouquet, quite pure, though I would like a bit more horsepower. The palate is medium-bodied with saturated tannins, balsamic and licorice-infused black fruit with a sweet finish that just needs a little more amplitude. 88/Drink 2023-2030.

The 2022 Moncerbal comes from 2.1 hectares of vines planted with 95% Mencia and the remainder white Jerez. It has a vibrant nose with black cherries, raspberry coulis and light leathery scents. Just a little VA gives it a welcome kick. The palate is medium-bodied with grippy tannins. It’s firm in the mouth with good density and a weighty finish that (again) needs to muster a little more precision. 89/Drink 2023-2033.

The 2022 Las Lamas, a blend of 92% Mercian and 8% white Jerez, has a well-defined bouquet with blackberry, wild strawberry, singed leather and undergrowth scents; rosemary and clove touches come through with time. The palate is medium-bodied and harmonious with smooth tannins, light spice, baking powder and allspice mixed with white pepper towards the finish. This is a level up from the Moncerbal and should give 12-15 years of drinking pleasure. 93/Drink 2024-2036.

The 2022 La Faraona comes from 0.55 hectares of vine, 98% Mencia with a little white Jerez and Godello, cultivated at 1,000m at the summit of the Corullón hill. It has an almost feral nose, animal fur and antique leather armchair infusing the dark berry fruit. This is fairly backward and needs time to open, yet there is an alluring, almost enigmatic tincture to the aromatics. The palate is medium-bodied with fine grip, good density and delineation; the acidity counterbalances the density and muscle. Showing a firm backbone, there’s a little austerity towards the finish with a residual black pepper and clove note. Excellent. 96/Drink 2026-2050.

Reacquainting myself with these wines brought back many happy memories of tasting in the region. It is a shame that commitments to Bordeaux and Burgundy means that I could only make a fleeting return. At least I can still content myself by drinking its wines, especially when they are as good as this.

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