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CaminsAfter Rioja there was only one place left to discover in Spain: Sharing its esteemed status (DOCa) with Rioja, Priorat is known for crafting sinewy Garnacha-heavy blends from the North East of the Iberian Peninsula. It was time for my tasting group to validate the region’s reputation.

Aspect is everything in Priorat. Already growing in higher altitude, the grapes—Garnacha, Cariñena and some international varietals—are raised on steep terraced hillsides comprised of red/blue slate and quartz that account for the notable muscle and mineral undercurrent found in the best examples. We would be discerning terroir, pure and simple.

From the onset of the tasting, the experience was monolithic. The alleged aging potential of the wines was making itself known; in the rotation we were bombarded by a galère of hot-blooded (high alcohol) wines with youthful tannins and unencumbered dark fruit hearts that would take some time to integrate fully. Still, there were a few beauties in the Priory.

Interestingly enough, we had one bottle appear twice in our lineup (positions 1 and 5). Both bottles identical, sharing the 2004 birth year, but oddly, they were completely different in terms of evolution. Storage was now in question. The first time we tasted the 2004 Primitiu de Bellmunt, a blend of 55% Garanacha and 45% Cariñena, it exhibited cherries, licorice, tea, smoke and pepper all painted black. By the time we tasted the twin’s offering, it had been sapped of all its elegance and intrigue, falling short on the finish—two completely different tales.

The anomaly wasn’t the highlight however, just an interesting observation. Instead, tasting honors came courtesy of our last wine of the night, which took us to “funky town.” A mature bottle of 2004 Embruix de Vall Llach showed its age with a garnet hue that was bricking toward the rim. Our noses were buried deep inside our bulbs, inhaling that entire developing aroma of cooked plums, asphalt, black tea and soy sauce enjoyably. On the palate the robust red possessed a graceful structure with curvy body (medium-plus), mouth-filling tannins that conveyed a throat-warming landscape of roasted black plums, spice and dank cellar.

That last bottle was captivating. While all the wines retained their high alcohol character to some degree, with no wines registering under 14.5% ABV, only a few producers were able to use it as an advantage. In no case was that more true than the Embruix, which boasted the highest alcohol content of the evening (15.1%), and translated it into a boost of body that helped convey the developing complexity eloquently.

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