Iberian Intoxicants for New Year’s Day (And Beyond)

What’s the with-it Spaniard imbibing on this frosty January Sunday?  Something from Torres, no doubt.

Wine cellar at Bodega Torres

Founded in 1870 by Jaime Torres, the family now controls the largest winery in Spain along with the most extensive vineyards in  Penedès and can lay claim to an annual production of nearly fifty million bottles.  Unlike Clan Mondavi, however, whose exponential growth led to a certain ‘dumbing down’ of product, the Torres family has used its mass-market triumph to fund upscale projects, revive nearly-extinct Spanish varietals and produce swank, single-vineyard revelation bottlings, like Conca de Barbera Grans Muralles and Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon.

Falling between these deluxe gems and more accessibly-priced Sangre de Toro and Penedès Coronas is a pair of new releases—Celeste 2008 and  Salmos 2009.  Both bring to the table the usual wealth of Torres tradition, background noise and quality.

Celeste, Ribera del Duero, 2008, about $24:  Poindexters call Celeste a monovarietal, moderately bright wine people refer to it as a single-cultivar, and to everyone else, it’s an ‘only one kind of grape goes into the bottle’ wine—in this case, tempranillo.  Locally known as tinto fino, tempranillo is virtually the only grape grown in Ribera del Duero, a Denominación de Origen (DO) located in Spain’s northern plateau along the River Duero.  Winemaking in the region goes back two thousand years—before the Spanish, before the Moors, even before the Visigoths—so it stands to reason that they’ve nailed the process down.

Celeste—so named because its vineyards are half a mile above sea-level—a height at which, according to legend, you can almost touch the stars.  In fact, high-elevation wines tend to show certain superlative, down-to-earth qualities like thicker skins, more resveratrol (the heart-healthy French Paradox chemical), more ‘sweet’ tannins and less of the bitter monomerics and in general, better retention of all-important malic acid.

Opaquely purple with a tint of ruby, Celeste shows a scrumptious bouquet of tobacco, blackberry jam and coffee; in the mouth, there’s delightful depth with a bank of berries, black cherry, soft oak finishing with smooth and fluid tannins.


Salmos, Qualificada Priorat, 2009, about $38:  Located southwest of Catalonia and covering eleven municipalities, Priorat only came into the mainstream wine lexicon during the nineties, when its intense, perfumed, mineral-heavy, garnacha-based reds were discovered by the world outside Spain.  The area—still referred to as ‘up-and-coming’ despite a viticultural history going back to the 12th century—has become a bit of a cult favorite, which (unfortunately) has resulted in price tags which do not always match wine worth.

Salmos is an exception.  Created to honor the Carthusian monks who first cultivated vines in Priorat, the wine does them proud.  Heady aromas of lavender and violet lead into flavors of candied cherries, with a full, meaty mid-palate; saturated and rich, the wine displays earth behind concentrated pepper, plum, raspberry and smoke.  Finish lasts nearly a minute, but the wine is still a little young for conclusive analysis.  I’d like to try it again in 2013.

This entry was posted in Grenache, Penedès, Priorat, SPAIN and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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