Barcelona Wine Tasting: The Palacios Family

Every month we’ll be tasting and learning about an iconic producer of Spanish wine in detail. To attend these tastings, please make sure you check the blog on the 1st of every month for the newsletter with the details, or join the Meet-up group to get updates as tastings become available

The Palacios family are one of the most famous producers of wine across Spain, which is no mean feat when you think that around 70%-80% of wineries here are family owned and operated. It all started back in 1945 with Jose Palacios Remondo, a grower in Rioja Baja, who had the foresight to build what was for the time a modern winery with the intention of producing high quality wine. Jose had 9 children throughout his life, 4 of whom decided to continue the tradition of producing wine including a certain Alvaro Palacios, would become a star in the industry. For the sake of simplicity, below is a simple description of who is working where:

  • Alvaro is in Priorat, in Palacios Remondo in Rioja and in Bierzo with his nephew Ricardo
  • Ricardo is only in Bierzo
  • Rafael is only in Valdeorras

Whilst there were tensions during the 80’s and early 90’s, the death of Jose Palacios in 2000 was a catalyst for peace within the family with Alvaro returning home from his highly successful project in Priorat, where he now acts as the head of the overall family business. However, perhaps this period of discontentment was key for the development of the business outside Rioja; would Alvaro have moved so far away from the family business in Rioja if everything was rosy at home? Would there still be a joint venture with his nephew Ricardo in Bierzo? Hard to say. What’s certainly true is there is now a wealth of quality wines being made across the north of Spain; from Priorat to Rioja, and from Bierzo to neighbouring Valdeorras.

There isn’t a single philosophy that binds the style of the Palacios family together, although you can be sure if Alvaro is involved it’s likely to be based on small plots of lands or even single vineyards, with a heavy focus on Garnacha for red wine production, which he strongly believes is Spain’s most noble grape with the highest quality potential. This week with Maestrazgo Wine Club, we’re going to delve into two wines from each of these three areas and learn a little about the production, style and philosophy of the Palacios family through the wines themselves.

Palacios Remondo — DOC Rioja — Founded in 1945–150 hectares under vine

This is where it all started for the family when Jose Palacios decided to look to the future, and built his winery back in 1945 in Alfaro, Rioja Baja. By the 1980s the winery was thriving and Jose made the bold decision to only focus on the production of quality, bottled wines, something completely unheard of at the time for a producer located in Rioja Baja, considered to be an inferior location to the cooler Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa to the north. Over thirty years later, Jose was proved right but in the interim, there was a great deal of work to be done and it wasn’t an overnight success.

The winery itself is now in the capable hands of Alvaro Palacios who returned home from Priorat in 2000 after the death of his father. In total, the area under vines is around 150 hectares with by far the most important plot of land being the Montesa vineyard, which is around 110 hectares by itself and provides the grapes for the La Montesa cuvee, the wineries benchmark product. This has been reinforced in recent years by the introduction of another Garnacha led blend, La Vendimia. Both are fresh, fruity styles of wine best enjoyed young and neither will break the bank, with La Montesa retailing for around 11 euros and La Vendimia around 8.

However, the wines we’ll be tasting will be a 100% Garnacha based wine known as La Propiedad and Placet, the wineries only white wine.

Placet Valtomelloso 2012 — The only white wine of the estate and a 100% Viura, an increasingly uncommon find in Rioja as more producers seek to blend Malvasia in for extra perfume, flavour and weight. This is really the work of Rafael Palacios who after a stint in both France and Australia, became fascinated by the idea of white wine production in Spain. He first launched Placet in 1997 before leaving the winery in 2004 to create his own production in Valdeorras, but not before making his mark at home with this lovely white Rioja. The wine is aged for between 9–12 months in large oak barrels (foudres) prior to bottling and has a wonderful mixture of ripe stone fruits, white flowers and cream. At 5 years old this is hitting its stride and should be a real pleasure to kick off the evening with. Retails for €17.

La Propiedad 2011 — This was previously a blend of grapes, albeit Garnacha dominant, but over the years since Alvaro has been in charge it has become more and more like his wines in Priorat; 100% Garnacha from small, specific plots of land. It’s then fermented in oak vats and then matured in a combination of both larger oak vats and small barriques before the final blending process. It’s really quite a substantial and ambitious wine and is made in a very ‘Alavaro’ style, with similarities being drawn to Finca Dofi in Priorat. There’s absolutely masses of red fruit on the nose; if you want to find a benchmark ‘Garnacha’ style wine from Spain that smells of strawberries, pepper and fennel, this is your wine! There’s lots of flavour but no noticeable heat from the alcohol and quite a bit more complexity on the palate, where the time in oak becomes more noticeable. Delicious stuff and my favourite wine from Palacios Remondo. Retails for €24.

Alvaro Palacios — DOQ Priorat — Founded in 1989–25 hectares under vine

The first major project for the family outside of Rioja was created by Alvaro Palacios in 1989, one of the 5 visionaries now credited for the huge success of Priorat over the subsequent two decades. Alvaro met Rene Barbier (Clos Mogador), another son of a wine-making family, who was also looking to create something new and together with Daphne Glorian (Clos Erasmus), Jose Luiz Perez (Clos Martinet) and Carles Pastrana (Clos de l’Obac) they invested in land in Priorat. What happened next was nothing short of a meteoric rise for the region, spear-headed by this 5 producers and with a huge demand for the wines being produced, particularly within the US.

Alvaro’s philosophy of single-vineyard expressions, the vineyards themselves often very steep and inhospitable, combined with his marketing nous proved to be a huge success. The price of L’Ermita, already the most expensive wine in the area continues to rise and the most recent vintage was retailing at well over €1000 a bottle and continuing to sell without great difficulties. This makes Finca Dofi look like a relative bargain at a mere €75 by comparison. The rest of the range comprises of Gratallops, Les Terrasses and Camins del Priorat and a new wine launched in 2015 known as Les Aubaguets. The two wines we’ll be tasting are the benchmark Camins del Priorat 2015 and the emblematic Gratallops 2013.

Camins del Priorat 2015 — The entry level wine from Alvaro Palacios in Priorat and a very fresh blend of 50% Garnacha, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carignan, 10% Syrah and 5% Merlot. One of the best selling Priorat wines due to its accessibility and comparatively lower pricing, this spends a short 4 months in French oak to soften it a little, especially important as most of this is consumed within around 2–4 years of release. There’s a lot of fresh fruit in this, which you’d expect in a young wine, with some light floral notes and a reasonably prominent presence of oak. Dense but still fresh, this is about as good value as Priorat gets! Retails for €17.

Gratallops 2013 — If you find yourself with a bottle of Gratallops to hand, you know you’re in for a treat. Typically this is a blend of 80% Garnacha and 20% Carinena, but with the 2013 vintage they changed the split to 89/11 due to the incredibly high quality of the Garnacha. This is a real gem, with huge amounts of fresh, juicy red fruit, pepper, spice and some herbal, menthol notes. The truly great thing about this wine is the freshness, which makes the 14.5% alcohol almost undetectable and the already smooth tannins, which add to the weight and richness of the palate. This is the sort of wine you want to give to someone to showcase what Priorat is all about and I’m thrilled we’re able to showcase it for this tasting. Retails for €47 euros.

Descendientes de J.Palacios — DO Bierzo — Founded in 1999–27 hectares under vine

Bierzo is now a relatively well known region in Spain, but in 1999 it was flying well below the radar. Ricardo, the son of Chelo, visited the area and was taken with both the natural beauty and the potential to produce wine here from the native grape; Mencia. He approached his Uncle, Alvaro, who it turns out had spent time in the region in the 80’s trying to generate money for his upcoming winery in Priorat and had also noticed the potential of the vineyards. The joint venture was formed and Ricardo runs the day to day operations as well as being the head wine-maker.

The winery was named a year later, in honour of Jose Palacios on the year of his passing. It is focused around the village of Corullon and the vineyards are run on biodynamic principles, although it is worth noting that they are not certified with any organisation. Several single vineyard expressions commanding super-premium prices; Faraona, Moncerbal, Las Lamas and St.Martin all record prices between €80 and €600 euros a bottle! Corullon is a combination of these estates and retails for a far more sensible €35–40 euros, although by far the best value from the producer is Petalos and it’s this wine we’ll be tasting from this lovely project in Bierzo.

Petalos 2014 — For a wine that is clearly produced in reasonably large quantities and sold in many countries throughout the world, a lot of work goes into it; not least the selection of Mencia grapes from vines with an average age of 60 years old. It’s then aged for an average of 10 months in French oak and quite rightly has become known as something of a stalwart of the appellation. The fruit profile is simply so juicy, it’s irresistible. There’s an earthy characteristic to the wine as well, with just a touch of graphite and sweet spice. For a wine that retails at around €14 a bottle, it’s hard to find better value for money within the appellation.

Bodega Rafael Palacios — DO Valdeorras — Founded in 2004–22.5 hectares under vine

The most recent project of the Palacios family has come relatively recently, with the aforementioned Rafael Palacios leading the charge into DO Valdeorras, an inland appellation of Galicia in the north-west of Spain. After creating and launching Placet Valtomelloso at Bodega Palacios Remondo, Rafael decided to set out to cultivate his white-wine making skills, freshly honed from his recent experiences in both France and Australia. He originally started working at Bodega Valdesil in Valdeorras, who produce some excellent quality expressions of the native white grape Godello, and by 2004 Rafael had started to acquire some small plots of his own, favouring the granitic soils over the more common limestone and schist. Today, 27 of these plots go into a broad portfolio of some of the best Godello in the country including Sorte o Soro, As Sortes, Louro and Bolo.

Louro 2015 — Louro is the combination of some excellent old-vine Godello and Rafaels meticulous attention to detail. Despite retailing for close to 15 euros, this wine is fermented in specially made 3000L oak foudres, made from Norman oak as apparently the cool weather lends a wide grain which helps slow oxidation (The As Sortes and Sort o Soro wines are made in 500L barriques, each equipped with their own water-cooling system and individual thermostats!) This is really a wonderful Godello wine and an indication of the potential quality we have for white wine production in Spain. There’s such a density and concentration of citric and green fruits, as well as really nicely integrated oak. Lots of life still to go but I love drinking it now, whilst it’s positively crackling with youthful energy. Delicious! Retails for €14.

The Palacios family truly deserve their status as one of the premium producers of Spanish wine and continue to maintain their high standards whilst searching for new, interesting opportunities. Just last year, Alvaro Palacios released his new wine, Les Aubaguets for the first time to be purchased En Primeur, probably the only Spanish producer to successfully adopt this very Bordelaise practice. Their strong connection with Vila Viniteca and broad portfolio of products means that their wines are available across the country, and continue to be popular abroad, particularly in the US. The future is bright and as long as the wine stays as delicious as it is, few will have cause to complain.