Sometimes it is interesting to go back to the beginning. In 1988 Daphne Glorian, at the time employed by an English Master of Wine in his Paris office, decided to spend her life’s savings on 17 terraces of hillside vines just outside the village of Gratallops. Newly minted friends René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios encouraged her and together with Carles Pastrana and Jose Luis Perez, they pooled their talents and resources to make a new style of wine in a region rich in history but that had only really produced sturdy wine for the local markets. In 1989 the modern Priorat was born.
Fast forward to today, and Clos Erasmus is considered one of the elite producers of the Priorat. Their body of work is impressive and includes 98 (twice), 99 (three times) and 100 (twice) point efforts as reviewed by Robert Parker. The problem with Clos Erasmus through the years has definitely not been quality, but quantity. There has been precious little to go around. Old vine Grenache, Carignane and a little Cabernet fruit make magic in Priorat in the right hands, and Daphne, along with her current super-star winemaker, the diminutive, dreadlocked Ester Nin are at the top of their game.
These rustic hillsides produce wines of great power and character, yet in Ester’s hands also retain a surprising elegance. Bordeaux had something like a three century head start on these folks and one has to appreciate how far Priorat has come in a mere three decades. Like Bordeaux, particularly things like Chateau Margaux’s Pavillion Rouge or Lafite’s Carruades, Laurel is a ‘second’ wine comprised of the younger vines on the property, plus some declassified Clos Erasmus. It is also another poster child for our mantra of buying little wines from the very best producers because they have better fruit, more talent, greater commitment and higher standards. As with the first growth sourced examples we cited earlier, It is a ‘second’ wine only relative to its exalted sibling.
Bottled unfiltered and unfined, the wine has a little bit of a wild side which gives it an exotic element, but it is absolutely packed with character and screams of its class and breeding. We have followed Erasmus since the 90s and have tasted most of the offerings of Laurel along the way. It seems like they are working at a higher level these days, which is saying a lot. The 2016 Clos I Terrases Priorat Laurel is once again a sensational effort and arguably worthy of ‘best yet’ considerations. Laurel has always been impressive but it seems Ester is refining her touch. The vintage didn’t hurt either.
The Laurel 2016 shows fruit flavors of currant and black cherry, plus notes of coffee, cocoa and that insistent minerality from the llicorella (yic-o-raya) black slate soils makes Priorat a very special place for grapes. It is aromatic, inviting, layered and remarkably engaging. It delivers plenty even if you aren’t feeling cerebral and just want to relate to it on a purely hedonistic level. If you need some numbers, this second wine received 93 points or better in every vintage since 2004 save one (2010, curiously enough the only vintage reviewed by Neal Martin during a very short stint as Advocate’s Spanish reviewer). All the numbers aren’t in yet, but Jeb Dunnuck opened the topic with a 95 point review.
Dunnuck’s narrative makes the point, “The 2016 Laurel is sensational stuff and, in truth, matches several older vintages of the grand vin (Clos Erasmus) in quality. A blend of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 16 months in a mix of oak, concrete, and amphora, this deep purple-colored beauty offers up a fresh, vibrant bouquet of blueberries, crisp plums, violets, and spring flowers. Possessing full-bodied richness, beautiful depth of fruit and richness, and a fresh, elegant style, it’s a brilliant wine that’s going to evolve gracefully for 10-15 years.”
Is there such a thing as a ‘blue chip’ second wine? We think so.