Exploring the Exquisite Wines of Álvaro Palacios: From Rioja to Bierzo and Priorat

By | 14 May 2024

Álvaro Palacios and his daughter Lola, took a trip in town to present their exclusive portfolio which includes properties like Palacios Remondo (Alfaro, Rioja), Álvaro Palacios (Alfaro, Rioja), Álvaro Palacios (Gratallops, Priorat), and Descendientes de J. Palacios (Curullón, Bierzo). The highlight of the presentation was the Rioja project, alongside the premier wines from other districts.

Recently, Lola, the only daughter of Álvaro (who himself is the seventh of nine children) decided to join her father’s venture, after receiving a solid education and hands-on experience in vineyards. She spent three years studying in Bordeaux, worked in the Rhône and Burgundy, and later at Napa. Lola said, ‘Now I’m happy to start working with Papa.’ She has been involved in the winery business since she was 14 and completed high school in the USA.

The family winery, Palacios Remondo, is in Alfaro, located on the eastern side of Rioja. Álvaro’s grandparents founded it in 1947. Inspired by classic wine, Álvaro pursued his studies in Bordeaux and later worked at Petrus. He returned to Rioja in 1987 when Spain was starting to immerse itself globally after a period of isolation. Excited by new possibilities, he relocated to Priorat, against his father’s wishes. The relocation occurred in 1989 when Álvaro was working in Bordeaux with Christian Moieux, at the age of 25. When Rene Barbier invited him to Priorat, he sold his motorbike, borrowed a car, embarked on his new journey, and initiated a business of barrel-selling. His first product was a negociant wine named Les Terrasses. At that time, Priorat was going through a tough phase where growers received payments for their grapes two years post-vintage. Álvaro had the opportunity to select any grapes from the cooperative as he wanted. Soon, he started a village system in Priorat and played a critical role in reviving this region from oblivion. His first purchase of L’Ermita grapes dates back to 1993, and he later bought the vineyard, starting from 3 hectares and now covering 4.8 hectares.

Á decade later, when Priorat was growing, his nephew Ricardo relocated to Bierzo in 1999. His father passed away in 2000, and his mother and brothers asked him to come back to Rioja to continue the legacy.

Rafael, the youngest sibling, successfully invested in vineyards located in Valdeorras.

Their family’s earliest vineyards go back to La Montesa, set up by their father and grandfather in the late 1980s. Situated uphill, these vineyards are among the finest in Rioja Orientale, nestled at the foothills of the Sierras within an elevation of 500-600 meters. Plans are afoot to start plantations even higher, at 700 meters with new vines trained in a gobelet system. The spacing utilized is 1.5 x 1.5 meters, and they operate using Burgundian tractors designed to pass over the vine rows. Rupestris du Lot is the preferred rootstock.

Álvaro observes that in the past, ‘Spain was comprised of tiny Burgundies’, with every place housing hundreds of vineyards. Nevertheless, the earlier part of the 20th century witnessed a decline in the value of the rural areas, leading to a considerable loss of Grand Crus or high-quality vineyards. Less attention was bestowed on the rural areas as the government allocated capitals towards industrial projects. This resulted in a significant rise of cooperatives during the 1940s, and entrepreneurs establishing large-scale wineries to accommodate the grape produce from smaller vinegrowers.

Álvaro divulges that his father was one such entrepreneur and his grandfather owned an array of vineyards. He and his brothers reacquired these vineyards to restore and cultivate them. The vineyard soil consists of quaternary surface overlying tertiary layers with compositions of sand, silt, clay and traces of iron, which gives the clay a distinct red hue. Pebbles from the mountain top add to the soil’s diversity. Interesting calcium carbonate horizons enrich the soil contributing to the wines’ vibrant and fresh taste. Valmira, a 3-hectare plot, stands out due to a 6-meter deep calcium carbonate layer, interpreted by Álvaro as ‘touched by the divine hand’.

Garnacha, the primary grape of this region, can be unpredictable, with yields fluctuating significantly. ‘A poor season can cost you half the crop,’ he says. Valmara’s production can range from 3000 to just 800 bottles.

With the advent of irrigation, growers started planting Tempranillo, a grape with a shorter growth cycle that thrives in areas with Atlantic influences, while Garnacha prefers heat and drought. Tempranillo produces dark wines, which have been fashionable for some time. Consequently, out of the 23,500 hectares of Rioja Orientale, only 4000 hectares are planted with Garnacha.

In Rioja, Álvaro has 100 hectares, with half dedicated to Garnacha. They also grow Graciano and Mazuelo, but are gradually grafting these over to Garnacha. Growing Mazuelo organically proves challenging due to the mildew pressure. Apart from these, they also cultivate a small amount of old vine Bobal, Moristel, Tinta Velasco, Viura, and Garnacha Roja (gris), which are all intercropped.

The older vineyards follow a double cordon pattern, with each vine yielding 24 clusters, due to which they prune excess crop. Bush vines yield 9-16 clusters, and they’ve been planting more of these recently. ‘Yields exceeding 4 tons per hectare dilute the Garnacha,’ says Álvaro, ‘which is why we prefer bush vines for Garnacha.’

Álvaro Palacios Finca la Montesa 2021 Rioja, Spain
Álvaro is very excited about the 2021 vintage. ‘A fresh summer reminded me of the old days,’ he says. ‘2021 is the vintage to buy everywhere in Spain.’ Real intensity and depth here. Deeply coloured for Garnacha with a core of sweet cherry and raspberry fruit. Powerful and fine grained with good focus, and a silky texture. Enticing and pure with lovely weight. 96/100

Álvaro Palacios Finca la Montesa 2018 Rioja, Spain
Álvaro says that harvesting 100 ha by hand quickly is tricky, but by harvesting fast he can achieve lower alcohol. Each year 600-700 tons are hand harvested by 65 people, and it takes just 12 days. He also employs 30 people to work 3 sorting tables, and the grapes go to the fridge before he begins making the wines. 95% Garnacha, 5% field blend of traditional varieties, aged 12 months in barrel, after a 45-55 day maceration in tank, wild yeast ferment. 80% French oak, 20% American, with just a little new. For 2018 and 2019, all destemmed. 2020 was 20% whole cluster, but crushed. 2021 was 50% whole cluster. Bright, fresh and linear with perfumed red cherry fruit and some redcurrant. Midweight with a touch of oak. Very fine and linear with a sense of lightness and elegance. Juicy and distinguished with lovely finesse. 94/100

Álvaro Palacios Finca la Montesa 2019 Rioja, Spain
95% Garnacha. This was a dry year with just 350 mm rain. Lovely purity and intensity here with red cherries, a touch of liquorice and spice, some structure but also a lovely texture. Supple and fine with nice purity to the red cherry and plum fruit. Has polish but also freshness. Expressive and fine. 94/100

Álvaro Palacios Finca la Montesa 2020 Rioja, Spain
90% Garnacha. Lots of rain in spring this year. Quite deeply coloured for Garnacha with good structure and vibrant red cherry and raspberry fruit. There’s some grip under the textured fruit. Fine grained with beautiful fruit, finishing with nice acidity. This has ageing potential and is very stylish, finishing with a twist of orange peel. 94/100

Álvaro Palacios Quiñón de Valmira 2021 Rioja, Spain
This comes from a 3 ha area at 600 m height with unique soils comprised of 6 m deep calcium carbonate. The vines are in a bush format and were planted in 1980. It initially featured 80% Tempranillo, but it was grafted over to Garnacha, which now makes up 85% of the blend along with other traditional varieties. This wine possesses depth, amped up with freshness, elegance, and structure. It shines with vibrant red cherry tones, aniseed highlights, and nuances of spice. The wine offers precision and purity with remarkable detail and finesse. There’s also beautiful complexity and freshness accompanied by amazing texture, setting this wine apart. 97/100

Álvaro Palacios L’Ermita 2021 Gratallops, Priorat, Spain
Containing 14% alcohol, this wine is a blend of 76% Garnacha, 23% Cariñena and 1% white varieties crafted in 2021. It carries fresh, taut, and linear components with handfuls of red cherry and berry fruits. It resonates with floral, mineral, and fine notes. There’s a beautiful tannic structure underneath the very fine red fruits, with suggestions of liquorice, aniseed, and wet stones. Offering lovely purity and finesse, this wine can age gracefully, however, it is approachable now despite its robust structure. 97/100

Descendientes de J Palacios La Faraona 2021 Corullón, Bierzo, Spain
With 13.5% alcohol, this wine showcases the pure Atlantic climate located at 950 m altitude that faces east with thick schist soils. It’s made up of Mencia with 5% other varieties including some white types. It’s ripe and vivacious with great intensity, displaying sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with fine tannins. While showing finesse in the sweet black fruits, it also has a grainy mineral structure. The wine embodies ripeness but underscores that with finesse and purity, topped up with a hint of dairy in the background. 95/100

Relish the older notes from the 2020 vintage release. These notes were taken from small bottle samples, tasted twice.

Descendants of J. Palacios, Corullón, Bierzo

2020 Villa de Corullón
Displays an exceptional floral character. Concentrated notes of fresh, sweet cherry and raspberry create a delightful texture and density. The overall profile is defined by elegant, sweet fruit complemented by delicate hints of tar and spice. An impressive creation indeed. 94/100

2020 Las Lamas
This single parcel blend from a 750 m, schist and clay-based terrain shows a robust nose of tar, spice, and mineral elements, completed by notes of black cherry. The palate is a demonstration of great concentration paired with unique freshness from sweet cherries and plums, coupled with a wonderful savoury spiciness. The depth and complexity of this blend speak volumes, with a slight touch of wilderness making it truly captivating. 97/100

2020 Moncerbal
Created from seven small parcels, this blend is fermented on stems. The nose hints at underlying sappiness, backed by refined notes of red cherry and plum fruit. The palate is powerful and concentrated, featuring subtle sappy notes, a hint of undergrowth, and beautiful sweet cherry and plum fruit flavours. This blend holds a great potential, with deliciously ripe fruit. 94/100

2020 La Faraona

This wine originates from a half-hectare plot situated 750 m above sea level, in a vineyard on a geological fault. Portions of this vineyard feature soft slate and clay, however, the area this wine is sourced from contains very firm slate oriented horizontally, absent of the customary vertical fissures that permit root penetration. The outcome are tiny clusters of grapes, that benefit from the southeast-facing orientation that encompasses the white light of dawn. The resulting wine is incredible. The aroma is tight and reductive, with prominently noticeable notes of iron, blood, and dried herbs. The taste profile is rich and lively with sustaining acidity and structure, presenting linear black cherry and berry fruits, flanked with an energetic undercurrent of minerals and dried herbs, sturdy tannins, and sustaining acidity. Exhibits a real freshness and lots of underlying potential. Given time, it unfolds to expose hints of lavender and fennel too. 96/100

Álvaro Palacios, Gratallops, Priorat

2020 Gratallops

This is representative of the village wine. The aroma exhibits strong floral notes, accompanied by sweet cherries and raspberries, further enhanced by a floral lift. There’s a significant presence of raspberry in this one. The taste profile is mainly centered around fruit, presenting liqueur-style cherry fruit coupled with some appealing herbal characters. This is a wonderful wine teeming with fruit, complemented by a hint of aniseed. 94/100

2020 Finca Dofi

Presents sweet black cherry fruit with a few spice and tar notes on the aroma, contributing a savory aspect to the enticing floral fruit. The taste profile features a lovely crunch accompanied by some gripping tannins underneath the sweet, pure black fruits, and a hint of red fruit freshness. This one exhibits an excellent balance and concentration. 95/100

2020 La Baixada
There’s a hint of olive and walnut on the nostrils with sweet red berry fruits. The palate offers a lovely mix of sweet and savoury with delightful dried herb and olive complexities accompanied by rich cherry fruit. This is fortified by good acidity and structure. A hint of sour cherry on the finish adds to its charm. This wine is truly beautiful and expressive. 96/100

2020 Les Aubaguetes
Distinguished by its concentration and density, it boasts a floral black cherry and plum fruit bouquet. With its tight-knit structure, it carries ripe fruit backed by great structure and intensity, demonstrating potential for development. Both expressive and structured, it scores a 95/100.

2020 L’Ermita
The nose is greeted with an intense, ominous sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit. Resembling a liqueur, the palate is rich, concentrated, and ripe with firm tannins and a hint of spiciness. Its richness is coupled with a salty, meaty undercurrent beneath the fruit, and a touch of dried herbs. It ends on a fresh and taut note. With a promising future ahead, this wine is immense and scores a 97/100. Its full ripeness is remarkable without traces of over-ripeness.

Produced by Álvaro Palacios, Alfaro, Rioja

2020 Quiñon de Valmira
100% Grenache. Floral with some tarry, spicy, peppery notes. The palate is ripe, sleek and delicious with blackcurrant and cherry fruit, a touch of cedar spice, some raspberry crunch and wonderful balance. It’s sleek and seductive but also quite serious, with potential for development. Incredible stuff. 95/100

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