The wines of Clos Berenguer, Priorat, Spain


It seems barely believable that seven years have passed since I last tasted the wines of Clos Berenguer, a small family estate in Priorat in northeast Spain, not far south of Barcelona. This latest selection was sent to me by Gil Nuñez, whose company represents a small portfolio of interesting family estates across Spain. Priorat is a fascinating region, where slate soils cover most of the vineyards on hugely steep and often very high altitude sites. Vines are mostly very old, often unirrigated, and are planted on terraces or cling to the precipitous hillsides. The twin grapes of Priorat are Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan), for this is just across the border from the wilds of the Roussillon in France where the same two grapes are king. With the steep slopes, arid soils, altitude and old vines, yields are tiny, alcohol tends to be high – and the wines rarely want for concentration. Clos Berenguer’s vineyards are planted partly on slate, but also partly on limestone, which they believe gives them more component parts than some bodegas in the region, that together can give particular complexity. The small gravity-fed winery is situated above an old manganese mine, inactive for almost a century, and Berenguer have restored some of the tunnels for storage of barrels and bottles. They farm just seven hectares of extremely old vines. At time of writing the only wine available in the UK appears to be the ‘Clos de Tafall’ (not tasted here). It sells for £13.99 in Wine Rack, though their top wines sell in other markets for the equivalent of £40 – £50.

This wine-searcher link shows international stockists of Clos Berenguer, and I believe Raeburn Fine Wines of Edinburgh carries some older vintages.

White wine

Clos Berenguer, Priorat Blanc de Botes 2008, Spain
A blend of Garnacha, Xarel.lo and Pedro Ximenez. 2,000 bottles are produced, and the wine is fermented in steel but aged in new French oak. When I previously tasted the 2006 vintage I found the oak a little too toasty and dominant. Here there is again a lot of charry toast and also oxidation that gives this a Sherried character – obviously it’s a house style because the 2006 was so similar. In the mouth it is rich, ripe and intense, with an almost chewy character to the thick vanilla and toast in the finish, against some very good acidity. It’s a curate’s egg of a wine this, for me not quite in balance, and yet curiously fascinating, that oxidative style intriguing in the mould of a great Tondonia or Musar white perhaps. What there is, is obvious quality, and while it’s a tough one to rate in some ways, I ended up understanding this wine much better than last time – and I really warmed to its singular style. 91/100.

Red wines

bottles Clos Berenguer, Priorat MIN 2013, Spain
Made from 80-year old Garnacha and Cariñena, with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, this is aged 10 months in French oak. It has a very dark, saturated and youthful colour. The nose is all cassis and glossy black berries, a sheen of graphite and dark cocoa adding to the plush appeal. With 14.5% alcohol it is big and generous stuff on the palate. a fantastically opulent sweep of ultra-sweet, ripe black fruit rushing across the tongue. It is big, but not clumsy, as liquorice and spice, and more of that bittersweet cocoa adds savoury depth, and a good level of tannin and acidity give it some energy and precision. The final impression is the fruit, in a fine Priorat that will surely age for a decade. 92/100.

Clos Berenguer, Priorat Seleccio 2009, Spain
Only about 100 cases are produced of this blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. This 2009 is immediately more plummy, meaty and a touch pruney than the MIN 2013, with a stewed fruit compote note, loads of black fruit and a hint of menthol too; clearly super-ripe stuff, though again alcohol is 14.5%. In the mouth this has concentration and weight: extremely ripe and plush, with that baked plum pie and cherry sweetness, but a big meaty, chocolaty, rich and dense support from creamy oak and chunky tannins. 90/100.

Clos Berenguer, Priorat Seleccio Syrah 2008, Spain
This is 100% Syrah from Berenguer’s own vineyards, aged 15 months in Burgundian oak. It has 15% alcohol. Very dark, saturated crimson black, with a full, coffee, chocolate, ripe and sweet black plum and glossy cassis nose, again a bit of mint or menthol here, and just a background hint of something a little more gamy. Huge fruit sweetness and concentration on the palate: an enormously deep, glossy, smooth as velvet pool of ripe black berries, all beautifully merged with the svelte and creamy oak and tannins, a little spicy and cherry acidity leavening the picture. A massive, unctuous wine that some will like more than others, but a really good example of its style. 92/100.

Clos Berenguer, Priorat Finca Les Sorts C.S. 2008, Spain
‘C.S.’ stands for Cabernet Sauvignon, in this case 100% Cabernet from a single vineyard, which spent 16 months in new French oak, and only 1,000 bottles made. With 15% alcohol it is true to the house style and is massively ripe and spicy – no sign here of Cabernet Sauvignon’s occasionally green note of savoury olive: this is a fruit bomb for sure, and yet there’s a refinement too, graphite and cedar and very high quality and quite subtle French oak. In the mouth the tannins are fairly dusty at the moment, suggesting this perhaps needs a little time, the edge of acidity and tight tannin giving some liquorice and an endive-like bittersweetness to the long, spicy, spicy finish. 92/100.

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