The name Palacios commands immediate respect and admiration in the Wine World. Not just in Spain, but everywhere in the world where the humble grape, guided by man’s hand, makes the delicious nectar we call wine. However there are some wines that taste as if there has also been some divine intervention along the way.
Witness, if you will, the stratospherically priced L’Ermita from DO Priorat and the, as yet less well known, but also stunning (and thankfully much more accessibly priced) X de T, from Rioja Alta. Each has the Palacios stamp. Each is a nectar fit for the gods! (Witness also Barbarot, DOCa La Rioja – but that’s next week’s article!).
Two of my fellow judges in the recent Albariño Cata-Concurso in Galicia’s DO Rias Baixas (see www.costa-news.com click Cork Talk) were none other than Señor Antonio Palacios, Presidente of the Federacion Española de Asociaciones de Enologos, and his charming daughter Barbara, representing the next generation of gifted Palacios winemakers. Imagine how delighted I was to be able to spend some time with such an esteemed expert in wine making as Señor Palacios. Imagine too, my pleasure in accepting (with considerable alacrity, I can tell you!) his invitation to visit his vineyards, stay in the family house and taste some of his wines!
There surely could not be a better teacher than Antonio Palacios, himself, in his younger days, a student of the fabled Professor Émile Peynaud, the most respected winemaker and wine educator of his generation. Add this to the Palacios family’s wealth of traditional wine-making knowledge and you have one of the best winemakers in the world! The opportunity to tap into this vast pool of learning, whilst also developing a friendship, was irresistible. A pilgrim of a different kind, though equally fervent, I turned right at Santiago de Compostella and headed east along the Camino de Santiago, firstly to Haro, La Rioja.
Then we drove along charming country roads past beautiful coloured stone villages stopping just outside the village of Avalos at what must be the most fascinating and certainly the oldest bodega in Rioja, and probably in Spain. Entering the 16th Century Bodega (the exact date is impossible to determine, there are those who believe it to be 1,000 years old!) is like taking a giant step back into vinous history.
Hewn out of solid rock, the same colour as those all around the area, but darkened with age and centuries of red wine-making, the temperature is naturally kept at a constant 14ºC all year round, perfect for making and storing wine. Two 600 litre Spanish oak barrels, reserved for the small but significant contribution of Merlot, are reposing in the dim light to the left; whilst the centre-piece is the 7,000 litre oak foudre where the Tempranillo that makes the lion’s share of X de T wine, pride of Antonio, will be soon fermenting the 2011 vintage.
The two varieties are fermented separately after a long cold maceration (where the skins remain in contact with the juice to extract flavour, tannin and colour). The Tempranillo is eventually joined by the Merlot in the foudre where further, post-fermentation, maceration takes place. This addition fills the foudre, ridding it of oxygen.
A longer drive took us then to Rioja Baja and the town of Alfaro where we were to stay with the Palacios family after a super dinner cooked by Antonio’s wife, Casilda (whose family, in days gone by owned the village of Avalos) and served with X de T 2004, the first vintage of this superb wine!
X de T (named after the aristocratic owner of the ancient bodega, the Marques de Ximinez de Tejada, is a deeply coloured, perfectly structured and balanced, full and yet elegant red wine. A shining example of what extraordinarily good wine can be produced in the hallowed vineyards of La Rioja. A touch of minerality on the nose is joined by full fruit, mostly dark but with perhaps some soft red fruit nuances and a little spice and vanilla too. Fermented and aged in oak, one might expect the wood to dominate the fruit, but no, it’s a harmonious and perfectly balanced relationship. Mature tannin and a lick of acidity ensure that this wine has time on its side too