La Cartuja is a unique wine produced in the Priorat region, one of the most prestigious appellations in Spain. Priorat is special due to the unmistakable mineral identity that the licorella (volcanic slate) imparts in the wines. When you taste a Priorat wine, you are not only tasting a grape but also a place. La Cartuja was born in 2007 as a special bottling, and elaborated to capture and display the unique mineral character of the region. La Cartuja is an approachable and vibrant wine with a moderate level of alcohol, unlike many other Priorat wines with much higher alcohol content. A wine of pedigree (at an inconceivable price), La Cartuja is a small production cuvee made from estate-owned grapes located in the Carthusian Les Solanes estate. Most Priorat wines are expensive and require time in bottle before they are ready to drink. La Cartuja is a fresh vision of Priorat, a wine that is young and accessible. During medieval times, La Cartuja was the name given to a large geographical area governed by the Carthusian monks. Similar to the Vatican estates, this area had its own code of law. The whole of Priorat was the "Cartuja," a religious state rather than a civil domain. Priorat's winemaking heritage began with the Carthusian monks. For centuries they performed the backbreaking work necessary to care for these difficult and isolated vineyards.
WHAT MAKES THIS WINE UNIQUE? Two things make this wine unique: the quality and the price. La Cartuja proudly proclaims the identity of the flavors of Priorat. The wine is made in an approachable style to be enjoyed young. It is neither alcoholic nor overly tannic. Made with estate-owned fruit, it is aged in French oak barrels for only 6 months.
RATING HISTORY: 2016 92 W&S, 2015 91VM; 2013 90Vinous; 2012 93IWR; 2011 93RP; 2010 90IWC; 2008 90RP; 2007 90RP&IWC
GRAPE: 70% Garnacha, 30% Mazuelo (Cariñena). Vines planted since 2002. Tended in licorella soil at 250 m (820 ft) elevation
VINIFICATION AND AGEING: The wine undergoes two days of maceration followed by eight days of fermentation and ten days of extended maceration after fermentation. The wine is aged for 6 months, half in 225-liter and half in 300-liter French oak barrels.
PRODUCTION: 3,340 cases
LOCATION, SOIL, CLIMATE: The vineyards are located in a 24-hectare (59 acre) estate named La Solana ("Les Solanes" in Catalan) in the heart of Priorat, between the towns of El Molar and El Lloar, 4.5 km southwest of Gratallops. The La Solana vineyard sits at 250 meters (820 feet) elevation with slopes that have a southeastern exposure. These steep slopes overlook the Siurana River at the bottom of the valley, 1.6 kilometers away, which joins the Ebro River 8 km further on. The famous Ebro runs through Aragon, Navarra and Rioja. The soils of this vineyard are composed of volcanic slate and sand, which impart the signature of Priorat's terroir and distinctive mineral and graphite flavors. Priorat's soils are poor in nutrients and have a low pH, which results in brighter, fresher wines. Priorat wines show the characteristics of a cool climate, which lends acidity, and a warm climate, which brings ripe tannins.
TASTING NOTES: Brilliant ruby. Ripe dark berries, licorice, smoky minerals and a hint of succulent flowers on the perfumed nose. Juicy, round and open-knit; a peppery note adds lift and cut to warm blackberry, bitter cherry and licorice pastille flavors. The long, mineral-accented finish shows very good focus and closes on a youthfully tannic note, leaving cherry pit and floral notes behind. -- Josh Raynolds.
All photos: Friederike Paetzold