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The Best of the Best 2003: International Red Wines – 1999 Álvaro Palacios Finca Dofí Priorat

While collectors clamor for the 2000 Bordeaux vintage, and critics dull their pencil leads with praise for Australia, Spain has quietly emerged as the world’s most exciting wine-producing country. The fevered investment that first pumped pesetas, and now euros, into the construction and renovation of Iberian bodegas is paying off in a wave of spectacular wines.

Of all the Spanish appellations, none is more bountiful than Priorat, a remote mountainous region in Catalunya, two hours south of Barcelona. Priorat owes its name to a priory established in the 12th century by Carthusian monks. Now, as then, isolated vineyards form a sparse patchwork on the otherwise parched and scrubby mountainsides. This rusticity notwithstanding, today’s generation of winemakers has revolutionized the region and drawn international attention to the wines of Priorat.

The scion of a venerable winemaking family in Rioja (owners of Palacios Remondo), Álvaro Palacios traveled to Bordeaux in his early 20s to study at Pétrus with Christian Moueix. After returning briefly to Rioja, Palacios left home in 1988 for Priorat.

The soils of Priorat are poor and rocky, known locally as llicorella. The poverty of the soil, combined with Priorat’s steep, well-drained terraces, hot sun, and meager rainfall, creates stressed-vine fruit of amazing intensity and power. After producing more than a dozen vintages, Palacios understands the peculiarities of the region perhaps better than any other winemaker. His wines express Priorat’s unique terroir while exhibiting a modernity that places them at the cutting edge of winemaking.

Palacios returned to take over his family’s Rioja estate in 2000. Still, Priorat is where he crafts his most celebrated offering, Finca Dofí.

Finca Dofí is made primarily from Garnacha (Grenache), but the vineyard also contains Mazuelo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. The wine is aged for as long as 20 months in new, French oak barriques. Largely because of Palacios’ success with this contemporary style, the treatment has become a signature of Priorat wines.

The 1999 Finca Dofí is ripe and complex, with structured tannins, layered black fruit, and spice tones backed with toasty oak. It is a testament to the explosive growth of the Spanish wine industry and proof that the popular fruit-forward style—usually associated with California and Australia—has reached profound expression in the vineyards of the Old World.

Rare Wine Co., 800.999.4342; $55

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