2008 Carriel dels Villars ‘Negre’
Region: Alt Empordà < Catalyuna < Spain
Grapes: Garnaxta (Grenache), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Samsó (Carignan)
Vineyard/Cellar Stats: Soil, if you can call it that, is two fingers worth of slate dust; low, bush-trained, dry-farmed vines; zero additives in the vineyard or cellar; unfined/unfiltered; 166 cases made
Winemaker: Carles Alonso
Carles Alonso is literally a hermit who crafts paranormal wine in the shadows of the Pyrenees, with grapes from his wild jungles of vineyards. He left his job as director of investments at Caixa Catalunya in 1979 to build a stone house in the tiny hamlet of Els Vilars, grow his own food, and craft natural wine from 2.5 hectares of slate slopes. His vines grow wild among native grasses, flowers, and bugs, competing for water and struggling for nutrients in Girona’s arid climate, basically untended. Really just berries growing in the wild. Their savage fruit makes for a haunting wine, full of rustic Mediterranean character kept fresh by the strong wind that blows from the mountains to the north. Carles’ current vintage of the Negre is 2008, because he ages his wines as long as he feels he needs to for them to shine. It’s a red field blend harvested together, destemmed, and co-fermented in an underground cellar he carved from his mountain, with a former executive’s touch: an aerospace-grade ceramic tile-lined cement vat. There are no pores in high-quality ceramics, which is essential to cleanliness when you’re winemaking without SO2, or anything else. After a year in stainless steel, he bottles in used Freixenet Cava bottles (how’s that for carbon footprint?), and lets the wine rest for the better part of a decade, waiting for the years to soften the wine to the silky texture he desires. This wine is extraordinary, with so much going on: licorice, black cherries, violets, rosemary, long and complex, polished yet wild. In my 10+ years in this business, I’ve rarely come across wines at this price – or any price – with this level of complexity and quality. This is a wine to sip slowly and contemplate. Note: she is slightly reductive upon opening, a common occurrence among super natural, no added SO2 wine – simply decant, or pour out a glass and let breathe for 20 minutes.