Wine: 25 Vintages of Clos de l’Obac Red Blend from Priorat, Spain
Dinner: 6 Courses prepared and served at The Pacific Club, Newport Beach CA
This has to qualify as the wine dinner of 2017: Twenty-five vintages of one of the premier red wines of Spain paired with 6 courses of expertly-prepared, Catalan-inspired dishes. A mind-blowing, unforgettable experience. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to taste Priorat wine history in the making.
Why 25 vintages of the same wine, you ask? For each of the past 25 years, Clos de l’Obac has produced its powerful, red wine in exactly the same way. This applies to the vinification and aging processes, as well as the blend: 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Merlot and 10% Carignan. This tasting, therefore, illustrated the impact of climate changes and bottle-aging over the course of time.
Annual climatic change in Priorat, Spain (a county in southwest Catalonia) is more extreme than most continental climates: hot and dry summers are prolonged by Mistral winds from the east; and freezing winds from the north can bring frost and hail in the winter. Alcohol levels, acidity and phenolic ripening are all impacted by climate. Couple those influences with how the wines age over 25 years and you have a unique, fascinating, geek-loving, wine tasting.
Here’s how it went down. Five flights of 4 or 5 vintages each, starting with the 1990 vintage. Each flight was paired with 3 tapas dishes. The 6th course of Paella was paired with the 1989 vintage to remind us where we began.
Essentially a cheese starter, from left to right we were served Idiazabel Empanada with Membrillo, Olive Oil and Peppercorn Marinated Sheep Milk Cheese and Garrotxa with Dried Cherry. This was served with the ’90, ’91, ’92 & ’93 vintages. De l’Obac, a wine that is quite powerful in its youth, was elegant in the ’90 vintage, the best of the four vintages, overall. The high acidity of that vintage allowed for its graceful aging. The sweet Membrillo sauce paired very well with the fruit-forward ’93 vintage.
These elegant tapas featured Iberico Ham atop Fried Tomato, Parsley-Orange Pesto and Garlic Aioli; Baked Stuffed Clams with Garlic and Manchego; and Foie Gras Croquettes with Fava Bean Spread. Paired with 5 vintages from ’94 to ’98, the tapas had their pairing preferences: the lower tannins levels of the ’94 worked best with the somewhat salty stuffed clams; and the sweet Grenache fruit of ’98 was best with the Croquettes . . . think Sauterne with Foie Gras. The Iberico Ham tapas worked best with the ’95, as the vintage seemed to capture the attributes of both ’94 and the ’98.
This course offered serious tapas with strong, contrasting flavors: Pork Cap Meat with Cabrales Cheese and Dried Fig Jam, Spring Onion Flan with Romesco Sauce, and Roasted Padron Peppers with Marcona Almond Relish. Five vintages from ’99 to ’03 made up the accompanying flight. The ’99 was an elegant and contemplative wine (intellectual, per the winemaker); the ’00 – less intellectual and more about pleasure. The ’01 was perfectly balanced and the best with the stunning Onion Flan and Romesco, while the subdued ’02 was a nice complement to the Pork and the strong Cabrales cheese. The Padron Peppers were simply too hot for this wine regardless of vintage. These peppers should be paired with Amontillado Sherry.
Another array of outstanding tapas: Lamb Albondigas with Smoked Paprika Jus, Patatas (Potatoes) Bravas with Poached Quail Egg & Sofrito, and Grilled Mushrooms with Black Garlic & Sherry. The accompanying flight started with 2004, which marked a climatic turning point in Priorat: consistently hotter and drier weather going forward in time resulted in more robust, alcoholic wines than all the vintages prior to 2004. These more powerful wines worked best with the earthy flavors of the grilled mushrooms, sofrito and the smoked paprika. While 2004 is considered to be one of the best vintages in Spain, I preferred the 2006 vintage in this flight, for its elegance and finesse.
The photo above belies the complexity and appeal of this dish. It is a Piquillo Pepper stuffed with Oxtail meat, accompanied by Tomato Marmalade and a goat cheese-stuffed Medjool date wrapped in Pancetta. Again, 5 vintages were poured, starting with 2009 and ending with 2013. These were all powerful wines, rich in fruit but with big tannins. Clearly, these vintages were babies . . . but destined for greatness in time. That said, I found the 2011 to be highly approachable now, pairing beautifully with the bold flavors of the course. Bonita!
A fitting conclusion to an extraordinary banquete: Duck Paella with Chorizo paired with a single vintage, 1989 – Clos de l’Obac’s first vintage. With low alcohol and moderate acidity, the wine was surprising fresh with soft tannins and exquisite balance. The dramatic climax to a stunning array of food and wine.
All the vintages served that night showcased Clos de l’Obac’s trademark nose of smoky cherry, black fruits, and spice. The palate sensations were layered with dense, sweet fruit, licorice, espresso and herbs, tempered by time in the bottle. I urge you seek out this wine, cellar it, and you will, upon enjoyment, understand why Clos de l’Obac is one of the great wines of the world. It is a wine that will bring either joy or sorrow – the first when you have it, the second when you realize there’s none in your cellar!
Carles Pastrana and Mariona Jarque of Clos de l’Obac with Executive Chef David Martin of The Pacific Club, Newport Beach CA