You have to feel for Spain’s wine producers. They have a higher acreage of ground under vine than any other country in the world, yet their production does not as yet match their potential or ambition. And nor does consumers’ appreciation of what they actually have already achieved.
They’re caught between a rock and a hard place: considered a sort of poor, uncouth cousin in Europe’s regimented Old Wine World, they can’t call on the cachet their neighbours are endowed with, yet they can’t appeal to the sense of energy, innovation and creativity that New World wine producers do either. But so much has changed in Spain over the last two decades, and one of the biggest drivers of the revolution is a name you will find on Topaz’s wine list: Alvaro Palacios.
The Spanish wine revolution has been a long time coming, but for those who are alive to it, there is a world of complexity, refinement and taste to be found. And because Spain is still playing catch-up, it’s possible to find reasonably priced wines whose quality would command 100s of dollars if they were in, say, a French bottle. Alvaro Palacios was acutely aware of the potentials that could be found not only in improving Spain’s techniques and education, but also in looking back to the country’s traditional varietals rather than implanting French imports. And that is how he drove the revival of entire regions in Priorat in Catalunya, to the east of the country, and Bierzo to the west.
Alvaro Palacios comes from a prestigious wine family in the north-central Rioja region that had for long broadly avoided the path towards obscurity that the rest of Spain’s wine producers found themselves on. He could have secured a prime position in the family winery, the renowned Palacios Remondo, but an independent spirit took him elsewhere.
Taking the knowledge he had already gleaned from growing up in the heart of one of Spain’s oldest wine families, Alvaro decamped to Bordeaux where he studied oenology and worked at the venerated Château Pétrus in Pomerol, a highly coveted label that is frequently ranked among the world’s most expensive wines.
Coming back to Spain at the end of the 1980s, Alvaro teamed up with a group of five “pioneers” who came to transform Priorat’s wine industry and fortunes. In the process they modernised, but they also capitalised on the unique local knowledge that had been put aside over the course of time as poverty and politics took their tolls. At Priorat, he initially carried on with the region’s tendency to work with imported French grapes, but in the 90s he became convinced of the value of reviving Spain’s own varietals, especially Grenache for which Priorat was once renowned.
But even within the constraints he faced on starting up in Priorat, Alvaro was clear about his ambitions and strict about his practices. He relied on organic methods and looked back to the practices employed by the wine-making monks of the 12th century. Importantly, he cooperated with other neighbouring producers who shared his spirit so they could pool their resources and support one another with the wider goal of expanding everyone’s potential.
Alvaro’s story is a story of revitalisation, of a region, of history, an industry, and also a nation. He did it through knowing which parts of the past and which of the present he needed to adopt and adapt, and he has successfully repeated the formula in other parts of Spain, including Bezier. You can savour the flavour and quality of his success at Topaz. We highly recommend it.