Deconstructing Llicorella

PrioratThis morning I set about to research the wine region of Priorat for a blog post.  I already knew the basics of the region, such as the fact that it is one of Spain’s two DOCa wines, the main grape variety is Garnacha Tinta, and the area came to international attention in the 1990s.

Wikipedia (I know, not the best reference but in this case, just a starting point) also had this to say, “The area is characterized by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known locally as Llicorella.” I already knew that the soil in Priorat is mainly Llicorella…at least I knew the word, and could have guessed it correctly on a multiple choice test.  But being in a Monday sort of contemplative mood, I wondered if I really understood Llicorella.  Of course, I didn’t. So I set about to deconstruct Llicorella.

First of all…just what exactly is slate? Slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock derived from sedimentary rock composed of clay or volcanic ash. It is the finest grained foliated metamorphic rock.

Slate...a Metamorphic Rock

Slate…a Metamorphic Rock

Metamorphic Rock? Metamorphic rocks are created from the transformation of existing rock types.  Metamorphism means “change in form.” Rocks under the earth’s surface change form by being subjected to heat, generally temperatures from 300° – 400°F, which can cause both physical and chemical changes in the rock itself.

Sedimentary Rock? Sedimentary rocks are formed by the solution of mineral and organic particles within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the name for several different processes that cause mineral particles and organic particles to settle and accumulate first into a dissolved solution and later into sediment.  Sediment is then transported to dry land by water, wind, or glaciers, or is left behind when the bodies of water dry up.  With time, the slushy sediment hardens into rock. Sandstone is probably the most well-known sedimentary rock.

Clay? Clay is a very fine-grained soil type made up of very fine minerals such as aluminium phyllosilicates, iron, magnesium, and a bunch of other chemicals I have never heard of. The minerals that make up clay soil are the result of weathering…the breakdown of rocks, soils, and minerals through contact with air, water, and living creatures.

Licorella

Llicorella

Volcanic Ash? Volcanic ash is made up of pieces of pulverized rock, minerals, and volcanic glass that are created during volcanic eruptions. Pieces of ash must be less than 2 mm in diameter – larger fragments are referred to as cinders or blocks. At least this one I can understand!

Foliated? There are two types of metamorphic rocks:  foliated rocks and non-foliated rocks.  Foliated metamorphic rocks, such as schist and slate, have a “layered” appearance that has been produced by exposure to heat and directed pressure.  Non-foliated metamorphic rocks such as marble and quartz do not have the “layered” appearance.

And what is quartz? Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. There are many different varieties of quartz, several of which are semi-precious gemstones. Quartz is the most common element of sand and sandstone and is used in glassmaking.  Quartz is almost immune to weathering and is a component of granite and other igneous rocks.

Aha- that’s why sand is coarse (quartz doesn’t “weather”) and clay is fine (its made up of materials that do weather or “breakdown”).

I think I’ll stop there. But for those of you who are curious, igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by the cooling and solidification of lava or magma. Granite and obsidian are igneous rocks.

So now, when someone says, “Llicorella is a unique soil made up of black slate and quartz,” what do you know?

Vineyard in PrioratSources (in addition to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priorat_(DOQ)):

http://geology.com/

http://www.quartzpage.de/index.html

http://www.mineralszone.com/

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.in-spain.info/top20/spanish-white-wine-priorat.htm

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  missjane@prodigy.net

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically, in this case, Grenache Noir) is the world’s second most-planted red grape variety and most what I like to call the most popular “wing man” in the world.  What I mean is that while Grenache is capable of starring in varietal wines, it just might be the world’s most popular partner in a red grape blend.

Grenache is the most widely planted red grape in Spain, where it often gets blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the “Southern Rhône Blend” and plays a part in some of the more complex blends to be found in the Rhône as well.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé. 

Typical Attributes of a Grenache Based Wine:

  • A typical Grenache varietal could be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries. These types of wines should be consumed young.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.  

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau; and the “G” in the “G-S-M” blends of the Côtes-du-Rhône.
  • The grape is made into delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and, most famously, in the 100% rosé AOC of Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières; and is made into fortified wines in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is the most widely planted red grape in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a major role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, Cariñena, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache. (Australia also produces “Bitch Grenache” which probably outsells all the rest in terms of volume, but oh well.)  
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and other warm areas, but is now produced other regions such as Santa Barbera and Paso Robles. Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses 

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…