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An Austere Terroir and Its Rich, Ripe Fruit
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 8, 2018
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Cellers Melis, Priorat, Spain, “Melis” 2015 (The Eqwinerie, $90):  Cellers Melis, and its wine called “Melis,” are new to most wine lovers in the U.S. because the 2015 is the first vintage released here.  But the roots of the winery extend back to California, where its founders, longtime friends Javier López and Victor Gallegos, were once roommates at U.C. Davis.  In 1999, the two friends decided to pursue their shared passion for the wines of Spain’s Priorat region, capitalizing on Javier’s skills as an agricultural engineer and Victor’s winemaking expertise. In 2004 they made their debut vintage of Melis.  Victor stepped back from the project in 2009 to devote more attention to Sea Smoke, the respected California winery where he is general manager and director of winemaking; Toni Sanchez, who had been involved in winemaking there since 2005, guided the production of 2015 Melis.

Melis is an estate situated in the Torroja del Priorat area, near the ancient town of the same name that’s centrally situated in the Priorat district of Catalonia in northeastern Spain.  The estate began with a 15-acre vineyard and has since expanded, now including young vines as well as restored century-old vines, for which the Priorat area is famous.  The vines enjoy a southwest exposure on steep, terraced vineyards at elevations ranging from 800 to 1200 feet; the elevation and cooling winds mitigate the warmth of the area, lengthen the growing season and preserve the grapes’ acidity.  Priorat’s famous licorella slate rock subsoil runs throughout the vineyard -- considered a key factor in the taste and style of the wine.

At 60 percent of the blend, Garnacha is the dominant variety in the 2015 Melis, and Carignan ranks next at 30 percent.  Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon complete the blend, at 7 and 3 percent respectively.

The 2015 Melis Priorat is an impressive red wine with a dark, intense personality and yet a smooth sophistication that counterbalances its power and weight.  Its aroma exudes mineral notes of ink and iodine along with fresh blackberry, wild herbs and a slight floral note.  The wine tastes dry and full-bodied with deep flavors of concentrated blackberry and spice, and savory mineral tones.  There’s plenty of tannin in this wine -- you notice it particularly on first sip, when the wine has not had the benefit of aeration -- but the tannins are soft and supple; they thread through the fabric of the wine, giving it weight and substance, and are thoroughly integrated with the wine’s rich fruit character.  The effect of the tannins is very different from what you can experience in some wines that derive their tannins mainly from new oak barrels, where the tannin seems a separate element, apart from the raw-material expression of the wine.

Javier and Toni describe the winemaking for Melis 2015 as Pinot Noir-inspired: small-lot fermentations in 600-liter open-top Burgundy barrels and small stainless-steel square tanks, punch-downs by hand for gentle extraction of color and tannins, and long macerations -- as long as 35 to 40 days--to soften the tannins.  Tasting the wine, this all makes sense: this wine is about smooth and harmonious expression of an austere terroir and its ripe, rich fruit -- intermingled with the wild, savory mineral accents of licorella.

The winery recommends opening the bottle 45 to 60 minutes before tasting.  I second that suggestion.  Although this wine is stunning now, it has the stuff to age for ten-plus years, in my opinion.

94 Points