Wine Review: 2009 Venus La Universal Dido

16 01 2013

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

This must be tasted to be believed.  Just give yourself a couple days.

This must be tasted to be believed. Just give yourself a couple days.


Almost a calendar month from my last real post, things have finally returned to some semblance of normalcy in my household and all family cold and flu issues are mostly a thing of the past, leaving me free to kick back with a (highly intriguing) glass of wine and blog to my heart’s content. Luckily for me, PnP’s revival from the ashes of neglect comes in the form of a review of a bottle that I could write about for days, a wine that you can buy here for less than $30 and which has been constantly opening and evolving since I opened it over a day ago. I’ve tasted it over many hours and still can’t entirely figure out how to put it into words, but here goes.

Venus La Universal is one of many vinous projects currently being undertaken by Sara Perez, who is considered by many to be the most important female winemaker in Spain. Her roots in wine are familial: when she was young her parents moved the family from Barcelona to the nearby (and now-renowned) area of Priorat, located due west of the city in northeast Spain. Her mother and father became the founders of Priorat’s School of Oenology and early contributors to the wine boom that now envelops the region. Perez’s wines are all driven by a sense of place and a deep connection to the vineyards from which they are derived. I don’t usually include quotes in my review, but this one got to me: in a 2005 interview with Luis Cepeda, Perez maintained that “[t]here has to be absolute complicity between land and winery.” The land that ultimately resulted in this wine is a 4 hectare piece of farmland found in the southern end of the oddly donut-shaped region of Montsant, which forms a complete ring encircling the bullseye of Priorat (and thus can offer wine drinkers Priorat-level taste experiences for value prices). It’s a harsh landscape featuring nutrient-poor granitic soils, high altitudes, hot days and cold nights, terraced vineyards that must be harvested by hand, and vines that have to struggle to survive. Unlike most agricultural crops, however, with grapevines this constant battle to thrive leads to deeper, stronger roots and higher-quality, more flavourful fruit, making areas such as this prized for their ability to coax the most character out of their grapes.

All of Perez’s wines are named after mythological goddesses or heroines, and this one is no exception: Dido was the founder and first queen of Carthage, according to the poet Virgil (and not, apparently, merely the name of Daedalus’ evil lynx in the old Hercules cartoon). It is made up of 75% old vine Garnacha (known outside of Spain as Grenache) and 25% non-Spanish international varietals — 10% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot. I was separately instructed by each of the good folks at Wineboy Imports who gave me this bottle to taste the wine over time and watch it change in the glass, a lesson reinforced by the promo sheet that came with the bottle, which stated that this was a “meditative” wine that would not immediately show its true character. I am excellent at following instructions when given constant reminders, so I have tried the Dido at various times over the past 27 hours and have scribbled down the following ever-shifting account of what I found in my glass:

Cork Rating:  1.5/10 (After such a moving wine, I admit I expected more than a lonely Website Foul on the cork.)

Cork Rating: 1.5/10 (After such a moving wine, I admit I expected more than a lonely Website Foul on the cork.)

6:30 p.m. Tuesday: Fresh out of the bottle, the wine was a deep, rich ruby colour, thick at the core but visibly lightening at the edges. The nose was enough to make me do a double-take: distinctly earthy, with an almost cheesy funkiness and a medicinal sharpness (iodine?) swirling up out of the glass along with an acrid, scorched aroma like burnt rubber, car tires or brimstone. There was no real fruit to be found, only frenetic secondary notes. Massive but textured tannins swarmed the palate from the start to the finish of every sip, but peeking through this wall of structure was luscious pinpoint acidity and a vague hint of red fruit, earth and spice. The Dido was only medium-bodied, but it still came across as a huge beast of a wine just starting to uncoil itself. It became immediately more approachable with food, which helped relax the Dido’s tannic grip and released bright flavours of cherry and violets.

7:00 p.m.: I don’t often associate minerality with red wine, but that’s what I keep coming back to, a bracing stony brininess that is constantly present from sip to swallow. After a half hour in the decanter, the palate has started to become much less tightly wound, with sage, smoke, raspberry and tart pomegranate notes joining the flavour chorus and the potent charred funk starting to dissipate from the nose.

8:15 p.m.: Add smoked meat and bakers’ chocolate to the rolodex of aromas. Even though the Dido is much more approachable now than it was two hours ago, it remains tough, spicy and rugged instead of smooth and polished, a quality that I think goes right to the soul of the wine. If it was a person it wouldn’t be a sedentary desk dweller like me: it would have a sunburned face, callused hands and a deep yearning for the outdoors.

9:00 p.m.: By now the texture has levelled out and become less jagged, but this is still an intense, untamed sort of wine. I’m saving half the bottle for Wednesday (using argon preservation, for the record, so the wine wasn’t continually exposed to oxygen overnight) but this still hadn’t finished stretching after its long slumber when I put it away for the night.

8:30 p.m. Wednesday: I poured the wine again as of 6:00 on Wednesday, so by now it has had an additional two and a half hours in the open air (5+ decanting hours total). It is certainly light years different from where it started, with darker, deeper, more pervasive fruit (now more black than red) and a more inviting, expressive palate. I could almost call it lush and silky, but not quite: it still retains some of its inherent wildness that was on full display last night, and it continues to maintain a strong mineral spine throughout. The tannins have relaxed substantially, and the Dido’s inner beauty is starting to peek through, but to me this wine is just beginning its journey. It’s a velvet fist in an iron glove, the converse of the old saying, and I think if you hung onto it a little longer it would have many more secrets to tell.

I decided to include Sara Perez’s “absolute complicity” quote above because I have rarely seen a wine that so purely exemplifies the land in which it was born. Drinking this bottle constantly conjures up images of harsh, almost desolate, rocky landscapes, blazing sun, and hilly, dusty soils that just barely offer up enough to keep you going for another day. I have never been to Montsant, and yet I feel like I have. I can see it so clearly. And when a wine can make that happen, there is no doubt that it is special.

90 points

$25 to $30 CDN



2 responses

5 07 2013

La Universal is a great project of Sara and René’s. It can often be overlooked with their original family projects taking such a center stage, but I’ve been quite happy with everything I’ve tasted from this cellar as well as their other projects of Vuit and Bellvisos. They break free from the excellent, but bounded wines they produce at Mas Martinet and Clos Mogador.

And as for the minerality, you should taste the wines of the northern villages of DOQ Priorat as it is a defining quality of the reds. Not as much in the south or most of Montsant where a clay aspect is more pronounced. But, you could have easily left the wine opened with the cork in for a five days or more and come back to it regularly. The staying power of the Priorat and Montsant wines is almost scary. I’ve come back to some wines after two weeks to still find them not the least bit oxidized after initially opening.

Vinologue Priorat


5 07 2013

Thanks for the comment, Miquel – really informative stuff!


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