D. Russell Smith, a Texan in the vineyards of Montsant
When researching the book for DO Montsant, I did everything I could to uncover every wine that was being made with any degree of seriousness within the appellation. This took me to all the far-flung corner of the Priorat county including Cornudella del Montsant where, at the cellar of Ronadelles I found this random bottle on a shelf called, “D. Russell Smith”. Asking the owner what it was, she told me it was a wine they had a friend producing there but it was just for export. This was 2013 and given that I couldn’t find any other trace of this “flying wine”, I let it pass by given that I try to only include wines with a bit more history behind them.
Naturally, things have a way of coming back around to you and I recently encountered this wine again via the maker, D. Russell Smith leaving a comment on a blog post here awhile back. It turns out that he’s now on his fourth vintage and so I made a trip down to El Masroig where he has his apartment to chat about his wines over dinner.
Russell is originally from Texas which is immediately betrayed by the signature drawl that I love from Texans. He’s worked around as a professional winemaker including in Napa Valley as well as in his native Texas as yes, they do make wine in Texas.
He began to search out vineyards for a project in Spain and came upon the ones that he now owns in the village of El Lloar that sit within the DO Montsant boundaries. They’re two reasonably-old vineyards of some 60 years if memory serves and he’s now vinifying the wines at the cooperative of El Masroig. While Texas is still home, he spends a pretty hefty number of months in the village for the harvest and other activities.
In tasting the wines, it was quite easy to see the evolution as Russell has gotten to know his vineyards more and more with each vintage. I’m sure that working in Montsant has proven to be a very different experience than anywhere else in the US. The 2012 was quite typical of that vintage in that it was a big. A hot harvest, it was tough to not have notes of reduced notes of prune seep in to the finished wine. The 2013 was well-balanced and noticeable lower in alcohol despite there being slightly more Grenache. The 2014, for the vintage came out decently well. Everyone’s grapes came in quite shabby for that vintage and like most it gets close to being balanced but comes up a bit short.
Then there’s the 2015 which is really a solid wine even though we were tasting a barrel sample. Round, balanced and nuanced it showed the best and also showed what Russell’s vineyards are capable of in optimal conditions. It’s also important to note that it’s 100% Carignan which in soils suited for it, does very well in the southern reaches of Priorat county.
Naturally, it will be interesting to see how everything continues as after four vintages, most people throw in the towel if they’re not fully based in Priorat. I think Russell has managed to bring along his Lone Star State tenacity and is forging a clearer path ahead with his wines with each passing vintage.
D. Russell Smith 2012
Red and black cherry notes, herbal notes, clay minerality, decent balance in the mouth with a touch of prune in the finish
60% Carignan, 40% Grenache 14.5% 18€
D. Russell Smith 2013
Red cherry notes, light chocolate notes, limestone more prevalent, medium plus acidity, nicely balanced, nice tannin grip.
58% Carignan, 42% Grenache 13.5% 18€
D. Russell Smith 2014
Larger red fruit with a good deal of spiciness to it, cumin, damp earth. Alcohol more prevalent in the mouth, medium acidity.
60% Carignan, 40% Grenache 13.9% 18€
D. Russell Smith 2015
Floral, orange peel, dark fruits, lightly smoky, expressive in the body, medium acidity, best balance of the group.
100% Carignan 13.8% 18€