A small wine-growing region in the province of Catalonia, with its capital situated in the small village of Gratallops, Priorat is located just 40 kilometers west of Tarragona. Wine produced in...Read More
Home to a dense and colorful patchwork of steeply terraced slopes, where gnarled, low-yielding bush vines stretch their ancient roots deep into one-of-a-kind llicorella schist and quartz soils, Priorat is an appellation small in size but massive in character. While the region’s winemaking heritage dates back to the Carthusian monastic order of the 12th century, Priorat was reborn in the 1980’s under the impetus of five young winemakers nicknamed the Priorat Five. In the past few decades, the quality of these wines has continued to soar and a very distinctive Priorat style has been carved out from local Garnacha and Carinena grapes, at times blended with international varieties. The wines of Priorat are magnificent and complex, with intense aromas of ripe dark fruit, scorched mountain herbs, dried blue flower petals and a certain minerality so characteristic of this terroir, like the first few drops of summer rain hitting a sizzling hot, sunbaked pavement.
Priorat wine boasts a fascinating history, dating back over 900 years to the 12th century. In 1194 the Carthusian monks arrived in this region from Provence and established the Cartoixa d'Escaladei (or the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei). The Prior of the Scala Dei monastery ruled over the seven nearby villages as a feudal lord and the villagers began producing their own wines. The monks tended the vineyards of Priorat over the course of the centuries up until 1835, when the land was appropriated by the state and redistributed among local landowners. By this time, winemaking was widespread across the region. Unfortunately, the next century would bring a suite of challenges, which would devastate the Priorat wine industry.
Towards the end of the 19th century, phylloxera struck the vineyards of Priorat, wiping out the vines of the region and leading to a large scale emigration of the local population. Adding to the damage were the economic results of two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War, which rocked Catalonia between 1936 and 1939. Before the arrival of phylloxera, Priorat had been home to around 12,000 acres of vineyards. In the decades that followed this was reduced to almost nothing. It was not until the creation of the Priorat Denomination de Origen (DO) appellation in 1954 that a systematic replanting of the vineyards would take place. By 1980, almost 1,500 acres had been replanted. Up until the 1980’s, these vineyards were used by cooperatives to produce bulk wines.
During the 1980’s, Priorat wine experienced a quality renaissance, brought on by a group of five young winemaker friends (since then nicknamed “the Priorat Five”), who saw enormous potential in the terroir of Priorat in Spain and established five walled-in vineyards called “clos”. Rene Barbier established his Clos Mogador, Alvaro Palacios his Clos Dofi (since renamed Finca Dofi), Daphne Glorian her Clos Erasmus, Jose Luis Perez his Clos Martinet (since renamed Mas Martinet) and Carles Pastrana his Clos de l’Obac.
To produce the first three vintages (1989-1991), these five friends pooled their grapes and shared a winery located in Gratallops to produce their five labels. Starting with the 1992 vintage, these wines were produced separately and were met with enormous success, receiving rave reviews from the world’s most influential wine critics.
The success of these five original wines attracted winemakers from around Spain to the Priorat wine region and the Priorat wine industry shifted its focus from bulk wine to quality-driven bottlings. In 2000, the Catalan authorities approved Priorat’s classification upgrade from DO to DOQ (Denominació d'Origen Qualificada, in Catalan) status. The Spanish government officially made Priorat (locally known as Priorato) a DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada, the Spanish term) in 2009. This move made Priorat one of only two DOQ/DOCa appellations in Spain (the other being Rioja).
The quality revolution initiated in the 1980’s continues today, with the wineries of Priorat gradually adopting modern methods and outfitting their wineries with state-of-the-art equipment. Today, Priorat is home to over 100 wineries and 600 winemakers, whose vineyards spread across approximately 5,000 acres.
The Priorat DOQ/DOCa appellation is situated in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain. Just 70 miles from Barcelona and 30 miles from Tarragona, it is easy to book a wine tour of Priorat. The officially demarcated zone covers a total of 48,880 acres, which is almost completely surrounded by the Montsant wine DO, a less prestigious appellation that produces a similar style of wine. The appellation is subdivided into 12 villages, each one with its own namesake growing area: Bellmunt del Priorat, la Morera de Montsant, Gratallops, el Lloar, Poboleda, Porrera, Scala Dei, Torroja del Priorat, Masos de Falset, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa and Solanes del Molar. Some Priorat wines bear the designation “Vins de Vila” on the label, indicating from which of these specific zones the grapes are sourced.
The vineyards of Priorat in Catalonia are situated in the valleys of the Siurana River and the foothills of the Montsant Mountains (Montsant Natural Park), at altitudes between 100m and 700m above sea level. Here, sturdy old bush vines are planted on steep terraced slopes, where machine harvest is simply not an option. This rugged terroir is home to a diverse patchwork of microclimates, characterized as mostly continental with some Mediterranean influences in some areas. The Montsant Mountain protects the vines from the very cold northerly wines, while the warm Mistral wind blows in from the east.
The summers in Priorat are very long, dry and hot (with temperatures rising to 95°F), while the winters are cold (with temperatures dropping to 25°F). There is also a significant a significant degree of thermal amplitude between the hot daytime temperatures and colder nights, allowing the grapes to reach and maintain a high natural acidity, and to develop a complex bouquet of aromas. The average annual rainfall is very low, around 400-600mm per year.
Perhaps the most defining feature of the Priorat terroir is the region’s signature soil, a kind of reddish black decomposed slate with small particles of mica, which is locally known as llicorella. This nutrient-poor soil holds almost no water, thus forcing the roots to dig deep in search for the latter. This results in high vine stress, low yields and very concentrated, flavorful fruit. The slate soils also absorb heat during the day and keep the vines warm during the cold hours of the night, allowing for an uninterrupted growing cycle. The mica quartz also reflects the rays of sunshine during the day, amplify the sun exposure of the vines. It is the llicorella soil that confers to the wines the special mineral quality so integral to the signature style of the wine region of Priorat.
The hot and dry continental climate, the nutrient-poor soils and the high average age of the old vines (or vinyes velles of Priorat) combine to result in shockingly low yields, which typically fall below 5 hL/ha. In comparison, the average yield in Spain is 25 hL/ha, whereas the average yield of Bordeaux in France is closer to 40 hL/ha. This low yield translates to higher concentration in the grapes and thus higher quality in the finished wines.
The red wine vineyards of the Priorat DOQ/DOCa are planted with approximately 40% Garnacha (or Garnatxa in Catalan or Grenache in French), 23% Cariñena (or Samso in Catalan, or Carignan in French), 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 7% Merlot. Most Priorat wine is either a single varietal bottling of either Garnacha or Cariñena, or blends of Priorat involving these two grapes, or a Bordeaux style blend of these two grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Cabernet Sauvignon has always been in the lead when it comes to international (French) varieties, although recently Syrah plantings have increased even faster.
White wine represents only around 5% of the total volume of wine produced in Priorat. Nevertheless, these wines have quickly gained a cult following around the world. Today, Priorat white wines are made from four authorized grape varieties: Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, Pedro Ximenez and Chenin Blanc.
Priorat wine is known by fine wine lovers around the world for its big and bold style. Most of the time, the red wines are aged in oak barrels for 18 months. The classic red Priorat is a Spanish wine with a complex bouquet of red and black fruit (especially black plums, redcurrants and black cherries), complemented by an earthy garrigue touch and an iconic minerality, reminiscent of wet clay or crushed gravel, from the llicorella soils. Cocoa aromas are added to the blend by Cabernet, while Syrah may lend it hints of black pepper.
On the palate, the classic Priorat offers a moderate acidity and big, bold tannins which will soften over time. The flavors tend to remain consistent with the nose, although the palate can also reveal additional saline and autumn spice nuances, along with an herby, almost menthol touch. The best expressions of Priorat red wine can age in the bottle for several decades. When it comes to Priorat wine and food pairing, we recommend choosing rustic dishes with equally big and bold flavors, like grilled sausages and hearty stews (a lentil stew with smoked ham hock, for example).
While quite rare, Priorat white wines have gained a significant following among wine lovers in recent years. At the tasting, these wines do reveal some yellow fruit (especially yellow plums, ripe quince and white peach), they tend to be more mineral, saline and earthy than fruit-forward in style. These wines are often described as having aromas of fragrant mountain herbs, fruit blossoms and almonds. On the palate, these wines are typically quite robust, high in alcohol, but with plenty of acidity. They will pair beautifully with richly flavored seafood and rice dishes, such as a seafood paella or “arròs amb bacallà” (Catalan rice and cod dish).
Do you have any questions about the price of Priorat wines or Priorat producers like Costers del Priorat, Familia Nin Ortiz, Bodegas Mas Alta or Terroir al Limit? Or, are you looking for specific products like Camins del Priorat, Alvaro Palacios Ermita, Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses, Mas Martinet Clos Martinet or Clos de l’Obac Costers del Siurana? Or maybe you’re interested in the Rias Baixas of Priorat or other Spanish wines, like Rioja or Ribera del Duero? Do not hesitate to contact our team directly!