Overview of Priorat
Spain has a long, rich history of winemaking and stands today as the third largest producing nation in the world. You probably have tried some Spanish wine at a restaurant or bought a bottle at a retailer and for good reason – Spanish wines continue to offer some of the best bang for your buck of any region in the world. The Spanish regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero (among others) have long been established as quality wine-producing regions. However, some of the most interesting, complex and powerful Spanish red wines are being made in the up-and-coming wine region of Priorat, which has been largely under-the-radar until the late 1990s.
Priorat (as spelled in Catalan, although other Spaniards call it “Priorato”) is located in the southwest part of the Catalonia region (about 2 hours outside of Barcelona). Priorat was named for a local monastery that began producing wine in the 12th century, and flourished for many centuries until phylloxera, a small grapevine-destroying insect, arrived in the late 1800’s and destroyed the majority of Priorat vineyards, effectively ruining its wine industry.
Priorat slowly recovered, and winemakers resumed production in the 1950s. It was not until the 1970s, however, that a new group of winemakers began planting higher-quality grapes and using more advanced winemaking techniques. These winemakers realized that Priorat’s climate and geography was ideal for growing certain red grapes. The region’s unique topsoil, made up of tiny pieces of slate and rich with minerals, and hilly vineyards, with various different microclimates, were capable of creating highly distinct wines that quickly gained international attention and acclaim. Today, the top red wines from Priorat are some of the most sought-after (and expensive) Spanish wines in the world (and don’t worry, there are also terrific wines that are reasonably priced).
In addition to its wines, Priorat’s natural beauty, characterized by its hilly terrain, makes it a great travel destination.
Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your seatbelts, because Priorat’s red wines are intense and rich. Priorat vineyards are usually harvested with very low yields (meaning a low number of grapes produced per unit surface of vineyard), which results in more concentrated and full-bodied wine.
Priorat’s slate soil gives its wine a distinct mineral character.
The key grape in Priorat is Grenache (or Garnacha in Spanish), although there are also smaller plantings of Carignan (Cariñena in Spanish) and popular international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Grenache is the second most widely planted red grape in the world, and is probably best known as the dominant grape in the southern Rhone region of France (particularly in Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends).
Grenache is an extremely versatile grape that thrives in hot, dry conditions like Priorat and produces wines that are concentrated and high in alcohol (typically 14 to 15%). Grenache from Priorat explodes in the mouth with an intense combination of currant, berries, cherry and spice and a backbone of minerality that comes from Priorat’s unique slate soil. These wines are not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy dense, full-bodied and complex red wine, then you need to try one of these gems.
Due to the relatively low production and high demand for Priorat wines, prices for many top wines can be very high. I’ve compiled a list of Priorat wines at different price points that you can customize to fit your wine budget. But don’t take my word for it – go try some wine from Priorat and let me know what you think!
1. Cesca Vicent Priorat 2009 ($17): More elegant and less heavy than many other Priorat red wines; Dark fruit aromas on the palate lead to a pleasant mineral finish
2. Capafons-Osso Sirsell 2006 ($26): A fruit-forward wine, with dark berries and sweet spice flavors; Long and persistent finish
3. Álvaro Palacios Camins Del Priorat 2010 ($22): Berries and earth notes on the palate; High acidity keeps the wine fresh and lively; A tremendous value for the money
4. Cellar Pasanau Ceps Nous Priorat 2008 ($23): An accessible wine with dark fruit aromas and spice and mineral on the finish
5. Mas Doix Priorat Salanques 2006 ($32): Full bodied, with flavors of ripe cherries and spice leading to a long, impressive finish; Drinking extremely well
6. Clos Mogador 2009 ($90): One of the most well know estates in Priorat consistently produces fantastic wines; Still young for such a big wine, but features dark, earthy fruit flavors with complex minerality on the finish