The tiny and rugged Priorat wine region is situated in the geographic region of Catalunya, Spain. The arid landscape is covered in old bush vines of cariñena and garnacha and is known for its vivid and fruity age-worthy reds.
Where Is the Priorat Wine Region?
The small region of Priorat lies within Catalunya, southwest of Barcelona and just inland from the Mediterranean sea. There are 12 villages that make up the growing region: Bellmunt del Priorat, el Lloar, Poboleda, Scala Dei, Gratallops, la Morera de Montsant, Solanes del Molar, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa, Porrera, Masos de Falset, and Torroja del Priorat.
The Priorat Region's Unique Terroir
Steep rocky outcrops and terraces define much of the Priorat region with the Montsant mountains looming over the vineyards and monasteries. Vineyard sites range from 330 feet (100 meters) at the valley floor up to 2,500 feet (760 meters) above sea level at the high points. This Spanish wine region has an arid, Mediterranean climate and produces some of the highest quality red wines in Spain, though not without a big effort. The vineyard terraces can be as steep as 60 percent gradient and therefore are very challenging to work on.
In this highland bedrock, the vine roots extend their way down to soak up what water they can. The iconic soil, referred to as llicorella, is a key factor that drives the characteristics of the grapes in Priorat, giving the wines their minerality. The llicorella is layers of slate and quartzite and looks like dazzling flecks of gold and black between the vines.
Priorat's Winemaking History
Small but mighty, Priorat has been producing wine for a long time--roughly 900 years. Carthusian monks from Provence, France established the first vines in 1100s. Winemaking came to a halt in the 1800s with the arrival of the pest, phylloxera. Eventually, when vines were reestablished, red blends started being made again until it gradually became a renowned region for producing high-quality reds. In 2000, Priorat was only the second region to be ushered into the highest denomination in the country for wine, Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa). Today, Priorat wines are some of Spain's finest with some of the best quality grapes coming from old bush vines with low yields.
The region is overwhelmingly planted in cariñena and garnacha with some cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot. Priorat red wines are typically a blend of some combination of these grapes. Aromas of ripe plum, black currant, and black cherry hit the nose with a dusty minerality that lingers. On the palate, the black cherry and plum are accompanied by crushed gravel and saline from the llicorella soil along with a spiced characteristic of anise, cardamom, and cinnamon. The medium- to full-bodied wines have robust tannins that require some years to relax. Due to the warm climate, the alcohol content is naturally higher, around 14-15% ABV (alcohol by volume).
While the region primarily produces red wines, there are small plantings of white grapes scattered in the rocky landscape as well. Garnacha blanca and macabeo account for most of Priorat's white wines. The first is a relative of garnacha and produces full-bodied whites, while the latter is milder and is sometimes blended with garnacha blanca.
Priorat may be a small designation, but it is one of Spain's most prominent wine regions, producing stunning expressions from the raw and rocky landscape. If you aren't familiar with Priorat wines, go out and find yourself a bottle to experience what the unique terroir has to offer.