Created in 1954, Priorat — named after the 12th century Carthusian Priorato de Scala Dei, the Priory of the Stairway of God, under the auspices of which winemaking began in the region — is one of the highest-esteemed denominations in all of Spain.
- Vineyards. Vineyards sit at high altitudes, ranging from 100-800 meters, with the best on steep slopes at the higher end of this range.
- Climate. The climate is dry and warm. Although the elevation brings cooler evenings, this is moderated by heat emanating from the soils and the stabilizing influence of the Mediterranean (only 30 kilometers away).
Soils types in Priorat
There are two soil types in Priorat, each of which produces a different style of wine:
- The denomination is famous for its llicorella soils: volcanic in origin, they consist chiefly of slate, with small levels of mica; these soils stress the vines and conserve heat for optimal grape ripening, producing big wines with bold fruit and intense flavors, with soft, approachable tannins, even when young; they even impart a mineral edge to the resulting wines. Wines from these soils dominate production.
- At the highest elevations, however, the soils change to red clay; the resulting wines are lighter and more delicate, often with intoxicating aromas.
Both soils exist over a schist foundation, which provides a porous enough material for vines to penetrate for stored rainwater reserves and minerals.
Priorat: Red Wines
Red wines are based chiefly on garnacha and cariñena:
- The primary grape in Priorat red wine blends is low-yielding old-vine garnacha, which accounts for nearly 40% of vineyard planted area. It produces wines with bold, nuanced fruit, laced with a distinctive mineral (slate) edge. The grape’s thin skins impart minimal tannins, so they must be introduced by vinifying with stems or aging in small oak barrels (225 liters).
- The aromatic cariñena brings a blueberry, violet nose and dark color.
Although Priorat has gotten a reputation for over-oaking its wines and relying on non-indigenous varieties to enhance the garnacha base, leading winemakers are increasingly returning to more traditional styles of winemaking to bring out the best in their prized garnacha: vinifying in cement tanks; aging in larger barrels; using native yeasts; avoiding destemming; and decreasing the percentage of cabernet sauvignon and syrah in the blend (restoring cariñenato secondary importance).
Overall, they are special wines; although they can lean toward the pricey side, they are worth it for a splurge.
Priorat: White Wines
Although reds are clearly its focus, Priorat does produce a small amount (under 5% of total production) of high quality white wines based on two traditional Catalunyan varieties: garnacha blanca and macabeo.
More information about the Priorat wine region