Priorat Wine Region, Spain

Celler Devinssi vineyards in DOQ Priorat during May of 2015. Sampling a delicious blend of Garnacha, Carignan and Syrah.

Priorat Wine Region of Spain

This Priorat wine guide is part of our wine region series.  Learn about and consider traveling to beautiful and flavor-packed wine regions like Priorat, Spain.

Due in part to my new found love of Garnacha, this month I’ve been on mission to taste the most delicious and unknown Spanish wines, which led me the brilliant discovery of Priorato, or Priorat in Catalan. My favorite region was not surprisingly one of only two wine regions in Spain to qualify as DOCa (or DOQ in Catalunia) – the highest qualification level for a wine region (the only other being Rioja), and producer of some of the most sought after wines in Spain. Yay expensive taste! Not.  These wines on average are pricier than other regions of Spain and Italy, but good value bottles can still be found, and will taste like a well deserved treat.

Priorat Wine Region

Where is Priorat Located in Spain?

Priorat is located in the North of Spain in Catalonia, very close to France, Barcelona, and the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone National Park. This volcanic rock mixture of decomposed quartz and shale has created a rugged, mineral enriched soil known as Llicorella. Llicorella as in Licorace! I’m basically imagining a real life candy land where the licorace terroir sprouts powerful grapes vines with rich, intense flavors! The possibilities are exhilarating to a wine nerd like me.  In actuality, the vines struggle in this soil, within which not much water is retained. This results in low yields but powerful and refined grapes.

Vines Growing on Slopes in Priorat, Spain - Near Catalunia

Fittingly, “licorella” originates from the Celtic likka, meaning stone.  Hence the taste of strong minerality in many Priorat wines.

Along with the soil, the mountainous landscape gives Priorate another distinct characteristic. Vines are planted on steep slopes or “costers.” Some of these slopes are so narrow that only two rows of vines are planed on them, revealing that machine harvest is virtually impossible. This adds even more personality to the wines produced in this region.

Priorat, Spain | Priorat Wine Region DOQ - Grape Vines

Wine Grape Varieties Grown in Priorat

The classic Priorat wines are made from old-vine Garnacha and Cariñena (Carignan). In the 1990’s, winemakers began blending the two varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This resulted in bigger, bolder wines with intensity reminiscent of some Napa cabs and red blends.  There are currently about 600 registered grape growers in the region of Priorat.

Now, imagine the long, hot summers of Catalonia. The grapes struggle on the vine until late in the summer, allowing them to fully ripen, bursting with sweet, sugary juice. Which brings me to my favorite equation: high sugar content equals high alcohol content!

So heed my warning and my blessing: wines from this area are typically 14.5-15.5% ABV and could be higher. As such, a blending strategy comparable to that of Bordeaux is often employed using Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to balance out the ‘heat’ and fruitiness of a grape variety like Garnacha.

Priorat plays host to numerous villages throughout the wine region | Gratallops, Priorat, Spain

A Bit of Background on Wine Growing in Priorat

So why haven’t we heard much about this region until now?  Priorat was only granted the DOC signification in 1954, and was elevated regionally to DOQ (DOCa) in 2000.  But it wasn’t until 2009 that the Spanish officially and wholly embraced Priorat as a true DOCa, second only to Rioja.  Even though wine making in this region dates all the way back to 1194!  At that time, Carthusian monks were making wine like it was their job, and probably feeling pretty good about it.  Alas, thanks to the infamous phloxhera epidemic, the vines in Priorat were wiped out in the late 1800s and not replanted until over 50 years later.  Now the region is finally gaining popularity, but it’s still a bit of a best kept secret in the wine world.

Images & additional sources: DOQPriorat, Jancisrobinson.com, Wine-searcher.com, Catalunya.com.

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15 Comments

  • Chris lamas

    This is so awesome. I worked as a bartender for a Spanish restaurant for about 7 years which specialized in Spanish wine and tapas so I found this read especially interesting.

    • Hi Chris!
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I miss the Espana days! It only just clicked that there must have been great wine there as I think I was usually focused more on tequila ;).
      Do you remember having a favorite Spanish wine there?? I hope all is well!

      Ashlee

      • Chris lamas

        Hey Ash,
        I know it’s been a while and all is very well thank you! I definitely learned a lot about Spanish wines, grapes, D. O.’s and of course the food. As for my fav wine it probably had to be a Rioja Tempranillo called Marques de Caceres Reserva, it was amazing. A second would probably be a garnacha blend called Sangre de toro cause it was really easy drinking and easy to sell to the wary American who just wanted a Merlot or Pinot Noir. Your job sounds awesome and I will definitely keep reading your blog. Miss you and hope your loving life cause it sure seems like it!

  • Krag Klages

    You told me in the Austin airport that this would be published and I told you when it was, I’d comment! 🙂 Great piece – When I traveled to Spain, I did 14 cities in 10 days, but the only area I didn’t get to was the Northeast Barcelona edge of France piece, so based on this article, sounds like that needs to happen sooner than later. BTW, I’ll be moving permanently to Austin the week of March 30 – can’t wait to experience the awesomeness that everyone talks about when they describe the place.

    • How was it doing so many Spanish cities in such a short time? I have 8 cities planned for 12 days and thought that was a lot. Always like to do as much as possible but also don’t want to miss the fine print. Curious to hear your thoughts on how that worked out!

      • Krag Klages

        Honestly, it was a lot. I started in Madrid to Toledo down through a few smaller cities to Granada, down to Tarifa and Algeciras to get over to Tangier, up to Jerez, and then to Sevilla (and I still had Lisbon, Sintra, and handful of other cities on the way back to Madrid). By the time I got to Sevilla, I needed a break and took about 5-6 hours by the pool at the hotel I was staying. I don’t usually take “pool breaks” on international vacations, but by that point, it was necessary. So your 8 in 12 is probably the right balance! Can’t wait to hear about it – when are you planning on going?

        • Planning on doing a similar route, this May. Starting in Madrid, but will likely do Segovia over Toledo this round. Continue to Seville and through some smaller white villages in Andalucia. Up to Barcelona, then likely head to Priorat, Rioja, Logroño y San Seb! Gonna have to save Porto and Morocco for next time I think.

          • Krag Klages

            I will tell you that Toledo was one of my favorite cities of everything we saw. The Cathedral is absolutely amazing (and you’ll see a lot of them) and if you can stay in a hotel/hostel at the outskirts, you can have a view that looks right into the walled city. That said, Segovia is awesome for different reasons – the aqueduct is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my entire lifetime, so totally worthwhile, and if you’re not a vegetarian, getting the roasted suckling pig at meson de candido is worth being a little bit of a tourist just for that experience. Can’t wait to hear about the trip when you get back – May is the absolute perfect time to go.

          • I’ve heard amazing things about both Toledo and Segovia. The main driver towards Segovia this round is the aqueduct. I’ll definitely be going back to Madrid in the near term so I figure I can always check out Toledo next time. Decided my route will be, for the most part – Madrid – Segovia – Ronda – Seville – Zaragoza – Drive from Zaragoza through Rioja and stay in Logrono – End up in San Sebastian – Barcelona – Back to Madrid. Really can’t wait to get over there already. Lot’s of posts on both the wine, landscape adventures and city life will go up on the blog so definitely stay tuned! Also trying to plan a visit through a couple vineyards I’m familiar with in Priorat since it’s relatively accessible from BCN.

          • Cheri

            Hello,
            I’m very impressed by this site!! We are planning our first trip to Spain next May!!! We Love Big Red Wines, so def want to visit the Rioja area!! Starting our trip in Barcelona… 12 days… any thoughts on a great itinerary… Wants: Scenery, Lovely Accomodations, Wine Tours and tastings….Needs: Some physical activity…we are walkers in our 60’s… very active!!!! And last: Foodie choices for restaurant experiences throughout our journey!!!!
            All and any help will be greatly appreciated ….
            Cheri

          • Hi Cheri,

            So glad you enjoy the content! If you enjoy big red wines, then you’re looking in the right areas. Priorat makes some fantastic, heavy, alcoholic and complex reds, as does neighboring Montsant. Rioja is also a must visit, the scenery and quaintness of the land is magical — but the reds will typically be more medium in body. Rioja Alta and Alavesa will be more Tempranillo dominant, with Baja containing larger concentrations of Garnacha. I really recommend this tour of Priorat, and neighboring Tarragona and Montsant. Tarragona has some of the best climbing and hiking in the region if you’re active. I can help put you in touch with some of my contacts there if you are looking for more guidance on tours, accommodation and eats. Let me know!

            Best,
            Greig

  • It sounds like I would LOVE some of the wines in this particular region. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing. You’ve got me thinking about enjoying Spanish Wine tonight.

  • A small note in that the blending of Cab, Merlot, and Syrah was mostly done to “round out” the wines and make them more recognizable during a time when the international wine consumer didn’t really know what Grenache of Carignan were. Both of these grapes, especially Grenache are in no need of beefing up in the climate of Priorat.

    Miquel
    http://www.vinologue.com/guides/priorat/

  • Great wine guide for those secret winemakers of Spain. However, one geographical error…! The small Priorat region is not in the Garrotxa National Volanic Park area which is Northern Catalunya, in fact, the region is nestled within the Montsant National Park only 25-40 miles from the Meditteranean Sea in the South East part of Catalunya. Closer to Tarragona and the Costa Dorada rather than Barcelona.
    These vines benefit from occasional refreshing sea breezes known as “garbinada breezes” which caress these dark purple almost jet black grapes along the famous steep sided hills.
    Amazing strong but smooth reds , but beware…my wife has been known to suffer the occasional “wine injury” closely followed by “wine flu” due to the 14.5-15.5 % AVB

    • Hi Robert,

      There is no error, Ashlee mentions that Priorat is near the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone, not within. This guide mentions familiar landmarks and cities so newcomers can become acquainted with its general location. In our more advanced guide, I discuss a little bit more about Montsant, Tarragona and the Gold Coast.

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