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.
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.
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.
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.
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.