Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Priorat: Wines of Power and Elegance!

Priorat DOQ is a tiny enclave/ appellation that stretches out from the foot of the Sierra of Montsant, in Catalonia, Spain. Though grapes were grown here since the middle ages, Priorat gained international fame, very recently, in 1989, when five producers decided to launch wines made from very old Garnacha (grenache) vines. The five pioneers were René Barbier from Clos Mogador, Carles Pastrana from Costers del Siurana, Joseph Lluis Perez from Mas Martinet, Daphne Glorian from Clos Erasmus and Alvaro Palacios, heir from the Rioja's family Palacios Remondo. The superb wines they made/make, put this appellation in the wine world map and helped Priorat to become a DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) which is the highest quality level in Spain, similar to the Italian DOCG.
So what is so special about Priorat
The name of this boutique region comes from the word priory, because once upon a time there was a Carthusian monastery here, built by Alfonso II in 1163.  This monastery was known as Scala Dei (God’s stairway to heaven), and precisely it was the monks, as they did in many other parts of the world, who brought the grapes and the winemaking know-how. Nowadays, Scala Dei is the name of a winery owned by world known Cava producer Codorníu, that operates from some of the old monastery buildings.
There are 12 distinctive wine villages or zones in Priorat and these are: Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, el Lloar, la Morera de Montsant, Porrera, Poboleda, Scala Dei (monastery), Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa, Masos de Falset and Solanes del Molar. (see below map courtesy of DOC Priorat)

Stylistically, Priorat wines are age worthy reds, and basically powerbombs! with big bodies and alcohol, plenty of tannins and structure, they feature ripe blackfruit notes, chocolate, wild herbs and mineral aromas. These wines are concentrated and extracted, this is the direct result of very low yielding vines, most of them providing only 5-6 hl/ha. These vines grow in a very special soil called Llicorella, which is a dry, poor, slate and quartz based soil. The climate in Priorat is one of extremes, hot during the day and cool at night, most of the vineyards are distributed around a series of valleys, with high elevations that go up to 900 meters/ 3,000 feet. If you visit Priorat, you will see the vineyards planted on terraces built a long time ago. I still remember when René Barbier drove me through the appellation and warned me before we were about to go down the hill. It felt pretty much like a roller coaster ride to me!

Priorat wines are blends, similar to the ones from the Southern Rhone. They are mostly Garnacha or Carignan based, with small percentages of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and native Tempranillo. The blend varies according to the winemaker’s taste, with some of them choosing not to include Carignan at all. Most of the winemakers prefer to age wines in French oak, following the Bordelais tradition, but some use American oak. Both Garnacha and Carignan love the heat so much, they can easily reach high alcohol levels on their own, yielding an average of 15% or more for most wines. But as my title suggests, Priorats are wines of  elegance, meaning you shouldn’t be discouraged by their alcohol, since it is usually very well integrated and balanced. The challenge of this region, if any, is to keep the freshness, so that the wines always remain lively and full of fruit.

Higher end Priorat is usually pricey ($50 and up) but there are plenty of  producers that make affordable wines that are quite good too, like my recommendations below, that I hope you will enjoy soon!

Clos Pachem Cami de la Mina 2018, $19.99
Vinos Atlántico, La Cartuja 2018, $24.99
Cellers Unio Roureda Llicorella Classic 2015, $24.99
Cellers Unio Roureda Llicorella Vitis 60 2016, $31.99
Prior Scala Dei 2017, $29.99
Pasanau Finca La Planeta 2015, $54.99


If you have the $$$ to afford the high end top wines. Here are some of the best I ever tasted:
Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofí 2019, $104
Clos Mogador 2019 $109
Vall Llach 2019, $100

Cheers! Silvina

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