Tour de Spain: Priorat
Be still my heart. Priorat (pronounced PRE-oh-rot) is my favorite wine region in the world and I'm so excited to write about it. Apologies if I completely nerd out. I've never been disappointed with a Priorat, although that's like saying that I've never been disappointed with driving a Lamborghini. The quality of wines coming out of the region is fantastic. In fact, Priorat and Rioja are the only two regions in Spain that have been awarded the prestigious DOCa (DOQ locally) status (all other top quality wine regions are designated as DO). Amazingly, the wines are available in a wide range of price points as well. To demonstrate this, I've tasted three different Priorat priced around $20, $40 and $80.
Priorat has a long history of making wine and many of the vineyards are ancient. However, because the terrain is so steep, it was very difficult and expensive to harvest and there was very little investment in the area. Once phylloxera arrived, many vineyards were abandoned and the wines that were coming out of the region were average at best. In the 80s, some awesome wine pioneers led by René Barbier recognized the potential of Priorat and completely revitalized it. This drew investment to the area, which of course brought more producers to the region and brought the wines to a world class level.
Priorat is located in Catalonia, which may not be part of Spain for much longer, so stock up on that Priorat because who knows what it will be like to import from a brand new country. Anyhow, Priorat is slightly inland of the Northeast coast of Spain, not too far from Barcelona. The wines are primarily red and the main grape varieties grown here are Garnacha and Cariñena, many of which are harvested from old vines. They are often blended together, sometimes also with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot to create complex and deeply colored, full-bodied wines with high tannins, a high but well-integrated alcohol content, and concentrated fresh black fruit notes along with the spice and toastiness that comes from maturing the wine in new French oak. It's enchanting and so, so elegant.
The climate of the region is Mediterranean, so the summers are warm and the winters are quite mild. Most vineyards are planted at an altitude to benefit from the cool nights. The ideal site for a vineyard in Priorat is on a steep terraced slope where the grapes will receive plenty of exposure to the sun to develop those characteristic complex deep black fruit notes. The soil of the area is called llicorella and it's very unique; it's composed of red slate and bits of mica which reflect the sunlight and retain warmth, which also aids ripening. Pretty cool, right?
Marge Priorat 2010
This wine is a perfect example of how great the quality is at all price points. It's a full bodied wine with chewy tannins, medium level of acidity, a high but well-integrated alcohol level, and it shows black cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant, anise, mint, and toast, along with some leather notes that were starting to develop. It has a lot of great flavors for $22!
Partida Pedrer Priorat 2013
A really fantastic marriage of fruit and spice, this wine made with 100% Garnacha boasts flavors and aromas of black cherry, ripe raspberry, blackberry, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and peppery meat. It's so delicious and the spiced fruit flavors really shine through in the finish. It has a wonderful structure with a full body, firm tannins, moderate level of acidity, and a cleverly disguised high alcohol level. It's certainly not a "value" wine, but at $40 you get what you pay for! Remember René Barbier, the wine pioneer that I was talking about earlier? This is one of his labels!
Clos Mogador Priorat 2014
And for the coup de grace, I give you my prized Priorat that I've been hanging onto for so long. I almost cried when I opened it, but also because it's really just that incredible. The structure is excellent with a medium body, beautiful fine tannins, and an elegant acidity. Honestly, I didn't even pay attention to the alcohol level because I was too busy swooning over this wine. It has fresh notes of black cherry, blackberry, strawberry, rhubarb, cassis, an herbal character of mint and tobacco, and a pleasant minerality. It's very complex and I seemed to get a greater depth of flavor each time I took a sip. This is an elegant and gorgeous wine, truly. If you have the means, this is a wine you will want to have in your cellar. This is another wine from the OG, René Barbier and it's actually one of the five original labels that started the Priorat revolution. A classic wine, without a doubt!
I trust that this post has inspired you to pick up a bottle or seven of Priorat next time you're stocking up on wine. And if you're wondering what to give me for Christmas, a case of either of these will do just fine ;)
I hope you're enjoying my Tour de Spain series! It seems that I've covered most of the regions now because it's becoming difficult to find a wine from a Spanish region that I have not written about yet, so the series will be coming to a natural end soon - I'm going to cover Rueda next, followed by discussing Cava and Sherry! I want to hear from you - is there any particular country that you'd like me to dive into next?