All you need to know about the wines of Priorat


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Some time ago one of my lovely newsletter subscribers asked me to cover the wines of Catalonia in one of my blog posts. It's a huge area with 10 recognised wine regions and difficult to generalise so I will split the subject of Catalan wines into more than one blog post. This first will focus on perhaps the best known wine region of Catalonia, Priorat, famed for its full-bodied red wines with intense flavours. In fact it is perhaps the one region of Spain that has its own distinctive style of wine - find out why...

Here are 12 things you should know about Priorat:

1. Priorat is one of only two top quality wine designations in Spain. Awarded in 1999 this "DoCa" classification (Denominación de Origen Calificada) - or as it is know in Catalan "DOQ" (Denominació d'Origen Qualificada) - denotes regions with a proven track record of consistently high quality. The other - better known - DoCa region is Rioja.

2. Compared to Rioja, Priorat is small:

 

PRIORAT

RIOJA

Hectares under vine

1,887

63,593

Number of grower

c. 600

8,895

Number of wineries

99

443

Annual production of grapes (million kg)

6.5

442


As you might expect from this relatively small wine region, the wine producers tend to be small-scale.

3. But there are also a number of similarities with Rioja:
  • mainly red wine production
  • predominant use of indigenous grapes - Garnacha (AKA Grenache) and Carignan known locally as Samsó in Priorat and Tempranillo in Rioja. There is however some argument that Garnacha originated in Sardinia.
  • similar ageing regulations for its red wines
  • historically both are very old wine regions; in Priorat the Carthusian monks at the Monastery of Scala Dei (pictured below) produced a very dark wine in the 12th century
 
scaladei.jpg4. Under a handful of local pioneers Priorat has been undergoing a renaissance since the late 1980s after the number of vines reduced substantially due to phylloxera in the 18th century and more recently due to the Spanish Civil War and the years under Franco.
 
5. Priorat was the first of Spain's wine regions to introduce a village or "vi de vila" classification in 2009 for wines produced in one of the specified 12 villages though not all eligible producers use it; there are steps being taken to develop single vineyard and similar classifications which will have stricter regulations regarding yields and the age of vines.

6. Based in the province of Tarragona, south of Barcelona, the Priorat wine region is fairly mountainous with very steep vineyards, terraces and typically therefore hand-harvesting; there is stunning scenery so the region would make a beautiful destination for a wine-tasting trip...

7. Priorat has unique soils in fact mainly slate known as llicorella with limited natural organic matter so that the vines have to work hard; in fact the llicorella is considered to be the main feature of the region which gives the wines minerality, earthy and hot stone aromas

8. Other features which contribute to the wine's profile are

  • the altitude which helps freshness/ acidity develop
  • the hard climate which with the soil means low yields
  • a relative abundance of old vines which with the low yields contribute to the concentration and complexity of flavours
9. With so many components that can influence the wine - e.g. grape varieties and the level of each or all in the blend, site of the vineyard etc there are of course many variations in the wines of Priorat but the general style of red Priorat wine is
  • full-bodied
  • concentrated aromas and flavours; those wines that are Garnacha dominant tend to be particularly perfumed
  • alcohol levels of 14% or more - in the not-too-distant past Priorat wines were often really big alcoholic and tannic wines smelling and tasting of cooked fruits due partly to over-extraction but the Priorat wine producers are getting smarter and the wines now tend towards a much more elegant style with alcohol and tannin levels well managed and in balance with the concentration of fruit, acidity and sweetness
  • Though the wines are quite rich and intense they generally have good acidity which makes them lovely and fresh The red Priorat wines used to be aged in oak to help make the wine rounder but that is not necessarily the case these days.
10. Priorat wines are generally produced for drinking upon release but the better red wines will age and develop further in bottle, especially those with higher levels of Carignan.

La Conreria D Scala Black Slate Escaladei Priorat organic red wine from Spain.JPG
11. As one of Spain's two highest qualifications and with the low yields and relatively high costs of production, Priorat wines are generally not cheap - in fact if you see one below £12, be a little wary. But don't worry they are not all as expensive as L'Ermita whose 2015 wine I have seen for £1,500.

But it is possible to find value e.g. La Conreria D' Scala Dei Escaladei Black Slate described by the Wine Advocate which awarded its 2013 vintage 92 Parker Points "A classic blend of Garnacha and Cariñena ... the wine comes through as very fresh with some spiciness, nothing heavy or oaky about it. The tannins are silky, and the texture is very elegant. It feels young and elegant like a Pinot Noir from the south. This is an elegant Priorat for those who avoid the dark, concentrated, powerful wines and who appreciate more the elegant side of a Mediterranean red. Great value too."

12. You are likely to appreciate Priorat wines if you like Rioja and Rhône wines

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© Wines With Attitude Limited, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk

Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.

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