Priorato (Priorat) is one of the stand-out Spanish wine regions, with an extraordinary leap in wine quality, reputation and price over the last decade or so. This small wine appellation, with 1700 ha of vines and just over 60 bodegas, lies to the west of the province of Tarragona in Catalonia.
It includes the municipalities of Scala Dei, Gratallops and Falset, where vines grow on steep terraces at varying altitudes of 100-700m. The climate is continental and the region is blessed with an exceptional schistose terroir (mostly llicorella with layers of slate and quartz). This schist is part of the same stratum found in the finest vineyards of the Douro, Toro and Ribera del Duero. It provides ideal conditions for growing vines and also contributes to the much-lauded mineral-rich character of Priorato’s wines.
The region’s wines were revolutionised through the efforts of René Barbier. In 1989 he joined forces with a group of 8 other winemakers to produce wine from 8 plots (or ‘clos’), planting the best grapes, using modern methods, and harvesting at extremely low yields. This original group included such distinguished bodegas as Alvaro Palacios (Finca Dofi), Costers del Siurana and Mas Martinet.
The group later split up but the legacy and the international acclaim their wines generated has attracted significant interest and investment in the Priorato region. It is now recognised as one of the great fine wine regions in Spain, rivalling Rioja and Ribera del Duero. The Priorat wines are typically powerful and full-bodied, with a warm, ripe fruitiness and impressive levels of concentration and minerality. The wines are made in all categories from Joven to Gran Reserva, undergoing the same oak ageing as Rioja.
The efforts of the Barbier group proved that old vine, low-yielding Cariñena and Garnacha vines were capable of producing complex wines of outstanding quality. Cariñena (aka Carignan) is the most planted variety here, followed by Garnacha. Both provide the backbone of the region’s wines, augmented by international varieties, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
White varieties (Chenin Blanc, Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca, Viognier and Pedro Ximénez) occupy less than 5% of the vineyard area.
Combier Fischer Gerin (Trio Infernal), Clos Figueres, Alvaro Palacios (Finca Dofi)