Priorato DOQ or Priorato (the Anglicised version) is wine region in the southern part of Catalonia in Spain. It comprises 12 widely scattered villages (listed below), of which the largest and easiest conduit into the region is Falset in the south. The Priorat denomination rises above, but is surrounded by the lower-lying Monsant DO region – hence some liken the entire area to a fried egg, with Priorat the raised yolk, and Monsant the lower lying white.

The region’s hilly, sloping, low-yielding vineyards traditionally produced fortified ‘rancio’ wines. However, from the late 1980s a new generation of winemakers added international grapes (Syrah, Bordeaux grapes) to the two traditional local red wine mainstays, namely Carignan (‘Carinena’) and Grenache Noir (‘Garnacha’), allied to more modern winemaking (read cooler ferments and cleaner, newer oak for ageing).

Villages (12): Bellmunt del Priorat. | El Lloar. | Escaladei. | Gratallops. | La Morera de Montsant (the highest village at 780 metres or feet). / La Vilella Alta. | La Vilella Baixa. | Masos de Falset. | Poboleda. | Porrera. | Solane del Molar. | Torroja del Priorat.

Soil: Andrew Jefford (Decanter, March 2018) describes the soils in Priorat as being dominated by a ‘dark brown, dense, light-absorbing llicorella, variously translated as slate, or schist, both of them interrelated metamorphic rocks.’

Climate: Andrew Jefford (Decanter, March 2018) points out that Priorat lies on the same latitude as Bari in Puglia in Italy, making it a southern European wine region in the north of Spain. The mountain of Monsant to the north gives protection from cold northern winds, with mountains to the east and west too, like a “protective horseshoe”, he says. Jefford cites the Consejo Regulador’s climate data from 2010 (taken from Torroja del Priorat in the centre of the region) which puts Priorat’s annual average temperature (14.5 degrees Celsius),rainfall (518mm or 20.4 inches) and sunshine hours (around 2,600 hours) in the same league as Chateauneuf du Pape (14.8 degrees Celsius, 650mm or 25.6 inches rainfall, 2,800 sunshine hours). Alcohol levels of around 15.5% are the norm.

Alcohol levels: Alcohol levels of 15.5% are the norm here.

Grape varieties: The main grape variety is Grenache Noir (or Garnacha in Spanish, and Garnatxa in the local Catalan) with 730 hectares (1,826 acres) or 40 per cent of the DOQ total of 1,844 hectares (4,557 acres), says Andrew Jefford (Decanter, March 2018). The second most planted variety is Carignan Noir (Carinena or Carinenya, sometimes Samso) with 510 hectares (1,260 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon with 234 hectares (580 acres), Syrah with 228 hectares (563 acres) and Merlot with 99 hectares (246 acres). Jefford points out that the Bordeaux varieties and Syrah arrived in the 1980s in the early years of the Priorat renaissance, having been seen as more qualitative than the local Grenache Noir and Carignan Noir, and hence a way of giving Priorat credibility as a fine wine region, but as few are still planting these varieties they will, Jefford says, fade from the scene.

Economics: High labour costs, low yields of 25hl per hectare (10.1hl per acre), and a need for oak ageing means Priorat wines are priced in the premium and super premium category.

Stylistic evolution: Andrew Jefford (Decanter, March 2018) says if there was a general failing of some of the most ambitiously made Priorats of the 1980s and 1990s it was the ‘dry combination’ of raisined grapes and new oak.’

Wineries

Capafons-Osso. | Cims de Porrera. | Clos Erasmus. | Clos i Terrasses. | Clos Figueras. | Clos Mogador. | Costers del Siurana. | Mas Alta. | Mas Doix. | Mas Martinet. | Nit de Nin. | Sao del Coster. | Terroir al Limit.

Bibliography

Andrew Jefford, ‘High ambition’, Decanter, March 2018, p.48-57.