With its arid soil and inhospitable landscape, Priorat (Tarragona) has traditionally been one of the poorest regions of Catalonia. In the late 1970s, no one gave a dime for a group of visionaries' plans to revive the once thriving wine industry. And yet they did it: Priorat is now one of the most important wine regions in the world.
Spain currently has only two DOCas, the most prestigious qualification in Spain, namely Priorat and Rioja. The Priorat region has a rugged and spectacular mountain landscape, with narrow vineyard terraces on steep slopes. The 'tiger skin soil', here called llicorella, consists of red slate with small mica (quartz) particles that strongly reflect the sun. Old vines of cariñena (carignan) and garnacha (grenache) with extremely low yields form the basis for one of the most powerful and concentrated red wines in Spain. The vines root deep in the fissures of the slate floor, in search of water and food. It's like tasting this ultimate survival instinct of the grape in the wine itself. With so much character, the Priorat is one of the best and most expensive wines in Spain and is sold all over the world.
The Priorat region is located in the province of Tarragona, half an hour's drive from the city. There are many ways to experience her wine culture. Several wineries offer beautiful tours and tastings, such as with our friends from Prior Terrae where both the wine and the environment are truly magnificent. In terms of culture, a visit to the Carthusian Monastery Escaladei (Cartuja de Escaladei) is a must, where from 1194 to 1835 its monks spread the cultivation of vineyards. A visit to the vineyards can be easily combined with a beautiful mountain walk. For example, the beautiful Priorat wine GR-174 is named after the hiking trail of the same name. See also the useful site of turismepriorat.org
Priorat may be a name in the wine world today, but nobody talked about it until the early 1990s. It is true that the world-renowned oenological faculty of the Californian Davis University had already written in the early 1980s that Priorat had the "best terroir in the world". But everyone laughed that off. Want to make top wines here? In this region of poor farmers where you literally have to cut into the slate on steep slopes to plant vines?
But in the eighties everything changed because of some friends, passionate about wine. They firmly believed in the unique mineral subsoil of slate, which limits the yields and forces the vines to search very deep for their food. The first harvests were promising, but their financial resources were limited. In addition, their strong egos clashed, and they each set up their own estate in the early 1990s. The movement had started, however, and was unstoppable.
On many family estates that only grew grapes for sale, a younger generation started making their own wine. A major asset here were the 50 to 100 year old vines of Grenache and Carignan, which were often neglected but which were "restored" on a large scale.
Priorat experienced a true renaissance. Demand rose, especially from abroad, and prices rose with this demand. The steep slopes, the slate soil and the low yields mean that a Priorat wine is never really cheap. But also that the quality can be very high and that everything is forced to remain small-scale and artisanal.
A few years ago a wonderful documentary about the Priorat was presented at IDFA. The trailer itself (see video above) is already compelling. In this documentary, vinologists, admirers and the winegrowers involved themselves (now renamed 'The Magnificent Five') tell the special history of the Priorat wine. About those difficult early years, when the banks did not dare to lend the five of them money; and about the meteoric rise that followed, when the world's foremost wine journalist decided to embrace their product and the wine world was at their feet overnight. “You can make a great wine, and you can have the best marketing,” says one of the wineries, “but the best wine is a wine with a story.”