Priorat: Region Overview
Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain to qualify as DOCa – the highest status for a Spanish wine region according to strict regulations.
Predominate grapes are Garnacha and Cariñena, with secondary grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot. Garnacha (Spanish) or Grenache (French) is a very popular grape because it is ideally suited to the dry climate of the area. This region has an impressive amount of old vines which help create rich, concentrated, velvety reds. In general, the Garnacha will be aromatic, a bit higher in alcohol and is picked earlier, while the Cariñena adds tannins, acidity, and structure.
There are significant contrasts between the south and the north valleys and the higher elevation areas close to the mountains. It is a good idea to sample from wineries in both valleys to get a taste of the differences. The region is quite mountainous, so each vineyard seems to have its own microclimate. In some areas, the hills shelter the vines, while in others, winds from warmer areas can blow onto the grapes.
Most old vineyards plantings are in costers, or bush vines. The DOC restricts each plant to 1.5 kilograms of grapes, so those planted in a terraced style typically have to be pruned back. The DOC also regulates the water, and after two years from planting you are not allowed to water the vineyards. Combing these low yields with the difficult landscape is why you won’t find any large-scale production.
Some similarities exist with Portugal’s Douro Valley first in terms of the slate soil called llicorella in Spanish. They also share steeply terraced vineyards requiring everything to be done by hand. This soil composition holds the minerals and requires the vines to go deep to find water. Based on the age of the vines the roots can differ from 15 meters to upwards of 50 meters in 100-year-old vines.
You will also find fennel, thyme, and lavender growing wild throughout the vineyards adding secondary flavors to the wine.
There is much to explore in the wines of Priorat; from the grape varietals to the various terroir expressions.
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