If Bordeaux is in a class by itself when it comes to succulent French red wine, then what could we find that’s comparable in Spain, with such depth, dark fruits, and complexity? While Rioja may be the quick answer, Priorat, the only other DOC (denominación de origen calificada [denomination of qualified origin]) wine of Spain, is very much worth closer attention.
Priorat is in the province of Tarragona, in Catalonia, just over 70 miles from Barcelona. The first recorded evidence of grape growing and wine production in the region dates from the 12th century, when the monks from the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei, founded in 1194, introduced the art of viticulture to the area. In addition to winemaking, they also built mills and taught different farming techniques to the community. The prior of Scala Dei ruled as a feudal lord over seven villages in the area, which gave rise to the name Priorat. The monks tended the vineyards for centuries until 1835 when they were expropriated by the state, and distributed to small land holders.
Priorat is arguably Catalunya’s best vineyard area. It is a small, mountainous region, barely populated, with villages scattered on hilltops and valleys throughout. The Siurana and Montsant rivers cut through the valleys of Priorat, helping with irrigation and climate. Although recently, the global warming debate may have touched the area, as the Siurana may be drying up, causing concern among some winemakers. Waves of grape vines line many of the hill and mountain sides with Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The Priorat area is of volcanic origin which contributes interesting characteristics to the soil. The basis (called llicorella in Catalan) is made of reddish and black slate with small particles of mica, which reflects the sunlight and conserves heat. The roots of the vines are forced to reach the base for water, nutrition and minerals. These soil characteristics help keep the vines firmly anchored to the earth during the strong winds and storms which are common to the area.
In the early 1980s, winemaker René Barbier convinced other regional winemakers to plant new vines and to focus on quality control over large volume production, something that was already challenging given the hilly topography. The new vines were named Clos, and they marked a turning point in wine production in the Priorat region. Bulk wine production was phased out, replaced with small business and family owned wineries. This new direction would help earn the region of Priorat its DOC classification, shared only with Rioja, and help put Priorat in the global spotlight in the 1990s.
José Moura Selections has a long history with Spanish winemakers, especially in this marvelous region. We hope you can enjoy these exquisite examples of Priorat wine from our portfolio: