Priorato is situated to the north west of Tarragona and produces some of the best and most sought after wines in Spain. Naturally, this means they have their price but it is possible to sample the wines of Priorato without taking out a second mortgage.
The region is also only one of two, along with Rioja, that has been awarded the highest quality category DOCa. Unlike Rioja, however, all of its wines are excellent.
The region of Priorato takes its name from the 12th century Carthusian priory (priorat) founded in 1163 which started local viticulture. Legend has it that a shepherd had a vision on the site of the priory, in which he saw angels descending a heavenly ladder, which gave its name to the priory Scala Dei. The name lives on today in one of the regions bodegas still making wine in the cellars of the old priory.
What makes this area produce such unique wines? The answer as always lies with grapes, climate and soil. Lets start with the soil. It is perfect for vines and consists of red and black slate and quartz which conserves and reflects heat. In addition, the roots of the vines have to go deep in search of water, nutrients and minerals.
The region as a whole is very steep and mountainous which means that working the vineyards is very labour intensive and hence, costly. In addition, the area is small and production is limited.
There are a number of microclimates in the area but essentially the summers are long dry and hot and the winters cold. This tends to produce wines of a high alcohol level. The minimum allowed by the DO is 13.5%!
The main grape varieties are the Spanish varieties Garnacha and Cariñena together with the French Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The vines are old and produce low yields which again increase the cost. However, this means that the wines have a delicious intensity of flavour. All Priorato wines are blends of different grapes sometimes as many as four varieties.
When taken together the three elements of grapes, soil and climate produce Priorato wines that are sought after throughout the world. The most famous bodega in the region is that of Alvaro Palacios who makes three wines the most famous and expensive of which is LErmita.
A reasonably priced newcomer from the region is Nita made by a young, enthusiastic female winemaker called Meritxell Palleja who has worked with Alvaro Palacios. The wine is a classic Priorato blend of 45% Garnacha, 35% Cariñena, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah. The wine has a delicious red fruit character with underlying mineral hints typical of the region. The wine has a pleasing freshness as well as structure with a persistently pleasant aftertaste. It is a well-priced introduction to the wines of Priorato the first rung on Gods ladder.
Cheers! Salud! Prost! Skål! Proost! Santé! Slainte! Kippis!