Priorat Wine Region: Small but Mighty

You can hardly find Priorat, or Priorato in Spanish, on a map, it is so small. This tiny Catalonian wine region covers just 4,151 acres. Rioja, in comparison, is over 150,000 acres in size. However, Priorat’s impact on the world of wine is large. Named for the local monastery, or priory, that began producing wine in the 12th century, Priorat lies inland from Tarragona in northeastern Spain. Monks of the Scala Dei (Ladder of God) monastery planted the hillsides around the priory with wine grapes. The vineyards flourished thanks to the area’s fertile volcanic soil and dry summer climate until phylloxera’s arrival in the late 1800s. The Priorat wine industry was ruined.

Winemaking returned to Priorat in the early 1950’s, and the region became a D.O. (an official Denomination of Origin) in 1954. Winemakers soon rediscovered the area’s unique soil, known as “licorella” in Catalan. Licorella consists of tiny bits of slate, both red and black. Like the soil around Italy’s volcanoes, Priorat’s topsoil is perfect for grapes. Priorat’s unusual climate also leaves its mark on the region’s wine grapes. Summers are typically hot and dry, but winters can be cold and windy. Priorat is quite hilly, 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. Priorat’s wines reflect these distinctive pairings of soil and microclimate.

In Priorat, Garnacha grapes preD.O.minate. Reds are made from Garnacha tinta grapes; Garnacha peluda, Cariñena and Cabernet Sauvignon are also permitted. Priorat’s white wines are made from Garnacha blanca, Macabeo and Pedro Ximénez. However, only about six percent of Priorat’s vineyards are planted with white wine grapes.