The Priorat wine region, just 2 hours southwest of Barcelona, sits at the foot of the magnificent Montsant Mountains. The wines of Priorat are considered some of the world’s finest wines and the landscape begs for a leisure hike from village to vineyard on the well-marked trails. 11 charming villages dot the landscape and remind you of the Tuscan hilltop towns of Italy.
The Priorat region is named for its monastery, or priory, which is an area chosen in the 12th century as a quiet place with mountains that seemed closer to God, for an order of Carthusian monks. They named the monastery Scala Dei – or “God’s ladder”. The monks revived the winemaking tradition from Greek and Roman times. The world has rediscovered the quality of the wines of this region after centuries of obscurity. The unique terroir* and characteristics of the area from vineyard distinction encompasses the “licorella” metamorphic black soil, the mountain elevations and the arid climate. These factors are perfect for forcing the taproots of the vines to extend as far as 80 feet, thus concentrating the grape’s juices.
Priorat is one of only 2 DOQ’s (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada) or “Quality Wine Designation” areas in Spain. Rioja is the other. Many of the Priorat wines have been ranked by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator magazine in the lofty 95-100 point range. Red, white, rosata, and fortified wines are made in this region, but the red blends of Garnacha, Cabernet, Carinena, and Syrah dominate. 80% of the wines made in this region are exported to other countries, with much of that wine going to the USA and UK.
British-born and local resident, Rachel Ritchie, is the perfect guide and translator for the regional visit. Rachel knows all the winemaking pioneers, the deep history of this region, and the impressive terrain of steeply terraced slopes. Rachel can arrange single or multi-day excursions ranging from in-depth wine tastings to leisure or active hiking expeditions.
Priorat wine pioneer René Barbier’s wife, Isabel Meyer, and son René serve as our first hosts of the day. Founder, René Barbier, foremost pioneer of the region, is a native of the Catalan region but started his winemaking career in Rioja prior to purchasing land in Priorat. His wines garnered the attention of the wine world first in 1989, and his recent “Millésime 2008” red blend, made with 120 year old vines, garnered a coveted 98-point Robert Parker rating. See Professional Wine Ratings. His son, René, also a winemaker gave us a tour of his winery and describes the changes in winemaking these last few years. YouTube: Tour of Clos Mogodor Winery.
Our wine and food pairing experience began after visiting the breathtaking steep-terraced vineyards. We were served lunch on the wisteria covered patio of Clos Figueras’ winery’s restaurant. Chris Cannan, Bordeaux exporter and Europvin- a Bordeaux-based negociant company, is the Clos Figueras estate owner. He and his family remodeled this restaurant and is building luxury guest rooms onsite for visitors as part of the Enoturism movement of this region.
Clos Figueras’ food and wine pairings include locally produced paté and sausage. First, we were presented a white blend of Viognier, Garnacha Blanc, and Chenin Blanc matching our salad followed by their renown red wine blends paired with Priorat produced meats. The “Font de la Figuera Priorat” red blend, which has achieved 90-96 point ratings in recent years, is a blend of Garnacha, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes harvested from 65 year-old vines and then aged in French oak. Black raspberry, smoky minerality, violet floral, licorice, and mocha aromas join flavors of dark berry and tart cherry complete a very long, clinging finish.
Continuing the Priorat tour we visited Scala Dei Cellars and Mas Doix wineries in the Poboleda village. Scala Dei’s winery is on the site of the former monastery and offers a “drop by” approach to tasting. Mas Doix’ mother and daughter winemaking team offers tastings by appointment. Their 100+ year old Garnacha and Carignan old vines yield powerful red blends
Find Mas Doix 2010 Salanques, $45.99 92-Point Rating.
Priorat is now anticipating a rise in tourism and more economic development while trying to preserve the environment and its history and traditions. Priorat’s transformation from a sleepy, back-roads wine region to one of the world’s premier viticulture areas is stunning. The blend of first quality wines and breathtaking but rugged landscapes attracts the active wine connoisseur and trekker alike. Combining a trip to Barcelona with this magical wine region offers more diversity and adventure than the normal city sightseeing excursion.
*What is Terroir? Terroir is a French term representing the special combination of climate, soil, geography, elevation, and growing conditions that are unique to a vineyard or viticulture region. Does this wine express the aromas, body, and flavor of its terroir? Does it have a “sense of place”? The good ones often do.
Cal Compte – Torroja del Priorat
Owners Anna Figueras and Joaquim Calvo have created small hotel that can accommodate weekend getaways or business meetings. This is a stately, historic home that was adapted to a modern hotel. Moderate $$.
Mas Figueres – Marçà
This is a lovely restored house from the 19th century was recently renovated to accommodate the ecotourism interest in the region. Perfect for outdoor celebrations, weddings, and wine tasting at their cellars.
Cal llop (Wolf’s Den) – Gratallops
Owned by Cristina JImenez and Waldo Bartolomé, the Hotel Cal Llop is a 13th century home and restaurant rebuilt at the end of the 18th century and features rooms with modern aesthetics. Gratallops – Priorat (Spain) Tel: 977 83 95 02 Email: [email protected] Moderate to premium $$$.
Mas Ardèvol – Porrera/Falset – This rural Bed and Breakfast was one of the pioneers for the “Casa Rural” movement started over 20 years ago in the Tarragona Province. The owner, Gemma Peyri, is great chef and this is a perfect location to set off on wine tasting and hiking. Moderate $$.
Email: [email protected]
El Celler de l’Aspic – Falset (mix of modern and traditional) – chef is sommelier and wine list is extensive
El Cairat – mix of modern and traditional Catalan dishes in an intimate setting is one of the best Falset dining options. Falset, Spain.
La Cooperativa – Porrera – more off-beat, excellent traditional food with an exotic twist (curry). Features a great wine list for Porrera wines.
Brots Restaurant – a very modern restaurant featuring wacky seafood and fish dishes – unusual for Priorat. This relatively new restaurant promises to be superior as their chef used to work in Michelin-starred restaurants in Cambrils and Belgium. 43376 Poboleda, Spain
Els tallers – (at Hotel La Siuranella) – This restaurant features a very modern ambience and top notch food. Again chef came from a Michelin-starred restaurant. Siurana, Spain
Les Figueras (profiled in story) – This winery restaurant features incredible gardens, good wine and traditional food based on salads, grilled meats. Gratallops, Spain
Quinoa – This restaurant has a great lunchtime menu and good value for money. The young chef specializes in rice dishes. Calle Miquel Barcelo 29, 43730 Falset, Spain.
The Priorat region is accessed from an easy 1½ hour train ride from Barcelona train stations arriving in Marçà Falset or Reus, or by arranging private transportation with tour guides.
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