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LIVE 24-SEVEN PRIORAT CATALONIA’S GREATEST VINEYARD ZONE


“During the day, I don’t believe in ghosts; at night I’m a little more open minded.”


I have no idea who said this, but it pretty much sums up my attitude to anything that may go bump in the night on All Hallows Eve… and because we need a dark and delicious wine to go with all things dark – I choose Priorat!


Priorat is Catalonia’s greatest vineyard zone; a rocky and sparsely- populated mountain stronghold with hilltop villages, monastic connections and ownership of most of the region’s land led to it being called Scala Dei, or ‘God’s Ladder’ to you and I…


Montsant is generally lower and surrounds the area much like a bangle. Its own wines are less challenging than those of Priorat and its growing conditions less fierce; both lie inland from Tarragona.


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Prior to phylloxera (vine destroying bug) arriving in the area, the region had flourished as a source of blending wines for the Rhône and elsewhere and many of the Priorat vineyards were abandoned.


Those working to re-establish Priorat as a fine-wine region did so by planting the ‘international’ varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah however few continue to plant these varieties today. Cabernet grapes are very small and harsh conditions here produce raisins, not grapes!


The Merlot growth cycle can be short, which can in turn be difficult to manage. Only Syrah was thought capable of adding something interesting and so traditional varieties of Garnatxa (Catalan name for Garnacha or Grenache) and Carinyena/Cariena (Carignan) were used to give the wines greater body and more complex flavours such as liquorice, peppercorn and black fruit. Most contemporary Priorat wine producers now use a combination of Cariñena, Grenache and Syrah in their blends. However, although most Priorat producers have moved away from French influences and grapes, I still think the Bordeaux-style blends were initially responsible for turning the spotlight on Priorat and in particular Clos Mogador, Clos Dofi, Clos de L’Obac, Clos Martinet and Clos Erasmus.


Priorat’s vineyards are often high in altitude and daytime temperatures can reach 40˚C, but night-time temperatures drop below 20˚C; these diurnal differences are one reason why acidity levels in the wines, especially those made from Carinyena, are balanced and the mineral quality is often put down to the rocky schist soils.


Until about 2010 or so oak was used very liberally, comparable to sucking on an oak lozenge. Oak is now used with much more discretion, alongside glass demijohns and clay jars, while others favour cement. Those who remain committed to using oak are returning to large oak tuns and older barrels. The minimum required alcohol for Priorat is 13.5 per cent. Harvest too early and grapes will struggle to reach this and what is gained in freshness may be lost in length, complexity and depth.


Organic and biodynamic approaches have a serious following here and, it is believed, help create intrinsically balanced fruit, or fruit that delivers full flavour ripeness at lower sugar levels.


There is a new classification for Priorat wines called Los nombres de la tierra. Nombres de la tierra comprises sub-classifications such as Vi de Vila, for wines made at several estates within the region; Vinya Classificada, for wines with truly exceptional qualities; and Gran Vinya Classificada, for extraordinary wines that reflect the nature, tradition and of course, the wines of Priorat. The finest of these are fruit driven, with a distinctive ‘black stone’ mineral quality and with a complex flavour profile – a quite unique mix of fruit, spice and savoury elements that become layered with age.


A word to the wise, though not set in stone obviously…look for producers that use Cariñena in their blends, especially if looking for recent vintages (anything made after 2014). However, if your


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