In May I took my third trip since 2005 to Priorat, an ancient wine region situated at the base of the Montsant bluffs. Priorat is located about 90 minutes south and inland from Barcelona, the anchor city of Catalonia in northeast Spain. The wild flowers were in full bloom, the weather was ideal, and the Garnacha, Carignan and other vines were beginning to pop. Compared to colorless March or scalding July, Priorat and its tiny villages, serpentine roads, terraced vineyards and slate-based hillsides never looked so inviting.
I was participating in a program called EspaiPriorat, an inaugural gathering of international wine press and trade members sponsored by the Denominación d’Origen Qualificada of Priorat. We had come to this sparsely populated, hard-to-reach region to meet the winemakers and winery owners and to taste their burly blends of old-vines Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Present were the modern pioneers—Alvaro Palacios, René Barbier of Clos Mogador and Sara Pérez of Mas Martinet—but also many of the newer players who, over the past decade or more, have helped propel Priorat to its current level: one of Spain’s top three regions for red wines along with Rioja and Ribera del Duero. In that category I also include Vall Llach, Mas d’en Gil, Clos Figueras and Joan Simó, among others. And there were some new discoveries as well: a lusty pair of red blends from Ferrer Bobet, which has only a few vintages under its belt; the stately white wine made from the Garnacha Blanca grape by La Conreira d’Scala Dei; and Terroir Al Límit’s Burgundian-styled red and white wines made by the South African-German team of Eben Sadie and Dominik Huber.
Alvaro Palacios 2009 Camins del Priorat: “The roads of Priorat” draws from vineyards in several of the nine miniscule towns located within the Priorat region. Made from 40% Garnacha, 40% Carignan and 10% each Cabernet and Syrah, this “starter” Priorat retails for under $20 and offers an introduction to the style, flavors and power of the Priorat.
Mas d’en Gil 2007 Coma Vella: At 60% Garnacha with 20% Carignan and 10% each of Cabernet and Syrah, this is a concentrated, higher-end wine with a powerful brandied cherry character, schist and length. About $45 a bottle.
Ferrer Bobet 2008: A pure and crisp expression of Priorat terroir. Lively, deep and showing elegance as well as power. About $60.
Mas Martinet 2008 Bru: A 5-grape blend led by Garnacha that’s dark and handsome, with softer tannins. This is the “front door to the Priorat,” says winemaker Sara Pérez. About $30.
La Conreira d’Scala Dei 2010 Les Brugueres: An elegant, quasi-Burgundian Garnacha Blanca that’s tropical on the nose but offers steely acidity and a tight, lemony character. Great for seafood and summer vegetables. About $30.
For more Priorat reviews, click here.