Priorat: the Reinvention of a Country

作者: Diego Bonnel        来源: 《酒典》|原创作品 谢绝转载

Priorat has a long vinicultural history, but it only in the last 30 years that the appellation has found its place in the competitive global wine market, being now recognized as one of the top appellations not only in Spain but on a wider basis. In fact, it has something bewitching that many other areas do not have: a rugged, difficult to cultivate but attractive landscape, voluntary growers and winemakers and above all people with an unshakable faith in their own future.


A Unique Concretion of Elements

The Priorat appellation is located south of Catalonia, between the Camp of Tarragona and the Terres d I’Ebre. The administrative district (or comarca) of El Priorat encompasses not only the DOQ Priorat but also that of the Montsant DO. Mountainous ranges surround the DOQ. It is demarcated to the North by the Serra Major, which protects the vineyards from the Mistral, a violent northwest wind. To the South, the massif of Colledejou, the Serra de Pradell and the Serra del Mollo to the West, act as natural barriers against the damp sea winds. To the West, on the other side, the Serra de la Figuera and the hills of slate temper the warm west winds and prevent the mists that rise up from the great river Ebre to attain the vineyards.

The Siurana river crosses the whole appellation from northeast to southwest, hollowing a depression surrounded by mountains. The DOQ Priorat covers 17.600 ha, of which only 1.900 are planted with vineyards, most of them in terraces due to the steep gradient of the slopes they are cultivated on. Only 5% of the surface is dedicated to white grapes, the rest is exclusively dedicated to red varieties.

Climate is mainly continental, despite the short distance between the appellation and the Mediterranean sea (less than 20 km). Winters are cold and summers very hot, with notable temperature differences between day and night, allowing an even and slow ripening and conferring the grapes a natural freshness, contributing to balanced wines. The average annual rainfall is around 450 - 560 ml. Average annual temperature is between 14 and 15ºC.

Vineyards grow in a rugged, mainly slate terrain, qualified by Josep Pla, one of the major Catalonian authors as “tempestuous, cataclysmic, of forbidding geological violence”. Slate is locally called llicorella and is undoubtedly the main soil type. On the slopes, the flat llicorella stones that cover the surface of the soil diminish the magnitude of erosion that normally occurs on steep gradients. Decomposed slate strata alternate with other siliceous material, occasionally with the presence of calcareous foundations. Llicorella soil evolved on the Palaeozoic schist of the Carboniferous period. It is a relatively soft rock, which has two main advantages: it is both cool and damp enough to nourish deep-rooted vines in the dry summer period.

However, the DOQ (denominacion de origen calificada, namely the qualified appellation of origin) has also granite soils. They are the result of the decomposition of Precambrian granite rock. This soil type is mainly found in Bellmunt and towards Gratallops.

In any case, soils are shallow and mother rock is usually between 10 to 15 cm below the surface. They are poor in organic matter. Due to these circumstances, yields are naturally low, in average one kilogram per vine. Hard soils combined with a relatively dry climate makes that the development of the vines is limited and thus the influence of diseases also quite restricted.

Altitude has also a great role to play in the final quality of the wines of Priorat. The most appropriate altitude is around 500 meters, with vineyards planted on hillsides facing north and east, in an attempt to avoid sunburns and to benefit from the Mediterranean breezes. At higher altitudes, the soils will lack a schistous component and thus the expected minerality; at lower altitudes, the soils will be too fertile and temperatures more elevated, giving more common wines.

Traditional and New Grapes

Vines are traditionally bush-trained even though different trellising methods are also allowed. Vine density has to be between 3.000 and 9.000 vines/ha. Irrigation is only allowed to assure the survival of the plant or to improve the quality of the grape. Harvest must be hand made. The maximum authorized yield in the vineyard is 39 hl/ha for red grapes and 52 hl/ha for white grapes. In the winery, the maximum yield is 65 liters of wine per each 100 kg of grape.

As far as red grape varieties are concerned, garnacha and samso (the local name of Carinyena – carignan in French) are the recommended grapes. These two grape varieties represent 66% of all red grapes and 62% of all plantings. On the other hand, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, tempranillo, merlot and syrah are the main authorized ones. The main authorized white grapes are garnacha blanca, macabeo, pedro ximenez, chenin, moscatel and viognier, to name the main ones.


It is the most widely planted grape in the appellation with over 700 ha. The grapes ripen late and are drought resistant. It adapts to different soils types and responds well to several pruning methods. It yields high alcohol content, garnet-color wine with hints of ripe red fruit and an average to high acidity. Old vines are up to a great extent responsible of the personality and style of the Priorat wines.

Samso (Carinyena):

With almost 500 ha planted, it is the second most popular grape variety. It ripens between the mid and late season, that is why itis not suited to late-ripening regions. Very drought resistant and adapted to poor soils, the grapes yield deep-colored wines with astringent, occasionally bitter tannins. Samso vines cultivated on hillsides produce, when yields are restricted high-quality wines with fruity aromas and mild tannins.

Garnacha blanca:

Less than 50 ha are planted in the DOQ. Highly resistant to drought and well adapted to poor soils, it responds well to close pruning. The yellow aromatic wines have high alcohol content, average to high acidity and tend to oxidize quickly. Although the DOQ produces few whites, some are of superior quality. It is a local variety offering a great oenological potential.

A long history, …

The Priorat as a wine-producing region has a long history since the Carthusian monks from Provence settled in the foothills of the Montsant range in 1.194 to cultivate the land with vines. They fostered the expansion of agriculture with a focus on viticulture. They conducted oenological studies and defined which soils were suited for which grape type. However, the XVIIIth and mainly the XVIIIth centuries were close of the expansion of the vineyards and the wine trade – until phylloxera hit the region in the late XIXth century.

… with encouraging recent evolutions.

Phylloxera stroke the vineyards of the Priorat at the end of the XIXth century, in 1893. Porrera was the first village to be hit. In only a few years, no vineyard was left. No single hectare of the 17.000 that were planted at the time survived. It would take almost a century for the region to recover from the great moth. The Priorat was recognized as a vinicultural area to be protected in 1.933. That year the Consell Regulador de la Denominacio d’Origen Priorat was constituted. DOQ was obtained in late 2.000, that is almost seventy years after the first official recognition. (There are only two DOQ in Spain: Rioja and Priorat).

As late as the early 1990s, there was a declining viticultural activity in the Priorat area. Last cooperage closed in 1992 and at the beginning of the 1990s, there were a mere ten private wineries (without taking the cooperatives into account). Now, less than twenty years after this dejected situation darkened the region, a renaissance has taken place. There are 102 wineries producing wine (against only 23 back in 1.998) and 606 growers taking care of the vineyards. Simultaneously, the area under vine grew from 878 ha in 1.998 to the current figure.

Thanks to its wines, Priorat is back on track, firmly believing that its wines are the way ahead. Great groups such as Osborne, Pinord, Codorniu, Torres, Freixenet and others have set wine producing facilities in the DOQ. Following the expansion of the area under vine and the new commercial success, prices followed suit, climbing from 3,14 €/liter in 1.996 to above 10 €/liter in the most recent period. Suddenly, what was not worth harvesting had become a treasure to cherish and care for, like by magic.

What happened in between? Well, it is necessary to go back to the 1.980s, when a handful of enthusiasts disembarked in the Priorat with the firm belief that there was a real potential to recover and show the world the true possibilities of this unique terroir. This crazy team (nobody at the time truly believed in their success), were Rene Barbier (Clos Mogador), Carles Pastrana (Clos de l’Obac – Costers del Siurana), Josep Luis Perez (Mas Martinet), Alvaro Palacios (Finca Dofi), Daphne Glorian (Clos Erasmus) and some others. These trailblazers were called with many names: the magnificent group, the Robinson Crusoes of the new Priorat, etc. Since the first vintage was released to the market, things have changed. The Wine Advocate and Robert Parker praises the wines of the Priorat, auctions at Christie’s from Álvaro Palacios’s L’Ermita post skyrocket prices. Besides, many magazines show the area on their front cover, exports reach half the world and critics and sommeliers are often bewitched by the Priorat wines.

Rene Barbier(Clos Mogador)、

Carles Pastrana(Clos de l’Obac – Costers del Siurana)、Josep Luis Perez(Mas Martinet)、

Alvaro Palacios(Finca Dofi)、

Daphne Glorian(Clos Erasmus).

Part of the success of this new generation of passionate winemakers is due to terroir (llicorella slopes) and the existence of old vines, in form of sparse grapes that persistent, stubborn growers have kept and cultivated come hell or high water. Their work was hard, in a time when nobody would give a cent for the grapes they cultivated. The gradient is so steep (35% in average) that no agricultural machinery can enter the vineyard. Besides, people must be conveniently harnessed not to fall down. Hard manual work is needed to keep the grapes, prune them and harvest them.

The whole region is now buzzing with projects, all pushed by the new wine revolution: more cellars, wine museums, information centers all geared towards the wine culture.

The Style of the Wine

Due to naturally low yields and the fact of harvesting fully ripe grapes, the wines are concentrated and at the same time offer a good balance where freshness is undoubtedly part of the equation. Compared to other areas, the wines from Priorat have higher alcohol content and more color. They are generally full bodied and have a structure that allows a medium to long ageing, depending on the vintage and the wine-making techniques used in the cellar.

Below, you will have some notes on wines of different styles: a classic wine is Les Terrasses from Alvaro Palacios, which has recently been revamped after a period of less precise winemaking. Then some notes on a classic Priorat wine – Clos Monlleo from San Genis I Vaque winery – and a modern style wine from Trio Infernal, the Riu.

Alvaro Palacios. Priorat

Les Terrasses 2009. 14,5%.

Samso, garnacha, cabernet sauvignon, syrah. 12 months in French oak barrels, 20% new and 80% of second and third year.

Bright purple color of medium intensity.

Clean developing nose of medium intensity. Spices, black ink, black cherry, black berries with a slightly smoky touch completed by discrete wood and mineral notes and a dash of tobacco with dry Mediterranean herbs (thyme, rosemary). Also plum and licorice. After a few minutes, bramble also appears, along with a dash of plum, both in the nose and palate.

Dry in the palate, with medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus ripe tannins, medium flavor intensity and medium plus body. Licorice, black plum, black pepper, fine oak in the background, stony notes, smoked aromas, black berries (blackcurrant), dry aromatic herbs, black olive and a trace of graphite.

Medium plus length. Balanced and with certain complexity; ready to drink but will improve over the next 4 to 5 years.

Celler San Genis I Vaque

2004 Clos Monlleo. 50% carinyena (vineyards of 30 years), 50% garnacha (50 to 80 year olds vineyards). 15%.

This is a traditional style of Priorat, different for instance from the Riu wine from Trio Infernal below. It has dark fruit along with earth, herbs, smoke, tobacco and discrete toasty oak aromas with a good density. The tannins confer the wine a powerful structure with a dry grip of tannin and baked fruit. However, the wine is elegant and offers a good general balance. In the palate, it combines dark chocolate with a hint of coffee. It is very pleasant to drink now and for the next 3 years.

Trio Infernal

Riu 2010. Garnacha, carinyena, syrah.

The vintners are Laurent Combier (Domaine Combier, Crozes Hermitage), Peter Fisher (Chateau Revelette, Aix en Provence) and Jean-Michel Gerin (Domaine Gerin, Cote-Rôtie).  Fascinated by this region, they decided to settle in the heart of this valley, in Torroja del Priorat.

Trio Infernal Riu 2010 is a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah grapes from vines grown at 300-500 metres altitude in Llicorella soils, following an organic farming. It is fermented in stainless steel vats at controlled temperature; the extraction is conducted by means of manual punch-downs, macerating for 25-30 days. It is aged for 12 months in 500 l French oak barrels of one or two years.

Cherry red color, intense, with violet tinges. Bright, with abundant tears.

In the nose, very intense and fruity with ripe black fruit, with a present alcohol and floral notes. An important mineral background stands over the balsamic and spiced hints, which take more time to appear. In the palate, it is tasty, structured, and quite persistent with a vibrant acidity and powerful but nice tannins. There are hints of violet and licorice.


作者简介:Diego Bonnel, 为多家酿酒厂担当葡萄酒顾问,在数个 国家的官方机构任职,超过 25 年。每年品尝数千款酒,特 别了解(以西班牙和葡萄牙为主的)伊比利亚半岛和法国 的葡萄酒。

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