Priorat wine region
The Priorat wine region
Priorat, or Priorato, is a wine region located in Tarragona, a province south of Barcelona. The microclimate and soils are unique here. Priorat is an agricultural region with great history and wealth. The vineyards grow near the olive trees and the colors of the landscape are unusual and spectacular. The peculiar characteristics of these wines are due to the slanted terraces in which the vines are grown and can be seen on both sides of this wine route.
Priorat - History
The name Priorat derives from the Latin. The Priory of Scala Dei gives name to the region. There is an interesting story about why the Carthusian monks decided to establish in the Priorato de Scala Dei. It was around 1163. A shepherd told a priest about a vision he had: angels descended from a celestial ladder. Soon after the monks started the construction of the Priorato de Scala Dei: the priory of the stairway of God. A small village grew next to the Priorato to provide service to its needs and the region took the name of the monastery. Monks were gone a long time ago but the ruins of the monastery remained and are actually being restored. One of the wineries in Priorat holds the name of Scala Dei and its wines are actually produced at the old priory cellars.
In the 1980s a group of winemakers arrived in Priorat with a vision. They purchased plots with excellent vineyards and also planted new ones. They agreed their wines would be called Clos plus a surname and get in this way differentiated with other wines being produced locally. Some of these wines soon received international recognition and amongst their names we find Alvaro Palacios, Costers del Siurana, Mas Martinet, and Rene Barbier son. From a model based on vineyard and production in a cooperative style, they moved to their own premises. They basically shaped the region of Priorato the way we know it today.
With less than 5% of grapes harvest being white, Priorat is a land of red wine. Garnacha (grenache) and Cariñena are the main two local red grapes. New plots also experimented with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc. You can find more about the wineries and wines in Priorat in this post.
Priorat wine region – Terroir
The small river Siurana, which is a tributary of the Ebro river that crosses Rioja and which ends in Tarragona at the natural park of the Ebro river, runs through the region and is fed from sources that arrive from the mountain range. Priorat is a highland location, difficult to access and this explains its terroir. The bedrock is vital and provides the schist stratum which is perfect for the vines. In areas where the soil can be eroded and become dry, schist is perfect for the vine-roots, which manage to find apertures and reach for water.
If the bedrock is key, the llicorella soil becomes indispensable. These are soils that alternate layers of slate and quartzite, its colors one could say resemble a tiger skin: black and goldish.
Viticulture becomes almost heroic in this field. Yields are very small and the terraces and slopes mean anything but an easy life for viticulture. But the reward in the quality of grapes awaits, and what a reward it is! Priorat is the greatest Spanish niche for red fine wine. Experts from all over the world have turned their eyes and prices rocketed while low yields stayed. New wineries arrived but the areas where vines can grow and produce the real miracle of Priorat are limited.
The Priorat Wine Route
The physical geography of the Priorat region is very mountainous and difficult in cultivating vines. Wines from this area have gained an enormous reputation and this is due, without a doubt, to its challenging landscape. The difficult landscape does not allow for large-scale production from these lands. Small properties along with the strong dedication of grape growers and winemakers are what make possible the small number of wineries in this area, some of which can be visited. If you are planning to visit Priorat from Barcelona, Priorat wine tours depart daily from Barcelona. Alike with closer regions in Barcelona like Penedes or Alella, traveling to Priorat implies longer driving time and there is by far less demand. This implies most tours run as private tours and they are pricey. The experience is however fantastic and no red wine lover will be disappointed. The landscape in Priorat is dramatic and the wines are a pure reflection of nature.
The mountainous region of Priorat is located near the Mediterranean Sea in the province of Tarragona (Catalonia). It is a world completely opposite to that of the nearby coastline. Rugged and rocky land, beautiful views, centuries-old vineyards cultivated on terraces, hidden monasteries, and villages that camouflage with their environment where silence and stillness reign, that is, except for the time of the grape harvest.
The Montsant Massif
The Montsant massif was declared a natural park in 2002 by the Generalitat de Cataluña. It is a true symbol of Priorat and Catalonia. The villages are located in the surroundings of the massif and it is from the massif itself that we can enjoy the best views to the interior and to the exterior with the sea in the background.
The Village of Siurana
Siurana, with just 37 inhabitants, is a beautiful village of cobblestone streets and houses located on a spectacular spot 737 meters above sea level. From Siurana, you can see the massifs of the Montsant, La Gritella and the Prades mountains. Due to its fortified location, in Siurana, you will find the remains of what was once a Muslim fortress and the last stronghold before the reconquer of Catalonia in 1153. Another highlight of the village is the Romanesque-style church of Santa Maria. The regulatory body of the DOC Priorat is located between Siurana and La Viella Alta. Doc Priorat
La Vilella Baixa
The town of Vilella Baixa is both an architectural and environmental landmark due to its privileged location. The most famous street of the town is the “carrer que no passa” which is situated at the top of a hill and opens into a square. The 18th-century church dedicated to St. John the Baptist and the Romanesque bridge with its three arches are other highlights of Vilella Baixa.
Due to its characteristic red color, this town is known as “Vila Vermella” and is 1,000 meters above sea level. The red stone stands out against the green of the vegetation and the gray of the surrounding rocks.
The sunrises and sunsets cause the village to illuminate naturally with beautiful fire tones. Among its architectural monuments are the Renaissance fountain situated in the Plaza Mayor and the Santa María church.
Falset and the Castell del Vi
Falset is the capital of Priorat and a perfect starting point to begin your wine route of the region. Falset has hotels, restaurants, wine bars, and an interesting wine museum called Castell del Vi. The wine museum has a modern infrastructure with three floors but is located within the walls of the old castle of the Counts of Prades.
La Cartuja de Escaladei
Declared a monument of historic and artistic importance in the municipality of La Morera de Montsant, this monastery was built in the 12th century on lands donated by the king Alfonso el Casto. It was the first Carthusian monastery founded on the Iberian Peninsula.
La Cartuja played a very important role in the history of Priorat. Today, it is in a state of reconstruction. From the size of its restored historic buildings and others that remain partially in ruin, we can get a good idea of the importance of the monastery back in the day.
Bellmunt del Priorat Mining Museum
This mining development named “Mina Eugenia” was active until 1972. Today, the first underground level can be visited at approximately 35 meters deep. It consists of another 19 levels reaching a depth of more than 600 meters making it the biggest and most important mine of the Priorat region.
Rising 1,163 meters high, this rock is the highest point of the Montsant mountain range and is located above the village of Cornudella de Montsant. To reach this point, you must follow route number eleven of the Montsant Natural Park departing from Albarca. The views from this point are breathtaking and, on a clear day, you can even see Mallorca and the Pyrenees in the distance.
Interpretation Center of Olive Oil
A very interesting stop during your wine touring through Tarragona, this center was opened to promote knowledge of olive oil on a cultural and economic level. It is located in the municipality of Margalef (calle Dels Molins, 60) and is also a visitor information point of the Montsant Natural Park.
The section dedicated to olive oil is presented as if it were a mill in which you can observe and understand the entire process, from the grinding and pressing of the olives to the conservation and distribution of the final product.
Once the capital of Hispania Citerior of the Roman Empire, Tarragona has preserved magnificent buildings from this period. The city walls date back to the third century BC although they were reformed in medieval times. The ruins of the Roman amphitheatre from the second century are very close to the sea. Here is where more than 12,000 spectators enjoyed the combats between gladiators and wild beasts.
Tarragona´s Roman aqueduct, also called the aqueduct of Les Ferreres, is from the age of the emperor Augustus (first century B.C.) and was declared a national historic monument in 1905. In 2000, it was added to the list of Spain´s World Heritage sites by UNESCO. It is about three kilometers outside of the city and consists of two levels of superposed arches.
Also recommended, is a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Tarragona and next to it, the Paleo-Christian necropolis from the third century. The Santa Maria Cathedral was curiously built over a Muslim mosque which itself was built over a Roman temple dedicated to the god Jupiter. Near the Cathedral and in the heart of the medieval town, you can find Cavallers street, the archways of Mercería street, the Casas dels Concilis, del Dega and de la Ciutat. The modern area of Tarragona goes from the Rambla Nova to the Paseo de las Palmeras and the Balcón del Mediterraneo, from which you have a magnificent panoramic view over the sea and the El Miracle beach. Some architectural highlights of the area are the Casa Ripoll, the Mercado Central and the chapel of the Colegio Jesús i María which was designed by Gaudí.