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Priorat – wild and wonderful!

The village of Porrera, nestled in the Priorat mountains

I had no idea what to expect when we went to Priorat last week. Driving south on the autopista from Penedès, we just followed the main route along the Catalonian beach resorts, and there was no indication that we were about to enter one of the new cult regions in the world of wine.  Exiting the Reus off ramp we promptly ended up on winding roads that led us to the spectacular mountains of Priorat, and a string of isolated villages with names like Gratallops which, according to my travel companion Marina, means something like ‘scratching wolves’ .  Fortunately we didn’t see any of those, but the sight of the vineyards, clinging up slopes that are almost perpendicular, took my breath away, and it was easy to understand that the only ‘vehicle’ being used on these slopes during harvest time is the ‘burro’, the trusty old donkey.

The soil is incredibly poor, it’s almost a joke to call it soil, since it seems to consist mostly of crunched and pulverized stone.  Many believe the secret to Priorat’s success lies in its amazing, granite-like soils, known to the Catalan people as llicorella and to the rest of Spain as pizarra.  The llicorella soil resembles slate or shale rock, intertwined with tiny bands of reddish-brown earth.  The name llicorella stems from the Catalan word for licorice, descriptive of the sometimes black, shiny rocky substrate with a high mineral content. On the one hand, easy to break apart, on the other virtually indestructible, it forces the roots of vines to dig very deep in search of water. So much the better for the vines that must strain to produce grapes, which will increase the quality of the subsequent wine. On average, one vine produces between half  to one bottle of magnificent wine. The relatively high price of Priorat wine is thus understandable.

The Priorat as a wine region was almost wiped out because of a Phylloxera infestation, but, like the soil, the vintners of Priorat is a hardy bunch, and banded together to unite their resources. It has truly payed dividends and today, wines from this spectacular place are highly praised – and priced!

Whites: Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca, Pedro Ximénez, Chenin Blanc,
Reds: Cariñena, Garnacha, Garnacha peluda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.                The classic Priorat grapes in italic, the others late(r)comers


Next time; Winetasting, adventures and fun in Priorat!




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