10 Priorat wines you should try at least once in your lifetime
At first people said that those who wanted to make the best wine in the world from a poor and abandoned land in Priorat were crazy, because this is a small region nestled in the mountains, in the heart of Tarragona (Catalonia).
Wine was introduced here in the 12th century by a group of French monks who set up their priory and built the Carthusian monastery of Scala Dei, named after the legend of two knights who, by order of the king, travelled the country to find a suitable site for the Carthusian monks to settle. Arriving at the foot of the Montsant mountain range, they were surprised to see it was so beautiful and asked a local shepherd where they were. The shepherd gave them the information they were looking for and also explained that in the heart of that valley, on the highest pine, there was a stairway that the angels used to ascend and descend (Scala Dei, God’s stairway).
At that exact point, angels descended, touching that rough land with a halo of mysticism and mystery that is now the birthplace of some of the best and most sought-after wines in the world: the magic of Priorat was born.
That group of “crazy hippies”, led by two great names in winemaking, René Barbier and Álvaro Palacios, transformed the reputation of Priorat wines from rough and undrinkable to elegant, silky, sensual landscape wines... and now these are some of the most exquisite and sought-after wines in the world.
Here is a list of 10 great Priorat wines that you should try at least once in your life.
You can’t talk about Priorat without talking about L'Ermita, the masterpiece of Álvaro Palacios. The charming boy with the motorcycle and the guitar has succeeded in producing one of the best wines in Spain (and the world) in this remote place that is home to wines known for their rustic sharpness.
Álvaro Palacios left the family winery in Rioja to follow René Barbier in the search for the perfect wine and came across the vineyard where L'Ermita was born: 1.4 hectares where a beautiful garden of hundred-year-old Garnacha vines grow on a slope. L'Ermita is undoubtedly a cult wine, with all the subtle elegance of Garnacha and the character of Priorat slate. Only 2,000 bottles are produced, and they are by no means accessible to everyone. If you are one of the lucky ones, don’t miss the opportunity to try it out.
We have to thank René Barbier for his free and rebellious spirit, for utopia made reality, for his obsession with the expression of terroir and his great love of nature. René Barbier is undoubtedly the prophet of Priorat, and Clos Mogador is his flagship wine. A blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards planted on steep slopes that are cultivated with the utmost respect for the environment. A fresh and elegant landscape wine. Undoubtedly, one of the best wines in Priorat.
Josep Lluís Pérez is one of the “Priorat Magnificent 5”, another of the driving forces behind the transformation of what was once the most economically depressed region in Catalonia. A biologist by training, he left a comfortable life to live with his family in one of the most remote corners of the world. The adventure began with Clos Martinet, the wine of the 1980s, made by those who believed in Priorat. A cult wine that is made from a blend of different varieties and that is a faithful reflection of the most classic and recognisable Priorat. Incomparable depth, warmth and elegance.
In the group known as the “Priorat Magnificent 5” there was a woman, the Swiss Daphne Glorian, who met René Barbier and Álvaro Palacios in the United States and they invited her to join the group that would set up in Priorat. Daphne Glorian was the first to achieve 100 Parker points for a Priorat wine, the 2004 Clos Erasmus, an achievement she repeated with the 2005 vintage. With Laurel, she opens the door to the exclusivity of Priorat, a wine not to be missed, that is much more accessible than Clos Erasmus, but which expresses all the character and elegance expected of a world-class wine.
Scala Dei existed even before the Priorat revolution. This winery, whose name pays homage to the history of the Carthusian monks, who brought the first knowledge of winemaking to Priorat, offers a journey through time. Masdeu is a deep and complex wine, which aims to recover the hundred-year-old essence of the Priorat origins but dressed with a long-lasting elegance. A single-variety Garnacha which, unlike other Priorat wines, doesn’t grow on licorella (slate) soils but on high altitude plots where clay-limestone soils predominate. A red wine that is, without a doubt, a ladder to climb up and touch the sky.
Christopher Cannan, founder of the Europvin wine export company, introduced Priorat wines to Robert Parker, who was quick to express his enthusiasm for what was happening in this remote part of Catalonia. Years later he set up his own winery, Clos Figueras, where now, and with the unconditional support of his daughter, winemaker Anne Cannan, he produces some of the most outstanding wines in Priorat. Clos Figueres is his most representative wine. An expressive blend of Garnacha and Cariñena, Priorat’s queen grapes, which stands out for its elegance, complexity and freshness.
Lluís Llach, a well-known Catalan singer-songwriter, inherited the house that his mother left when she died, in Porrera, one of the nine villages that make up the Priorat region. While “the magnificent five” arrived to start the Priorat revolution, Lluís Llach and his friend, notary Enric Costa, arrived in Porrera to make wine and started a social revolution that would allow growers to charge fair prices according to the quality of their grapes. And that’s how Vall Llach was born.
Finca Mas de la Rosa is their most special wine. It comes from a hundred-year-old vineyard planted on an 80% slope, on slate soils. There are very few bottles made of this single-variety Cariñena, one of the only three Gran Vinya Classificada wines of the DOQ Priorat, and it is elegant, expressive, sincere and has plenty of personality.
Dominik Huber finished his studies in Economics and Marketing in London, but while still studying he got his first internship at the Mas Martinet winery, with Sara Pérez, in Priorat. A few years later he repeated the experience and met Eben Sadie, a renowned South African winemaker, and in 2001 they decided to start their own winery, Terroir al Límit, a declaration of intent. This relatively young winery makes extraordinarily fine wines, where the landscape is expressed with purity. One example of this is their Les Manyes, a limited edition Garnacha Tinta that is practically ethereal, and whose delicacy has been recognised in its 2016 vintage with 100 Parker Points.
Sara Pérez is the panther of Priorat. She walks with feline elegance through each of her vineyards that she takes care of and transforms just by looking at them. She runs things with character and a firm hand, but also understanding and respect for the land, which as a child she disowned and wanted to escape from when her father, Josep Lluís Pérez, joined the “magnificent five” group and the whole family had to move to Gratallops. Priorat’s magnetism won Sara over, who has not only taken on her father’s legacy at Mas Martinet, but also reveals what she is capable of doing with the fruit that grows in this fantastic terroir. Els Escurçons offers an elegant, fresh and sensual Garnacha Tinta that is as enigmatic as Sara and as captivating as Priorat.
Priorat is not just a land of great red wines. For some time now, the production of great white wines thankfully continues to grow. Pedra de Guix is one of the exquisite specimens that is worth discovering and tasting, at least once in a lifetime. Produced by Terroir al Límit, it is made with Macabeo, Garnacha Blanca and Pedro Ximénez, three varieties that coexist in perfect harmony and make Pedra de Guix a mineral and slightly saline white wine with an elegant barrel aging, which offers a nod to Burgundy but with all the character of the Priorat.
Here are 10 wines that are an experience in themselves that, if you have the opportunity, you must try for yourself. Fortunately, the DOQ Priorat is full of surprises. Take the plunge and travel through its spectacular steep landscapes with impossible vineyards and discover that magnetism that everyone talks about. You are sure to be won over!