For readers who want to learn more about this Catalonian region, our in depth article on Spain’s second qualified DO after Rioja explains its distinctive character, soils and landscape, along with the latest wine making practices and styles. Those who were put off by the region’s powerful, overwhelming reds, should give it a second chance. We recommend to start with the most refined producers and try the fresh, fragrant 2013 vintage, which further emphasizes the new trend towards less structured reds.
Most wines reviewed below were tasted at Espai Priorat but we have added a few more that we have tried in Madrid and Barcelona over the last few weeks.
Priorat can be approached without having to spend a fortune. Although it has traditionally been an expensive and often elitist region, the good news is that Priorat is now within everybody’s reach.
Gotes del Priorat 2013, Clos del Portal. Owner and architect Alfredo Arribas says that the 2013 vintage was “a blessing” since freshness was badly needed after several extremely dry years. This blend of Garnacha and Cariñena is made with relatively early-harvested grapes that ferment with stems in a kind of carbonic semi-maceration. It offers minerality at an affordable price together with fresh balsamic notes, lots of red and black fruit and some lively acidity. A Priorat crowd-pleaser for all kinds of occassions.
Formiga de Vellut 2012, Domini de la Cartoixa. This winery is committed to using only organic grapes whether they come from their own vineyards or, as it is the case in this wine, sourced from other wine growers. This is a popular blend of Garnacha (60%), Cariñena and Syrah displaying fully ripe red fruit and creamy notes coming from the oak-aging. Somewhat warm as it is common in the dry 2012 vintage, but well-balanced and medium-bodied, making it pleasant to drink.
Find this wine at Enterwine (€11.70).
Pisarres 2013, Costers del Priorat. A blend of Cariñena and Garnacha, some stems were added during fermentation, thus displaying the natural freshness that is characteristic of the 2013 vintage.Fully ripe, spicy fruit with plenty of balsamic character and the kind of herbaceous edge you usually get from stems. This is a truly fresh red: a clear example of the lighter and more approachable styles in the area.
Find the 2012 vintage at Vinissimus (€14.50).
Maius Clàssic 2013, Maius. This small producer only makes two wines. He sources grapes from an area known as Barranc de la Bruixa in La Morera del Montsant, one of the highest villages in the appellation. Located on the foothills of the Montsant mountain, the soils in this area contain schist, chalk, clay and stone. The wine is a blend of Cariñena (50%) and Garnacha (40%) with some Cabernet Sauvignon displaying very ripe fruit (blackberries, redcurrant) with a marked eucalyptus character coming from the fresh, high altitude location and Cariñena’s bright acidity. Around €15.
Martinet Bru 2013, Mas Martinet Viticultors. With its cool retro label, this is a safe bet to get consumers to know Priorat. The mix of international and local grapes creates a complex character without leaving behind the full-bodied nature of Priorat’s reds. Distinctive inky and kirsch notes are followed by a savory, juicy palate.
The vast majority of Priorat wines are blends. In the early 1990s, producers used to work with international grapes like Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah to give support to indigenous Garnacha and Cariñena, but today wine growers have learnt to make the most of these two native grapes which happen to complement each other splendidly.
Coma Vella 2010, Viticultors Mas d’en Gil. Located in Bellmunt, in the southern area of the appellation, Mas d’en Gil is one of Priorat’s oldest estates. A Garnacha-based red with some Cariñena and Syrah, Coma Vella has shown great consistency over time. It performed particularly well in 2010, a classic, well-balanced vintage. Nice kirsch character backed up by a lively juiciness that makes for a truly pleasant sip.
Cirerets 2010, Bodegas Mas Alta. Founded by a Belgian couple, Michel and Christine Vanhoutte, together with other partners, this winery hired Michel Tardieu and Philippe Cambie to consult for them since the beginning. Cirerets occupies a middle ground among the winery’s range of wines. A blend of 50 to 70 year-old Cariñena and Garnacha vines, both grown at high altitudes in La Vilella Alta, the wine displays a concentrated purple colour. This is a powerful, persistent Priorat made in a rather rich style but with enough acidity to balance the alcohol. Only 6,000 bottles were made.
Find this wine via Wine Searcher.
Porrera Vi de Vila 2012, Celler Vall Llach. This wine is made from some of the plots that were used to make the old Vall Llach, which were later split into the current top-of-the-range Mas de la Rosa and this Porrera Vi de la Vila. A blend of 80% Cariñena and 20% Garnacha, it displays outstanding balance for a 2012 vintage, with fully ripe red fruit, an inky slate edge, sweet spices, enveloping texture and a long finish. A vi de vila with a sense of place reflecting Porrera’s distinctive freshness. Only 5,000 bottles produced.
Planetes de Nin Porrera Vi de Vila 2012, Familia Nin Ortiz. Clos Erasmus’ winemaker Ester Nin owns some family vineyards in Porrera, where this 70% Garnacha and 30% Cariñena blend is sourced. Fermented in oak vats plus in one amphora, this middle of the range wine offers good proof that balance was possible in the dry 2012 vintage. Despite the kirsch, orange zest and warm slate notes, there are plenty of Mediterranean herbs bringing freshness. On the palate, the vibrant acidity prompts a second (and third) sip. Being particularly obsessed by freshness, Ester chooses picking dates based on pH data.
Clos Mogador Vi de Finca 2013, Clos Mogador. This vintage won’t be released until September, but it’s definitely much more approachable and less concentrated that 2012 (“vineyards really felt relieved after two years of severe drought”, said René Barbier Jr.). As expected from one of Priorat’s pioneers in the late 1980s, this is a classic, powerful, full-bodied red packed with fruit (blackberry, kirsch) coming from a traditional blend of international and local grapes (Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet and Syrah). It costs around €55 in Spain.
Although an exception rather than the rule, they are among the most exciting Priorat wines at the moment and are the result of working Cariñena and Garnacha old vines separately — many of them grown in the most distinctive terroirs. It is worth remembering that Álvaro Palacios has practically turned his Finca Dofí and L’Ermita into single-varietal Garnacha reds. At Espai Priorat I also had the chance to try the 2005 vintage of Cims de Porrera Garnatxa, which was developing well with petrol and dark mineral notes enhanced by fine grained tannins and savoury notes on the palate.
El Casot 2012, L’Infernal. Since the 2011 vintage, the project founded by Rhône and Provence producers Combier-Fischer-Gerin has been making tiny quantities of single-vineyard wines connecting different grapes to different soils. This south-facing Garnacha plot grown on brown slate is a good example. With more minerality rather than structure, it explores freshness in a way that reminded me of some Garnachas from Gredos, near Madrid. Far more exotic is the 100% Syrah (the owners are Rhône lovers after all) Face Nord planted in their highest plot in Torroja (500-550 metres) facing north and grown on gneiss. The 2013 vintage was absolutely fruit-driven (red plums) with great depth and powerful tannins that will need some bottle time to soften.
Eda 2012, Franck Massard. Only a barrel of this delicious, crisp and spicy Cariñena was produced, but its finesse makes it worth trying. It comes from some of the highest plots (550 metres) planted in an amphitheatre-shaped vineyard located in Poboleda. The name of the wine comes from the last three letters of the village.
Fin this wine at Epicure Wines’ online shop.
Ferrer Bobet Selecció Especial Vinyes Velles 2012. All the wines from this winery founded by Monvínic owner Sergi Ferrer Salat and winemaker Raül Bobet (who has his own winery in Costers del Segre) are seamless and almost perfect on a technical level. Their top red is Selecció Especial, a dark and mineral (almost salty) Cariñena with heaps of black fruit, ink and spice yet displaying bright acidity on the palate. This is one of the freshest 2012 I’ve tasted so far. It won’t be released until December but it could be an excellent Christmas gift for Priorat lovers.
The 2011 vintage costs €52 at Enterwine.
Masdeu de Scala Dei Vi de Vila 2011, Cellers Scala Dei. This is the most airy red within Scala Dei’s “Garnacha project”. Grapes are sourced from the highest altitude plot up in the Montsant mountains (over 700 metres) with vines planted on red clay and chalk-limestone soils. This is a fresh, juicy and persistent Garnacha with plenty of Mediterranean herbs; a really impressive Priorat to look for and taste at least once in a lifetime. The far more expensive Terroir al Limit’s Les Manyes (around €190 in Spain), comes from a nearby vineyard; it was the first wine to obtain a highly evocative and aromatic approach to non-schist Garnacha.
Find Masdeu 2011 at Vinissimus (€72.95).
1902 Centenary Carignan 2009, Mas Doix. One of the most acclaimed recent releases in Priorat, this red comes from very old Carignan vines, the first to be planted after phylloxera, thus the name 1902. Very deep and scented, it doesn’t hide Cariñena’s herbaceous edge which adds character to the wine. This is a massive, concentrated red with graphite notes and pronounced acidity leading to an endless finish. A wine to lay down as it will surely develop beautifully. Only 800 bottles. Expensive.
Find the 2010 vintage at Vinissimus (€199,5).
The renewed interest for white wines is at odds with the total area bearing white grapes in Priorat. Little more than 100 hectares are planted, but an increasing number of wines that will surely appeal to wine geeks are being produced under this category.
Les Brugueres 2014, La Conreria d’Scala Dei. This is an excellent unoaked Garnacha Blanca (White Grenache) with a reasonable price to boot. Grape are macerated with their skins for three days, and then fermented and aged with their lees for three months in stainless steel tanks. There is plenty of white fruit, some pineapple and Mediterranean herb aromas followed by vibrant acidity coming from the high altitude plots located in the Escaladei area where grapes are sourced from —three vineyards planted in 1923, 1946 and 1945 that add distinctive minerality on the finish.
Find this wine at Vinoví (€14.90).
Gratallops Vi de Vila Escanya-Vella 2012, Celler Ripoll Sans. This wine brought the exotic note to Espai Priorat. A rare white made with an ancient grape called Escanya-Vella, which literally translates as “old women’s choaking”, of which only 400 bottles have been produced. The 2012 vintage fermented in barrel, but since 2013 flexitank egg-shaped tanks are used instead. The wine displays smoked, lychee, herbs and fruit zest aromas followed by a dry character specially marked on both sides of the palate.
Around €22 in Spain. More details here.
Terra de Cuques 2013, Terroir al Limit. Although Terroir al Limit is best known for their reds, this blend of Pedro Ximénez (90%) and Muscat (10%) is a complete oddity in Priorat and is available at a lower price than most of their other wines. Muscat leaves its mark on the nose (fresh grapes, sweet fruit, herbs) but the wine feels crisp, with a delicious citrus character and chalky notes on the palate. The style is as unexpected as highly pleasant and inviting.
Massipa de Scala Dei Vi de Vila 2013, Cellers Scala Dei. This is the first white released by Cellers Scala Dei’s as part of its renewed portfolio. Massipa is the Catalan word given to the wife who used to tend the estate. Grapes come from an east-facing plot with clay soils and some gypsum near Masdeu. It displays ripe white fruit and petrol aromas with citrus notes on the background. This is a full-bodied wine with crisp citrus acidity and a lanoline, toasty character. Clean finish with no traces of oak.
Find this wine at Celler de Gelida (€30).
Nelin 2013, Clos Mogador. René Barbier’s classic barrel fermented Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo has radically changed to include skin contact and natural yeasts. The nose displays baked apples and a marked aromatic character and feels much fresher on the palate with citrus fruit, plenty of Mediterranean herbs and hardly any oak notes (currently the wine is aged both in oak and concrete tanks). 5.000 bottles were produced.
The 2012 vintage costs €32 at Vinissimus.