By Marianne Frantz
Over time, I have discovered that the best way to truly get your arms around a wine region is to experience it firsthand. Most recently, I had the opportunity to do just that in Priorat, Spain where I discovered that every bottle of Priorat tells an ancient story, deeply rooted in stone.
With just one swirl, these age-worthy reds whisper tales of wind-swept slopes and rocky isolation. They were born from the soils first tilled by the silent Carthusian Monks of Provence in 1194. Located in the foothills of the Montsant Mountains (85 miles from Barcelona), Priorat’s sheer beauty and solitude attracted the monks to build the Monastery Scala Dei and bring their wine knowledge to the region.
The vineyard slopes are stony and relatively infertile, making them poor for crops but stellar for grapes. Priorat’s stony slate, called llicorella, gives the wines a distinctive character. Hot, arid conditions coupled with rugged terrain give Priorat a landscape like no other wine region. At first sight, one may wonder why vineyards were ever planted here. The answer is in your wineglass.
Thankfully, this ancient region has preserved its culture of producing quality over quantity. One of only two DOCa (or DOQ) qualified wines in Spain, the torturous growing conditions force the vines to struggle, thereby making less fruit. Yet, each berry is concentrated and high in quality. The result is juicy, intense Garnacha, Syrah, Cariñena and Cabernet Sauvignon, bottled as blends or single grape varietals. Starting in 2013, wineries have incorporated a labeling scheme to strengthen the identity of Priorat’s 12 newly-designated zones. Bottles from one zone may be labeled Via de Vila along with the zone such as Scala Dei or Porrera – once again tying the wine to the soil.
Much like the wines it represents, the Priorat DOQ logo tells a story. It depicts a staircase with angels ascended to heaven. Steeped in history, it marks the spot where the monks built the altar for the Monastery, which led to the planting of the vines. You might say it is Priorat’s Stairway to Heaven. And in my world, that rocks. Cheers.
This article is excerpted from American Wine School’s upcoming textbook. Marianne Frantz is the school’s founder.