Driving in to the Land of Priorat
Our Spanish wine roads, courtesy of Freixenet, led us from the Ribera del Duero to Rioja (named after the Rio Oja) to the Priorat, a land reminiscent of where I live in western Colorado. That is, dry, rolling hills, with generally poor rocky soils and scattered vegetation where water is available, cold winters and short, hot summers. Of course, with the Mediterranean Sea “right over those mountains,” it has a maritime climate, which makes a huge difference in growing seasons.
Priorat also is a Denominacion de Origen Calificada (D.O.C.), one of only two in the entire country (Rioja is the other).
This means the DOC wines are subject to more-strenuous regulations and winemaking standards than non DOC wines. The Priorat is in the southwest part of Catalonia and its language, Catalan, is vastly different from Spanish, which made it impossible to understand to this novice Spanish student.
The Catalonians are justly proud of their separate identities and culture, and the name “Priorat,” which appears on wine bottles, is the Catalan spelling while “Priorato” is the Spanish. Garnacha (elsewhere known as Grenache) becomes the primary red grape here, with supporting roles played by Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Our first stop was the remote (we switched to a smaller bus just to make the narrow road) bodega of Viticultores del Priorat where associate winemaker Maria-Jose Bajon led us a on quick hike up the hill and a view of much of Priorat, a fairly small region – about 20,000 hectares or less than 50,000 acres, of which about 1,800 hectares are vineyards.
She told us the wines often reflect the unique “licorecella” soil, comprised of black slate and quartz mica outcropping, both of which influence the wines. In addition to the Morlanda red (a 50/50 blend of Garnacha and Caiñena) the winery makes a very interesting Morlanda white (Morlanda is the name of the small peak on whose slopes the winery was built) made of Garnacha Blanca, which Maria-Jose told us almost went extinct before the winery “rediscovered” it and a small percentage of Macabeo.
“We are not a trendy winery,” she warned us, her dark eyes flashing as if we would dare make such a proposal. “We want to make wines that are true to the traditional (grape) strains we cultivate.”
The vines mostly range in age from 25-40 years old although I thought (Hey, my Spanish isn’t nearly as good as her Catalan) Maria-Jose said there were some nearly 60. She also gave much credit to earlier efforts more than 30 years ago by pioneering winemakers Rene Barbier and Alvaro Palacios in establishing the Priorat as a winemaking region.
My tasting notes recall the 2007 Morlanda red (the most recent vintage released) as being quite delightful, having dark cherry flavors and some notes of licorice and dark chocolate. The Morlanda white had hints of white peaches, citrus and fresh apple and crisp acidity.
A remote winery with distinctive wines and an associate winemaker conveying a hawk-like intensity in being true to the land and the grapes it produces.