Don’t let its small size fool you. Although Rioja may be larger in terms of acreage and fame, the Spanish region of Priorat is just as renowned. Like the former, Priorat is one of only two DOCa-designated areas in Spain, the most prestigious appellation level in the country.
However, unlike the bold, Tempranillo-based blends of Rioja, Priorat’s wines are mostly made from blends of Grenache and Carignan, known locally as Garnacha and Cariñena. These wines are generally more restrained in style, though they are highly drinkable and age-worthy. Get to know this world-renowned region and five of its most noteworthy producers below.
Where is Priorat?
Priorat is a wine-producing region in Catalonia, Spain. It is located due west of Tarragona and approximately 90 miles southwest of Barcelona.
What kind of wine is made in Priorat?
Priorat is known for its balanced and age-worthy red wines produced from Garnacha and Cariñena. Along with Rioja, Priorat is one of only two DOCa-designated appellations in Spain, which is the highest rank for a wine-producing area.
What are the main grape varieties of Priorat?
Red grapes account for over 90% of Priorat’s plantings. Garnacha — spelled locally as Garnatxa — and Cariñena make up approximately 65% of that number, with smaller amounts of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot comprising the majority of the rest. Less than 8% of Priorat’s vines are planted to white varieties, though the large majority that are, are represented by Grenache Blanc, or Garnacha Blanca.
Who are the benchmark producers of Priorat?
Although small, Priorat is home to a number of high-quality producers that focus on structured, age-worthy wines. Alvaro Palacios’ wines tend to be some of the more affordable bottlings. In the pricier realm, Clos Mogador is a renowned wine, while Terroir al Límit is a sought-after up-and-coming producer.
What are the subregions of Priorat?
Priorat is home to 12 subzones:
- Masos de Falset
- Solones de El Molar
- Vila de Bellmunt
- Vila de Escaladei
- Vila de El Lloar
- Vila de Gratallops
- Vila de La Morera del Montsant
- Vila de Poboleda
- Vila de Porrera
- Vila de Torroja
- Vila de la Vilella Alta
- Vila de la Vilella Baixa
5 Priorat producers to know:
While Beaujolais has its Gang of Four, Priorat has the Gang of Five, and Álvaro Palacios is one of its core members. Palacios settled in Priorat in 1989. Four years later, his L’Ermita wine helped the appellation to develop the sought-after reputation it has today. A supporter of classifications from the start, Palacios was a key figure in instilling regulations within Priorat, believing that the region’s wines were capable of as much balance and elegance as those from great neighboring regions.
Álvaro Palacios Les Terrasses Priorat 2018 (~$39)
Palacios studied oenology in Bordeaux and eventually went on to work under Jean-Pierre Moueix at the world-renowned Château Pétrus. Today, Palacios credits the majority of his winemaking philosophy to this prestigious estate. Les Terrasses is a blend of 55% Garnacha and 44% Cariñena with a 1% smattering of white grapes. The wine is rustic yet refreshing and finishes with a dusty, palate-coating finish.
Álvaro Palacios Priorat Finca Dofi 2019 (~$79)
Finca Dofí was the first plot that Palacios bought back in 1990. It is from the summit of this famed vineyard that his highly sought after L’Ermita wine is made — which generally runs about ten times the price of Finca Dofí. This much more approachable cuvée is made mostly from Garnacha with less than 20% Cariñena, locally referred to as Samsó. The wine ages in large French foudres, or large wooden vats, prior to bottling and exhibits an accessible yet age-worthy elegance.
Bodegas Mas Alta
Bodegas Mas Alta is the brainchild of Belgium-born Michele and Christine Vanhoutte. Shortly after founding the estate in Vilella Alta in 1999, the duo hired Rhône Valley legend Michel Tardieu to take on the estate’s vinification. Today, Mas Alta comprises 86 acres of vines, most of which are quite old and are dedicated to Garnacha and Cariñena. Younger vineyards have been planted to Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a growing number of white varieties. Mas Alta’s signature style is luscious and bold, without ever losing sight of balance or site specificity. Even Robert Parker himself has noted the quality-to-price ratio of these incredible wines.
Bodegas Mas Alta Priorat La Basseta 2016 (~$59)
La Basseta is produced mostly from younger Cariñena cultivated at high elevations in La Vilella Alta. Over time, more Syrah has been added to this organically-farmed blend. This flavor-packed wine ages in a combination of French barrels and concrete and exhibits the signature richness of the estate, yet remains balanced by bright acidity and distinct florality.
Bodegas Mas Alta Priorat La Creu Alta 2016 (~$96)
For a comprehensive view of how Mas Alta’s style has evolved over time, look no further than this top-tier cuvée. Crafted from 100-year-old Cariñena, this varietal wine is partially destemmed, fermented in concrete, and aged for 12 months in 80% new French oak followed by six months in larger foudres prior to bottling. In the past, La Creu Alta boasted small amounts of Garnacha and/or Syrah, though as appreciation for the Cariñena variety has grown, the estate has since decided to bottle the variety on its own. In addition to certified organic farming, Mas Alta has also begun experimenting with biodynamic practices in their vineyards.
Clos Mogador was founded by Tarragona-born Frenchman René Barbier back in 1979. After training at prestigious oenology schools in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Limoux, Barbier returned back to Spain and produced his first wine, Clos Mogador, back in 1989. Four years later, his France-born wife, Isabelle Meyer, joined him at the estate in 1993. The couple’s Nelin, Manyetes, and Espectacle de Montsant cuvées followed shortly after, and the rest was history. Today, the couple’s son René Barbier Meyer spearheads all winemaking at Clos Mogador, in addition to running his own winemaking project in the DO of Montsant. Clos Mogador wines are produced from organically-farmed fruit and are made in extremely small quantities.
Clos Mogador Nelin 2019 (~$49)
Priorato Blanco may be the minority wine in the region, though this benchmark expression is not to be missed. Crafted mostly from organically-farmed Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo, this wine sees a small amount of skin contact prior to native yeast fermentation. Aging is done in a combination of wood, cement vats, clay pots, and stainless steel, which adds a variety of textures and weight to the final wine. In recent years, the family has also been experimenting with adding the native varieties of Trepat Blanc and Cartoixa to the blend.
Clos Mogador 2017 (~$85)
This flagship wine from Clos Mogador is a must-have for Spanish wine lovers everywhere. While its base of Garnacha and Cariñena is similar to many other Priorat reds, this wine is marked by a relatively high percentage of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% and 10% respectively. Think of this wine like Spain meets France, in the best possible way.
With origins dating back to 1194, Scala Dei is the oldest winery in Priorat. The estate was established by Carthusian monks the year that they arrived in Tarragona, though the winery didn’t release bottles bearing the Priorat name until 1878 — rendering them the first from the region to do so. Today, the estate comprises 173 acres of vines from which they produce a handful of cuvées, most of which are red though a small amount of blanco and rosado are also crafted. In short, Priorat wouldn’t be what it is today without the pioneering work of Scala Dei.
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Scala Dei Prior Priorat 2017 (~$23)
Crafted from a Garnacha-dominant blend rounded out with Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, fruit for Scala Dei’s Prior cuvée comes from the region’s signature llicorella soils, which are slate-based. The wine ages for two years in a combination of French and American oak. This wine depicts an international twist on the classic Priorat blend.
Scala Dei Cartoixa Priorat 2017 (~$38)
Unlike the international influence that Scala Dei’s Prior cuvée depicts, the estate’s Cartoixa cuvée focuses on a traditional assemblage of Grenache and Cariñena. The wine is vinified with a portion of whole clusters in a combination of concrete and steel, followed by two years of aging in foudres and barriques. Expect a structured, ripe, and fruit-driven wine that drinks well in its youth but promises to evolve with time.
Terroir al Límit
Terroir al Límit is the passion project of German winemaker Dominik Huber and South Africa native Eben Sadie. After meeting at Mas Martinet back in 2000, the estate’s Pérez family aided the duo in purchasing some fruit, which led them to create their first wine, Dits del Terra. In the years that followed, the cuvées of Arbossar, Torroja, Manyes, Tosses, Pedra de Guix, and Terra de Cuques were added between 2003 and 2011. Today, their project, which goes by the name Terroir al Límit, has helped pioneer cru-level wines of complexity and cellar-worthy potential in the heart of Priorat. All wines at Terroir al Límit are produced with whole clusters and are aged mostly in concrete tanks. These bottles are some of the most sought-after Spanish wines on the market.
Terroir Al Limit Soc. Lda. Pedra de Guix Priorat 2017 (~$59)
Huber and Sadie first produced Pedra de Guix, their signature white cuvée, back in 2008. Crafted from a blend of Pedro Ximénez, Macabeo, and Garnacha Blanca, the wine is vinified with a touch of skin contact and in a subtly oxidative style. Expect a rich yet refreshing wine laden with savory flavors of yellow fruit, citrus, Mediterranean herbs, and fennel.
Terroir al Límit Les Manyes 2017 (~$189)
Crafted entirely from old vine Garnacha, Les Manyes is one of Terroir al Límit’s most exciting wines. Fruit comes from mountainside vineyards planted above the village of Scala Dei, which are harvested earlier than most of the estate’s neighbors. This early harvesting retains acidity and keeps fruit fresh. Huber farms the fruit for this wine biodynamically, ferments the wine with native yeasts and whole clusters, and raises it for two years in concrete tanks. Expect a red-fruited, savory wine that could easily be mistaken for one of the benchmark wines from the Southern Rhône.