I can’t help it! It’s one of my favorite wine regions in the world. I spent years studying Spanish wines in some amazing Atlanta restaurants and the love has never, ever faded. There is such incredible diversity within Spain’s wine regions. One of the leading producers in the world, Spain often is overshadowed by France and Italy when it truly shouldn’t be. Some of my favorite wines come from Spain, specifically the Priorat region.
Priorat resides in the North-Eastern corner of Spain, a little inland compared to its neighbor, Barcelona, but still near the Mediterranean. Priorat is a region currently in its ‘renaissance’ as many say. The region was virtually abandoned due to the Phylloxera epidemic of the early 1900’s. Only since the 1990’s has the region been relevant due to a revival of the extremely old Carignan vines by René Barbier and other winemakers and farmers. The region quickly gained interest and is now considered one of the finest wine regions in Spain.
One of the most interesting aspects of Priorat is the unique soil type. Priorat is incredibly hilly and rocky with a soil composed of black and brown slate and quartzite. This is locally called ‘licorella’ and it imparts an incredible mineral component to the wines produced there. This soil type is also incredibly important to producing the bold, extracted fruit flavors that come from the wines of Priorat. With such rocky soils, the vines struggle and have to dig further into the ground to find both water and nutrients. This struggle and the generally harsh conditions of the land creates truly bold expressions of flavor within the grapes produced by these somewhat stressed vines.
Not only are the growing conditions harsh, but the land itself is incredibly difficult to tend. The region is incredibly hilly, with vines planted along these hills. Due to the steep nature of these hills, the vines are planted in a terrace system. These terraces are cut in neat rows, hugging the curves of the hills. And on some they look like giant steep steps going up the sides of the hills. The look of it is breath-taking but it creates a nightmare for the farmers tending and harvesting the vines. No machinery is able to be used, so all harvesting is done by hand and can be incredibly dangerous due to the incline. I remember hearing a story about one vineyard in Priorat where the vines grew out of the side of cliffs, forcing people at harvest to have to rappel off the side of those cliffs in order to pick the grapes! Absolutely insane but, if I’m being honest, the wine was delicious.
Due to these growing conditions, the vines have a very low-yield and yet they produce what many consider some of the finest wines within Spain. Indigenous varietals like Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena are widely planted alongside other international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. The wines made there are usually blends that are consistently rich, expressive and full of extracted flavors. The use of oak is typically very subtle, allowing the flavors of the fruit to shine.
Tomorrow, at our weekly wine tasting, we will be tasting five wines from Hammeken Cellars, one of those being from Priorat! We will be trying the 2014 Tosalet Carignan Vinyes Velles which is 50% Garnacha, 35% Carignan and 15% Cabernet with some of the vines being over 50 years old! This is wine with all of the best aspects of Priorat: extremely bold and mature fruit flavors that impart a slight natural sweetness on top of bright acidity and dense minerality. Come join us tomorrow night for a tasting of some of my favorite wines from Spain!
Come join us tonight and learn more about Priorat and the rest of Spain with Nicholas Hammeken of Hammeken Cellars!