The remote, rocky hills of the Priorat wine region are the birthplace of intense, minerally reds that many wine writers and collectors consider to be Spain's most elite wines. The distinctive slate-and-quartzite soil (locally called llicorella), an abundance of sunshine and an energetic group of young winemakers have earned the region a reputation as one of Spain's most innovative, while the area's pristine natural beauty and long history make it a fascinating place to explore on a food and wine tour.
Mile after mile of hilly terrain, slate soil and leafy green vineyards fill this rural region in southern Catalunya, which is just two hours from cosmopolitan Barcelona yet feels a world away. The relentless relieve of Priorat's landscape means that vineyards here are planted in steep terraces similar to those found in the Douro valley. The terraces climb the hillsides in neat, curving rows that seem drawn onto the land. On the steepest slopes, they are like enormous staircases, creating a pretty picture but back-breaking work for those who have to pick the grapes by hand; machine harvests are all but impossible here. The land is demanding, but it's also the ideal place to expose the most interesting characteristics of indigenous grapes like Garnacha, Cariñena as well as international varieties including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vineyards are planted at altitudes ranging from 100m to 700m above sea level.
Priorat's best wines are concentrated and full of character thanks to the very low yields produced by the region's harsh conditions. Those low yields, in addition to the intense manual labor required to make wines here, mean that Priorat wines are some of the most expensive in Spain. They are also, in the eyes of many, among the best wines produced in the country. Expressive, fresh and less oaky than many traditional Spanish reds, Priorat wines have earned a devoted following in Spain and beyond.