Priorato, a small desolate, arid region just north and west of Barcelona was once a genuine feudal domain owned by the Carthusian Scala Dei Priory. The ownership of ecclesiastical property by law in the 19th century forced the monks to distribute the land among farmers, and over time properties got smaller and smaller due to inheritance customs. Eventually, growers could barely eke sufficient sustenance and started to commute to nearby cities for factory work.
The little crop was sold to co-operatives and some of the wine was sold in bulk to whoever was interested.
There was, however, one exception in Cellers de Scala Dei, a family operation started in 1974, specializing in red wines. In 1976 and during much of the 1980’s, Scala Dei produced fabulous, dark, massive red wines demanding the attention of appreciative connoisseurs, but prices were relatively high and the wines almost unknown by many wine drinkers. The family struggled to survive.
Starting, in 1989, Rene Barbier and four of his friends joined to revive a family-owned vineyard in Priorato (Dafne Glorian, Alvaro Palacios, J.L. Perez Verdu, and Carlos Pastrana were partners with Barbier, who at the time was the export director of Bodegas Palacios Renoud in Rioja). The partners made the wine together, but marketed them under separate brand name – Clos Erasmus, Clos Dofi (Finca Defi now), Clos Martinet, Clos de l’Olbac and Clos Mogador.
The partners had to fight authorities who wanted only garnacha and carinena grapes planted as tradition dictated. The partners wanted to blend a little cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah to boost blends and make them more appealing. Eventually, they succeeded in convincing authorities to allow them to blend small quantities.
The second more demanding problem was price. Since yields in Priorato are notoriously low and maintaining terraced vineyards is expensive, relatively high prices had to be charged and predictably consumers resisted.
Eventually, in 1992 the partners parted ways, except Dafne Glorian who decided to stay with Barbier still convinced about the potential of Priorato. Over time “clos” wines emerged as the great revelation of Spanish wines, along with Ribera del Duero.
A new generation of Rioja winemakers were advocating new, more refined and elegant , which in turn captured the imagination of young entrepreneurs to invest in Priorato, especially Freixenet and Codorniu (both huge sparkling wine producers) large tracts of land and planted vineyards.
Clos Fra Fulco and Pasanau wineries were created by young, and well-educated winemakers, who started buying fruit from growers in competition with more established wineries which pushed up prices.
Costers (terraced) vineyard fruit was more sought after and better suited fro massive wines.
Escalating grape prices encouraged growers to plant more vineyards, and rich Catalans decided to invest here. New companies thought of an ingenious plan to work with co-operative wineries and their members. Co-operatives received sound export advice, and member were thought how to produce better quality fruit.
Miguel Torres one of the best winemakers of Catalonia and owner of the well- established and very large Torres winery, created a terraced vineyard to serve as a model.
Today, Priorato wines are in demand all over the world by consumers willing to pay top prices, and surprisingly Priorato wines, where yields are low ranging from one to three tones per hectare, are in short supply.
Altitude and orientation and age of vines are fundamental elements in the wine of this region.
The greatest contribution, as always, comes from soil. Here they are stony evolved from degraded slate here called scorellas. They are low in nutrients, and well drained.
The little rain (between 550- 600 mm.) is trapped under the slates and cannot evaporate. Vineyards o terraces always yield better quality fruit due to their ability to retain rain water longer than on plains and slopes.
Hot Mediterranean summers help ripens garnacha, carinena, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah extremely well, yielding well extracted, high alcohol and smooth wines that can be enjoyed relatively soon, but also contain sufficient acidity for cellaring.
Priorato wines that demand attention, appreciation, and contemplation.
Pair them confidently with game stews, medium-rare grilled, dry-aged steaks, aged cheddar or Parmeggiano reggiano.
Priorato wines can be enjoyed on their own and many connoisseurs prefer it.
The following wienries enjoy a fine reputation:
Cellers de Scala Dei
Mas d’en Gil
Celler del Pont
Celler Mas Doix
Cims de Porrera Classic
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.