September 24 2021
The best Priorat wines, why are they succeeding worldwide?
Priorat is one of the most impressive wine landscapes of all that can be seen in southern Europe. Bound to the north by the Sierra de Montsant massif, the Sierra de la Figuera in the West, that of Molló in the East and the course of the Siurana River, which continues downstream towards the Ebro, the region is not very extensive: it occupies 17,629 hectares, of which 1,887 are planted with vines. In any case, Priorat stands out for its long wine-making tradition and unique orography: the Siurana River and its tributaries constitute the main geographical artery of the area, and cause a series of valleys and small plains due to the geological sinuosity of the range and mountain slopes.
Although it was the Romans who introduced the vine to the territory of what is now the Catalan province of Tarragona, the medieval monks have the merit of having spread viticulture in these inland and arid lands, where the soils of llicorella (black slate) and terrace cultivation severely limit production.
Working with extreme difficulty in the vineyards on costers –dizzying slopes, with inclines that can reach up to 60º–, the farmers of Priorat produced wines with a generous body, intense color, and high alcoholic index for centuries.
The D.O.Q. Priorat is the only Protected Designation of Origin of the Spanish territory, together with the D.O.Ca. Rioja, which is recognized as a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty, top category in the context of geographical indications.
The great wines of Priorat
This rather rustic style changed from the end of the 1980s, when some visionary winemakers settled in this area, bringing a new perspective to the wines of this region by introducing advanced oenological concepts, as well as varieties of French origin - Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot–, which added complexity and elegance to the local reds, traditionally made with Grenache and Carignan.
The boom of the new Priorat did not take long to take off and soon its brand-new wine "jewels" were requested by fans and experts from all over the world, which placed this traditional Catalan region among the international elite of great wines.
Currently, Priorat is the only Protected Designation of Origin in the Spanish territory that, together with Rioja, has reached the category of Guaranteed Traditional Specialty (D.O.Q. in the case of Priorat), a higher qualification in the context of geographical indications.
To discover the best wines of Priorat, an excellent option is to resort to its most representative wineries, such as Scala Dei, whose range exhibits the wealth of nuances that this ancient wine region treasures.
Scala Dei, the oldest winery in Priorat
In addition to the wineries established in the 1980s by Álvaro Palacios, René Barbier (Clos Mogador), José Luis Pérez (Clos Martinet) and other visionary winemakers who laid the foundations for the resurgence of Priorat as a prestigious wine region, it is fit to highlight Scala Dei as a model when it comes to representing the history, identity and character of this unique wine region.
Scala Dei is the oldest winery in Priorat. Its foundation dates to the 19th century, although its origins are much older. Its beginnings were in the lands that surround the emblematic monastery that gives its name to the winery - and which is considered the first charterhouse on the Iberian Peninsula. The monks cultivated vines and produced wine starting from the year 1163.
After the confiscation of Mendizábal (1836-1837), the lands and buildings belonging to the Scala Dei monastery were transferred to private hands, but the wine industry was not interrupted. The new owners decided to give continuity to the Carthusian wine-making activity, adapting the ancient monks' quarters to the production of wines. Thus, the cellar where Scala Dei wines currently age is a 17th century building, the same one that functioned as the residence of the Carthusian Procurator.
In 1973, the "Carthusian Winery" began and a year later the new winery bottled the first vintage of the red Scala Dei Cartoixa, marking a milestone: it was the first wine from Priorat to reach the bottled market.
With this background, Scala Dei can boast of being the oldest winery in the D.O.Q. which, towards the end of the 1980s, became the great revelation of Spanish wine.
Since the arrival of the Raventós Codorníu Group, in 2000, as shareholders in the winery, Scala Dei has entered a period of great dynamism, expanding, and modernizing its facilities, which has enhanced the quality of its range of wines.
Thus, benefiting from exceptional vineyards –they are among the oldest in the area–, located between 400 and 800 meters high, on soils of diverse composition and privileged orientation, today the winery presents a wide range of alternatives to display the wealth nuances of Priorat. From the sharper freshness of the Garnacha in the new Scala Dei Negre 2020 and the fragrant delicacy of the acclaimed rosé Scala Dei Pla dels Àngels, passing through the resounding personality of the red Garnacha with more traditional features, Scala, the Carignan monovarietal breaks with the house's love for the dominant Grenache, Scala Dei Heretge 2017, and the two most exceptional cuvées: Scala Dei St. Antoni 2016, a red wine from a unique vineyard already worked by Carthusian monks, and Scala Dei Masdeu 2013, also from an ancestral vineyard and vinified with archaic techniques that had disappeared in Priorat. Let us not forget the white Scala Dei Massipa 2018, which brings back a classic from the winery with the aim of showing the freshest expression of the region's white Grenache.
All these wines invite us to enter Priorat glass in hand, to explore its winding landscape with all senses.