Fall is finally upon us, which means it’s time to get serious about reds! The season of chilly evenings and hearty, flavorful meals cries out for earthy, full, complex red wines to accompany. Instead of spending ages trying to hunt down affordable Hermitage, or shelling out for top-notch Barolo, why not consider Priorat – one of Spain’s best-kept secrets?!
Priorat has had a tangled, thorny history and a wide range of approaches – so much so that some say no two bottles taste alike! Maybe a bit of an overstatement, but it is true that throughout its history Priorat has weathered many adversities and stylistic changes.
After Phylloxera wiped out most of its vines in the late 19th century, and then the Spanish Civil War, two World Wars and decades of cheap bulk wine production, Priorat finally saw a sudden reversal of fortune in the 1970s. This is when enterprising winemakers worked to return the region to its former glory by making big, meaty, highly tannic wines to rival the big-name world regions. By the early 2000s, Priorat was making headlines, and garnering high scores from the sort of people who make scores, and about which many people care. Then… back to semi-obscurity, but not for lack of quality or development. In fact, the hulking beasts of the early 2000s have faded into the background, and what’s emerged since has been much more balanced, nuanced and approachable wine.
Priorat is the best kept secret
If there’s once word to remember about Priorat, which you can later deploy at dinner parties to impress people with how worldly you are, it’s Llicorella! Llicorella is volcanic slate – nutrient-poor rock that locks in heat, holds little moisture, and basically makes vines work incredibly hard just to survive. The resulting fruit is highly complex and concentrated – ideal for making great wine. Those grapes, which once consisted of a grab-bag of non-native varietals, are now mostly Garnacha and Carinena – grapes native to the area, and far better at reflecting the diversity of terroir in this region.
While expressions of Priorat have turned down the volume a bit in recent years, this is still big wine, and works best with assertively flavorful, spicy foods. We thought it was an excellent accompaniment for Middle Eastern Harissa spices and lentil dishes, but spicy Indian food and Mexican dishes do well, too. Just what you’ll be wanting when the mercury drops in the coming weeks!
Here are four top Priorat picks – incredible quality at approachable prices.
Chapillon Remy Priorat 2014 – a lovely gem full of bright herbs, rich fruit, and warm earthiness. Camins de Priorat 2020 – regional giant Alvaro Palacios is the embodiment of “New Spain,” and one of the people responsible for resurrecting Priorat – his flagship wine is powerful, yet elegant and restrained. Buil & Gine Gine Gine Priorat 2017 – flavors of blackberries, blueberries, and earthy notes explode from the palate. Clos Gebrat Priorat 2019 – a rich, lush, herbaceous profile with wild berries and spices. Vinicola Priorat ‘Onix’ 2020 – Superstar winemaker Sandra Estevez’ bold, intricately structured Priorat is also highly limited: what we have on-hand is all we’ll get for the rest of the year!
By Tom Breeding, Beer Director