Exploring one of Spain’s lesser known wine regions
It’s normally very warm the last week of June in Catalunya, but it’s also the perfect time to explore this rugged wine region located west of Tarragona, about an hour and a half drive south of Barcelona. Although not as well known within Spain as the Rioja and Ribera del Duero wine regions, the Priorat wine region, which dates from the 12th-century, was first introduced to the United States in the mid 1980s and continues to offer some of the best and most expensive wines available on the market today, including those from Cellers Capafons-Ossó, Vall Llach, Cims de Porrera, Clos Dominic, Clos Berenguer, Mas Sinén and even the small, and difficult to find Celler del Pont, located in the heart of the village of La Vilella Baixa. The productions are small, but the rich reds and succulent whites are well worth the price. There are currently 97 wineries belonging to the D.O.Q. Priorat.
During one of our recent trips we were fortunate to be able to meet some of the Priorat’s most acclaimed pioneer winemakers, including Carlos Pastrana, owner of Clos de l’Obac, known for being passionate about his wines, and given a private Jeep tour of some of the most remote and steeply terraced vineyards in the region by the winemakers themselves, including a four- hour long visit with Francese Capafons of Capafons-Ossó, the maker of the esteemed Mas de Masos, rated as one of the 10 best wines in the world.
As a bonus, the Priorat is surrounded by the Montsant DO, a direct competitor of, and better value, then the better known wines of the Priorat, the old-vine Garnacha being the most popular harvest. The DO was officially recognized in 2001, but the vines have been cultivated since the time of the Romans. Montsant wines tend to be softer and less powerful then the Priorat and interestingly, the D.O. produces some of Spain’s most popular Kosher Wines.
Dining in the Priorat can be as rewarding an experience as the wine tasting itself, with excellent village restaurants serving both traditional Catalan cuisine, El Cairat and Fonda de la Figuera, and for more for contemporary fare, Celler de Gratallops and El Celler de l’Aspec, all sporting extensive yet surprisingly reasonably priced wine lists, showcasing the best of the Montsant and Priorat D.O.s.
Sightseeing In The Priorat
A visit to the Priorat should not be limited only to wine and olive lovers. History buffs will want to visit the remarkable ruins of the country’s first Carthusian priory, Scala Dei, founded in the 13th-century, or the fascinating lead mining museum, Museu de les Mines de Bellmunt del Priorat, at Bellmunt. There is also the newly restored Romanesque castle sitting high atop the city of Falset, the strikingly perched, beautifully preserved stone hamlet of Siurana, one of Catalonia’s most picture-perfect medieval villages and its Moorish stronghold, and for Nature enthusiasts, hiking trails abound in the Parc Natural de la Serra de Montsant.
Where To Stay
For accommodations one can now choose from a comfortable full service, family-run 4-star Hotel Sport with a vast top floor suite in the region’s capital of Falset, to the small, boldly contemporary boutique inn, Cal Llop, a member of Rusticae, in the winery-rich village of Gratallops. There is also the rustic Hotel Mas del Sord and the 5- star luxury Art Nouveau Monument-Spa hotel Mas Passamaner, less than an hours drive away in La Selva del Camp.
Contact Iberian Traveler to arrange a custom tour of the Priorat wine region. A three-night stay will allow just enough time to experience some of the outstanding varieties of wines from this young yet notable wine producing region known for its rocky terrain, rugged landscape and rich red wines. A guided tour is highly recommended as reservation are required at all of the wineries in this region and some of the more interesting ones still require the use of a 4×4.