Priorat is a Spanish Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ) in Catalan) for wines located in the comarca (county) of the same name in the centre-north of the province of Tarragona (Catalonia, Spain) covering eleven municipalities.
It primarily produces powerful red wines, which came to international attention in the 1990s.
The area is characterized by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil know as llicorella.
Since the 1990s the Priorat has been the most famous Catalan wine region. If potential were measured in financial and human investment, then Priorat is Spain’s most exciting wine region
It is only the second wine region in Spain to qualify as DOCa, the second highest qualification level for a wine region according to Spanish wine regulations, alongside Rioja DOCa.
Priorat is the Catalan spelling, which is the one usually appearing on wine labels, while the Spanish spelling is Priorato.
The vineyard surface of Priorat has been continuously expanding since the Clos-led quality revolution in the 1990s. At the turn of the millenium there was 1,000 hectares of vineyards, with an equal amount of planting rights secured. Today, there are 1,700 hectares.
The DOQ comprises the valleys of the rivers Siruana and Montsant. The vineyards are planted on the slopes on terraces at altitudes of between 100 m and 700 m above sea level. Priorat is almost entirely surrounded by the DO Montsant.
The demarcated zone has a total size of 19,783 hectares.
The area is of volcanic origin which confers interesting characteristics to the soil. The basis (called llicorella in Catalán) comprises reddish and black slate with small particles of mica, which reflects the sunlight and conserves heat. The 50 cm thick topsoil is formed of decomposed slate and mica. These characteristics force the roots of the vines to reach the base for water, nutrition and minerals. These soil characteristics confer special quality to the wine and keep the vines firmly anchored to the earth during the strong winds and storms which are common to the area.
Even though El Priorat DOQ is a small area, there are several different micro-climates present. Generally, the climate is more extreme than most continental climate areas, though there is a marked contrast between the valleys and the higher areas. There are both freezing winds from the north (mitigated somewhat by the Montsant mountain) and also the warm Mistral wind from the east.
Summers are long, hot and dry (max temperature 35°) while winters are cold (min temperature -4°C). There is the occasional risk of frost, hailstones and drought. The average annual temperature is 15°C, and average annual rainfall is 400-600 mm.
The traditional grape variety grown in El Priorat is the red Garnacha Tinta, which is found in all the older vineyards. Also authorized are the following red varieties: Garnacha Peluda, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Four white varieties are also authorised: Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, Pedro Ximénez and Chenin.
Yields are very low, usually much lower than the authorized maximum yield of 6,000 kg/ha, due to the rocky nature of the soil that does not allow the accumulation of water. The vines are usually planted as low bushes (en vaso) though the newer vineyards tend to be planted on trellises (en espaldera).
As of 2006, Priorat had 1,662 hectares (4,110 acres) of vineyards, of which 1,562 hectares (3,860 acres) or 94% was planted with red varieties, and 100 hectares (250 acres) or 6% with white varieties. The average planting density was 2,700 vines per hectare, compared to the mandated 2,500 to 9,000 vines per hectare.
In 2007, 4,670,387 kilograms (10,296,440 lb) of grapes were harvested, of which 4,489,285 kilograms (9,897,180 lb) (96%) was red grapes and 181,102 kilograms (399,260 lb) (4%) white grapes. This resulted in 30,355 hectolitres (667,700 imp gal; 801,900 US gal) of wine. During the recent expansion of Priorat vineyards, production of red grapes has expanded, while the production of white grapes has even declined somewhat. Thus, the proportion of white grapes has dropped from 10% in 2001 to 4% in 2007, while the total production increased by 87% over the same period.
The yield in 2007 corresponds to 2,800 kg of grapes per hectare compared to the official maximum of 6,000 kg per hectare, and corresponds to 18 hectoliter per hectare. The official maximum corresponds to a yield of 39 hectoliter per hectare, as a 65% conversion is foreseen. Some producers have yields of only around 5 hectoliter per hectare.
The traditional reds from El Priorat are either 100% Garnacha or a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena.