Friday, 4 April 2014

The wines of Priorat: Spain's best kept secret

Image taken from Des McCarthy's photostream
under the Creative Commons License
If I asked you to name the three Spanish DOCs I imagine the first response I'd get is "que?" (to be said in Manuel's voice).

DOCs, or Denominación de Origen Calificada, are those areas of Spain that have a track record for producing the very best wine, demonstrating exceptional quality and worthy of international renown. It is a similar concept to the AOC system in France and the DOC system in Italy.

So, now that's all cleared up, what do you think the three Spanish DOCs are? OK, I imagine everyone has immediately gone for Rioja and that is, of course, correct. But two more? The lateral thinking of you may well remember Jerez, which is where we get sherry from. But the last one, that's pretty tricky (or at least it would be if it weren't for the title of this article...). People may be thinking about the beautiful and powerful wines of Ribera del Duero, the intriguing wines of Navarra, or even the ever reliable and deceptively complex sparklers from Cava, but none of these are right.

Image from Supple Wines' website

The correct answer is Priorat; a small enclave in Catalonia not far from Barcelona. It produces wines of considerable beauty, finesse, style and power, yet appears to be relatively unknown outside of those in the wine trade. Unfortunately, as the wines have been discovered by those in the trade, it does not mean that they are particularly cheap per se, but what they are is a refreshing alternative to those who believe that Spanish wine starts and ends in Rioja.

The wines of Priorat tend to be a blend of grapes, typically utilising varieties that would be found in Bordeaux or the Rhone, combined with some local stars. Over the last few weeks I have been tasting my way around some of the excellent wines from this region:

2010 "S" from Sao del Coster (available from Theatre of Wine for £17). A blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which was a deep, rich garnet, uniform in colour. It had a slightly perfumed smell, reminiscent of cedar wood and had a background hint of kirsch. On the mouth it was smooth, with a slight kick from the tannins. It had a balanced and finessed body with a medium finish. This was a serious wine.

2009 "Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Priorat" from Unio Corparacio Alimentaria SCCL (available from Sainsbury's for £10.99). A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mazuela, this was a slightly inky purple with a faint meniscus (that's the clear line of the liquid at the edge of the glass, where the wine comes into contact with the glass - the thinner it is, the younger it is), perhaps showing a little bit of age. On the nose there were aromas of plums, with a slightly brambly secondary note. To taste it was clean and bright, the tannins had softened a little and it tasted nicely of black fruits. For the price tag this was a very good wine.

2012 Alvaro Palacios (available from The Wine Society for £13.95). A blend of Carignan and Grenache, this was similarly deep and inky in the glass. It had a slightly spiced aroma, reminding me of cinnamon and cloves - a little Christmassy perhaps? On tasting this was again a rather smooth wine, which surprised me given how young it was. This was a solid, dependable wine at an attractive price.

2007 Clos Mogador (available from the Theatre of Wine for £53). OK, now this was a bit of a splurge, but Clos Mogador is probably the biggest name in Priorat and I convinced myself that I couldn't really write a piece about Priorat without trying one of these bad boys! A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, this was deep and vital in colour with no sign of a meniscus, somewhat surprising in a seven year old wine. 

On the nose this was a heady and complex wine with aromas of spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) and fruit (blackcurrant). To taste, this was soft, supple, dynamic and vibrant - tannins were still present, but were not overbearing. Despite being seven years old, this tasted like a young wine - fruity flavours certainly prevalent and a balanced acidity. This wine was a real blockbuster and will continue to develop and open up - if only I could buy more bottles!

Photo from Magnera's photostream under the Creative Commons License
As you will be able to see from the above, these wines are interesting, expressive and full of character. They are a good alternative to Bordeaux/Rhone blends, or indeed Rioja. In terms of food matches, these wines were great (as you'd expect) with red meats, but also stand up well to quite deeply flavoured food (casseroles, stews, etc.)

I'd highly recommend making Priorat wines something that you try out too. Let me know how you get on...


  1. I think that the wines of Priorat are bit more widely known than that, but it is true given that Priorat is one of only two top level DOQs in Spain (the other being Rioja) that they should be much more well known than they are, especially as I find them to generally be a ridiculously good value for the quality. You can easily pay three or four times more for the same level of Châteauxneuf wines which I feel are their most closest relatives.

  2. Absolutely! I think that's what struck me most about these wines. The idea of spending £10 - £15 and getting an interesting, complex and characterful wine in Châteauxneuf just wouldn't be possible.