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Discovering Priorat

One of the best things about a career in the wine and spirits industry is that there is always more to discover. While Spain is a favourite and a specialty area of mine I was actually quite unfamiliar with the details and stories of the famed region of Priorat - one of only two specially qualified regions in Spain (the other is Rioja - more on that in the next post). Every two years the organization that regulates the wine region - The DOQ Priorat- bring approximately 50 wine professionals from around the world to the towns of Priorat to immerse them in the vines and wines so they can better understand the wines created there and how the magic of the region contributes to what is in the glass. I was incredibly lucky to attend this year, representing ALSA and our privatized Alberta market.

Old vines in Alvaro Palacios' L'Ermita vineyard

While an historic region, where vines were first cultivated by the monks of the Scala Dei Priory in the twelfth century it is the near history that has dramatically shaped the Priorat we have today. In modern times the socio-political circumstances of Spain controlled a lot of the growth of the region. While the region was formally recognized by the Spanish government in 1932 it was difficult to fully take advantage of the honour with depopulation and national crises such as civil war and fascism. In fact the region was almost abandoned, in 1990 there were only 8 wineries!

Thanks to a fortuitous visit in the late eighties abandoned old vineyards were discovered and the renaissance of Priorat began. The region is beautiful but overwhelmingly hilly and steep. These are not easy lands. Cultivating vineyards is extremely difficult and many just gave up and left the area. The old vines, primarily Carinyena (Carignan) and Garnatxa (Garnacha) were thankfully not pulled out, but left waiting to be discovered again. Now amongst the old "clos"(all walled vineyards), "coster" (typical steep slopes of Priorat) and "vessants" (mountain sides) are newer plantings and the region has been rejuvenated.

Today there are over 100 wineries making wines from the low-yielding old-vine Carinyena and Garnatxa, as well as more newly planted Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot and Syrah. The region truly shines with intense, powerful and extremely complex wines made primarily from the indigenous Carinyena and Garnatxa. If your customers are fans of Napa Cabernet, Barossa Shiraz or Chateauneuf du Pape Priorat will be a welcome discovery for them.

Overall production is small, and predominantly red with only 5% white. While the wines of Priorat often fall into the premium category there are values to be had and we do have some excellent options to choose from here in Alberta. Look for high-quality options from Cims de Porrera, Can Maurisset and hopefully we will see Sao del Coster in the the province soon.

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