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Walking through Priorat, Spain

Priorat, however, is miniscule in terms of production. The entire region accounts for roughly 1,600 hectares (3,954 acres), while the other red wine dominant DOCa, Rioja, has more than 60,000 hectares (148,260 acres). Priorat’s small size, however, is not a disadvantage.

Within Spain, there are only two regions that hold the top quality designation for wine (DOCa), and Priorat is one of them (Rioja is the other and fifteen times larger in size). Over the past several years, Priorat generally has produced very good wines, with the 2005 and 2010 vintages earning outstanding accolades with near perfect grape growing conditions.

2014 was a tough year in Priorat. Extremely wet and less windy, the uneven weather, including a hailstorm, made it difficult for the Grenache to ripen and reach the desired sugar level content at harvest. Even worse, many of the grapes could not be used because mold developed in the grapes, so yields became very low.

Red wines dominate Priorat. Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) grapes compose much of the classic Priorat reds, which stem from old vines and unique llicorella soils. These soils are a mix of black slate and quartz that force the vines to go deep to reach water.

In this hot and dry Mediterranean climate, the wine has a unique quality formed by stony schist soils that have a high mineral content and disintegrated slate, called llicorella. This is mostly red wine country, about an hour east of Barcelona, with blends of Grenache and Carignan grapes common. A small amount of white wine is also produced from the white variety of the Grenache grape.

Priorat is one of 43 wine regions I wrote about in my upcoming book 43 Wine Regions: A Practical Guide to the Top Regions and Vintages Around the World. Researching this book involved a lot of data analysis to understand each region, along with traveling to each wine-producing region to meet every producer I could. Make sure to visit a Priorat winery if you ever find yourself in Spain.