Defined by old-vine Mediterranean varieties, the tiny wine-growing region of Priorat in northeastern Spain rapidly rose to international acclaim in the late ‘90s and made a name for itself producing brooding, tarry, spicy and minerally attractive wines charged with concentration and fine tannins dialed into the fruit – from the powerful carignan (locally known as samso), bright grenache, spicy syrah and sometimes even from dense cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Unsurprisingly, yield from the poor, schist soils in the dry, sun-drenched terraced landscapes of Catalonia is low, and adding in the high production costs on the rugged, steep slopes of the Priorat vineyards often justifies the premium prices for the wines, with many retailing at well over $100 a bottle. Yet more reasonable interpretations of Priorat wine exist, and many tick the boxes for freshness, vibrancy and drinkability, which are great introductions to the aesthetics accentuated in the contemporary wine world, where authenticity, layers and finesse deserve everyone’s attention.
While low yield from old vines translates into a real depth of flavors, it does not necessarily mean the wines have more weight or fatness. On the contrary, they can still be linear, intellectual and even ethereal. Some of the top Priorat wines come with a deep, brooding color and naturally high density and concentration, but they are never thick or heavy. Instead, they show more calculation and restraint with precise, polished tannins, glossy, fresh blue fruit, perfumed blue flowers and mesmerizing minerality. Some are great examples for understanding how natural concentration departs from heaviness in wine.
Lesser Priorat wines, however, can deliver an undissolvable chunk of richness marred by stewed fruit and oak storm. Some of these wines also lack natural acidity and become hefty, cloyingly syrupy or essence-like. That’s usually not old vine coming into play, but is rather a clumsy winemaking disguise for lesser fruit coerced into a deliberate concentration or wines made to fit a template and suit a particular taste.
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