This post was written while I was traveling in Spain last week.
To say the Priorat expresses itself on the drive in, up and curving painstakingly through the mountains is one thing. Certainly. As I write (after a day of exploring this part of the Priorat and tasting at Clos Figueres – more on that later), I’m perched in my semi-private patio, overlooking life as the 240 person town of Gratallops knows it – children (all of them?) playing on the basketball court below not more than 100 feet from me, the quiet office of my hotel and the cellars (Onyx) they run, and the “parking lot” – a lucky plot of land not more than 1200 square feet with a place for you to turn off the engine without worry one of the narrow former cow path roads will lend itself to some sort of collision while you rest in the dormitory more or less above.
Purple flowers are in bloom while the vines are still largely dormant, with just a few buds appearing in the fairly warm, temperate spring air. The ground is a bright green, that is where grass is poking through, hanging in there for just a few weeks before the ever-warm sun cooks it to browness in the absence of rain.
Whereas Penendes was an amalgam of soil types, the Priorat is nearly completely (frighteningly, re: drive) terraced licoricella, or a sandy/rocky slate. Here in the lower Priorat at least, it is largely Grand Canyon orange-red. Olive (dark green) and almond (lighter green) trees are scattered throughout the vineyards. Visually they add a natural texture and romantic call to the landscape.
A vinous comparison? There is not really one. You could stretch to the complexity and arguably ‘fierce’ structure (well balanced but more tannic) wines of Bordeaux, but the fruit forward, teeth-sinking, chewy wines of Chateauneuf du Pape (last year’s trip) are perhaps better comparisons – at least one of the primary grapes used in both their reds is one in the same: Garnacha/Grenache.
The most fascinating thing – the thing that becomes particularly self-evident once you visit a wine region such as this – is that you can taste the terroir. It is visceral, it is not really something you can put your finger on, but it is very apparent. You “see” the red slate as you taste, the texture (fine tannin) is as animate as touching the soil, the olive and almond trees, the purple flowers…. The downright freshness of this place is alive in the wine. The best wineries (I think, humbly) capture this local essence no matter where you are. In Priorat you gather a survival of the fittest, but a sleepy-town (quiet) elegance as well…..