Priorat: Climbing God’s Ladder

Have you been to Spain? My husband and I vacationed there eight years ago. Hard to imagine it was so long ago. We spent a glorious week in a region known as the Coasta del Sol, which follows the Spanish coast along the Mediterranean. We visited Gibraltar, Seville, Granada and many small towns in the Andalucía region. We even travel across the Straits of Gibraltar and spent a day in North Africa. The history, sites, people, food and wine was outstanding! Though we enjoyed a lot of delicious Spanish wine we did not tour any wine regions or visit any wineries. What does all this mean? It is past time to go back to the great country of Spain!

Spain is a large and diverse country filled with many outstanding wine regions. Today we are going to explore Priorat DOQ. Located in the north east region near the Mediterranean coast about an hour or two from Barcelona, Priorat DOQ contains 11 municipalities primarily known for producing powerful red wines from its unique terroir of black slate and quartz, known as llicorella. The Priorat DOQ is characterized by the valleys of the rivers Siurana and Montsant. The vineyards of Priorat are planted on slopes on the terraces at elevations 100m to 700m above sea level. Furthermore, Priorat DOQ is surrounded almost entirely by Montsant, a region producing very similar wines. Having never been to Priorat (and hoping to change that in the next few years!) I found the Oficina de Turisme del Priorat web site very helpful at providing a feel for the region. Turisme Priorat describes Priorat as

“a land of steep vineyards, harsh cliffs and imposing rock-faces, hidden valleys and cool ravines. It is a place of flatlands and mountains, crystal-clear streams, sunny and ordered cultivated areas. It is a world of small but resilient villages which have survived plagues, severe frosts, conquests and floods. This land has been inhabited since men lived in caves; since they started to work the land and build dry-stone walls to support the slopes. They cleared the forests and planted their crops; they constructed bridges, hermitages and castles.”

One producer who is crafted wines of undisputed quality in Priorat DOQ is Scala Dei. The Scala Dei (meaning “Ladder of God”) has been producing wine in Priorat dating back to 1163 when Carthusian Monks first introduced vines to the region. Since that time the wines of Scala Dei are some of the most critically acclaimed of the region. Scala Dei is owned today by the same families that bought the monastery when the monks left it in 1835. The first bottle of Scala Dei was produced in 1878 where it won a gold medal at the Universal Exposition in Paris. Today the wines are still aged in the old cellars of the monks and can be seen on an exclusive guided tour.

Scala Dei www/
Scala Dei www/

Scala Dei’s success is credited to their wine making approach, which they explain on the Scala Dei web site.

We have been silent and we listened. We have broken the time. We have sunk our hands in the earth and heard its heartbeat. We have understood the voices of the wind and the silence. And from the vineyards high, we let the landscape speak. We obeyed the dictates of genuine Monstat. The silent prayer in the monastery. The voices of men, who from generation to generation, have shaped vines. Their words rough and authentic like the land of Priorat. Slate and clay soil. Provocation of Garnacha. We took a sip of the past to win the future. Our souls are wine. Made of earth, thoughts and emotion. A link between our parents and our children. The results of a time and space. A drink of life! (Translated from Catalan text)

Scala Dei Priorat

The vines of Scala Dei are on average 30 years of age. They are planted on terraces in soils rich in llicorella. Their vineyards include Garnacha, Cariñena, Syrah and some Cabernet Sauvignon. Scala Dei departs from the classic dark, intense, high alcohol wines of the region; opting instead to craft wines that are more approachable, elegant and offer the balanced side of Priorat. Scala Dei is represented in the United States by Aveniu Brands. I was blessed to receive the wines as media samples from Aveniu Brands; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Scala Dei PriorScala Dei Prior 2013 Priorat DOQ: This wine was crafted of 55% Garnacha Tinta, 15% Cariñena, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah. It poured a deep ruby into the glass; red fruits dominate the nose with soft notes of violets, spice, savory herbs and a firm foundation of minerality; fresh and lively on the palate with rich acidity that I loved, persistent tannins created a mouth-watering long finish; it was a layered wine with rich texture that was very enjoyable. Grapes for this wine were meticulously inspected, sorted, de-stemmed, crushed, fermented at regulated temperatures to insure ripeness, aged in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels for one year, then finally aged another year in bottle to ensure optimum consumption time upon release. However, this wine can age 5-10 years with proper cellaring. It was crafted by Scala Dei to deliver all the subtleties of Garnacha plus the deep mineral notes of the slate soil in a structured wine full of rich aromas. 15% alcohol. SRP $22.

Scala Dei GarnachaScala Dei Garnatxa 2014 Priorat DOQ: This wine was crafted of 100% Garnacha. This garnet wine opened with red and blue berries, plums and pomegranate, accompanied by white pepper, spice, eucalyptus, and floral notes on an underlying firm minerality that drives the textural mouth feel; rich yet well-balanced this wine was full body with firm acidity and youthful tannins delivering a smooth finish; not as complex and layered as the Prior yet equally enjoyable and great with food. SRP $19.

I paired these two wines with beef and chorizo empanadas. Many months ago I made empanadas and the recipe made for filling than I needed so I froze the remaining filling. Therefore, on New Year’s Day I decided we would kick off 2016 with some great Spanish wine and empanadas. It was a delicious combination that my husband and I both enjoyed! (and my teens love the empanadas!) You cannot go wrong with these two wines and food pairings. They both were outstanding with our meal!

Scala Dei Empanadas

Scala Dei empanadas dinner

The Priorat is definitely a wine region to not only familiarize yourself with but seek out the outstanding red wines at great values that are coming out the region. Scala Dei is a great place to start!

Scala Dei wines

My Song Selection: These wines were rustic yet refined with a pleasing funk and style all their own.

Get your own bottles of Scala Dei wines and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!

13 responses to “Priorat: Climbing God’s Ladder”

  1. Michelle, So glad that you wrote a piece on Priorat and enjoyed the wine. My time there in 2015 was a highlight of the year for me. Their wine tourism is in its infancy and I found that charming and more intimate. If you are ever thinking of heading there, I made some helpful contacts.

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