The DOQ covers 11 municipalities. It primarily produces powerful red wines, which came to international attention in the 1990s. The area is characterised by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known as llicorella.
The DOQ comprises the valleys of the rivers Siurana and Montsant. The vineyards are planted on the slopes on terraces at altitudes of between 100 m and 700 m above sea level. Priorat is almost entirely surrounded by the DO Montsant, which makes wine in a similar style.
The area is of volcanic origin which confers interesting characteristics to the soil. The basis (called llicorella in Catalán) comprises reddish and black slate with small particles of mica, which reflects the sunlight and conserves heat. The 50 cm thick topsoil is formed of decomposed slate and mica. These characteristics force the roots of the vines to reach the base for water, nutrition and minerals. These soil characteristics confer special quality to the wine and keep the vines firmly anchored to the earth during the strong winds and storms which are common to the area.
Even though Priorat DOQ covers a small area, there are several different micro-climates present. Generally, the climate is more extreme than most continental climate areas, though there is a marked contrast between the valleys and the higher areas. There are both freezing winds from the north (mitigated somewhat by the Montsant mountain) and also the warm Mistral wind from the east.
Summers are long, hot and dry (max temperature 35°) while winters are cold (min temperature -4 °C). There is the occasional risk of frost, hailstones and drought. The average annual temperature is 15 °C, and average annual rainfall is 400–600 mm.
The traditional grape variety grown in El Priorat is the red Garnacha tinta, which is found in all the older vineyards. Also authorized are the following red varieties: Garnacha Peluda, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Four white varieties are also authorized: Garnacha blanca, Macabeo, Pedro Ximénez and Chenin.
The trend among the red varieties is that Garnacha stays constant, Cariñena decreases and the international grape varieties increase. While Cabernet Sauvignon has always been in the lead among these, in recent years, Syrah has increased faster.
The traditional reds from El Priorat are a single grape bottling of Grenache and Carignan or then a blend of these two grapes blended in a "Bordeaux" style with other French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon (which is falling out of favor), Merlot, or Syrah among others.
- Criança wines must remain in oak barrels for 6 months and then 18 months in the bottle.
- Reserva wines must remain in oak barrels for 12 months and then 24 months in the bottle.
- Gran Reserva wines remain in oak barrels for 24 months and then 36 months in the bottle.
Main wineries of D.O. Priorat
D.O. Priorat is formed by numerous wineries, often relatives, which means that the vineyards are very personal with a great craftsmanship and tradition.
Among them are some wineries that have achieved a great impact thanks to the high quality of the wines.
Bodega Álvaro Palacios is one of the most well know, author of one of the myths of the denomination, L´Ermita.
Clos Mogador or Mas Martinet are other wineries that have carved a place among some of the most coveted international wines.