Ultimate Guide to the Priorat Wine Region

Vineyard in Priorat wine region of Spain. See more wine pictures.
iStockphoto.com/Rafael Laguillo

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, wine experts asked to comment on the quality of Spanish wines might have dismissed them as "over-sulphured" and "oxidized." Whether accurate or not, the criticism stuck and was widely applied to the mass-produced Spanish wine exported at the time.­ ­

Since those inauspicious decades, however, Spain has made remarkable strides in wine production and has emerged as one of the global leaders in wine innovation and research. After all, the vines from Spain were those that provided the seeds of successful wine production in the Americas and elsewhere. Now, with a growing reputation for producing quantities of robust, quality wines, Spain's fine wines are generating intense interest among wine critics. In fact, Spain is considered the best place in Europe to find good, quality wine at bargain prices.

­Of Spain's many wine regions, one drawing well-deserved attention is the tiny rural Priorat wine region. Located in the far northeast corner of Spain in the Catalonia region (also known as Catalu­ña), Priorat lies in a remote, mountainous area. The entire region covers only about 4,400 acres (1,800 hectares) [source: Cellar Tours].

Though only a two-hour drive from Barcelona, the Priorat region seems unconnected and remote from its urban neighbors. Small villages and tiny hamlets dot unspoiled landscapes marked by stone farmhouses, chapels and monastery and castle ruins set along the steep hills [source: Andrews].

Scattered among valley towns, the vineyards are planted in neat curving rows. Some are terraced into the mountain slopes and look like giant staircases. Typically, Priorat wineries, or bodegas, are small and -- thanks to the mountainous terrain -- tended by hand and muscle rather than by machinery. A single vineyard may produce no more than 5,000 bottles a year. Truly these wines are enjoyed locally, but it is possible to locate one of these rarities in a wine store in your community [source: Espavino].

Read on to learn about the history and culture of the area.