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Priorat: The Newest Oldest Region

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Priorat emerged in the late 1980s and 90s as one of the hottest "new" wine regions in the world, and quickly garnered international acclaim for its bold and innovative winemaking style. In truth, though, this is an immensely old area for wine production. There is evidence of winemaking dating all the way back to the 12th century, mostly due to the Carthusian monks living in the mountains of the region. It was also somewhat influenced by the practices in the Roussillon, just across what is now the French-Spanish border. 

The first blow to Priorat came when the monasterial vineyards were appropriated by the state and redistributed to small shareholders. Then, in the mid-19th century, the region was decimated, as was the rest of Europe, by the arrival of phylloxera, the devastating pest that essentially obliterated Old World strains of vitis vinifera. While other, more lauded regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rioja, were able to invest the money needed to rebuild their holdings, Priorat fell behind. After decades of failing to recover from these crises, the almost fatal blow came in the early 20th century, when Franco essentially outlawed non-subsistence farming, meaning that vineyards across the country, and especially in Priorat, lay abandoned for years. 

Though the DO of Priorat was established in 1954, the rebirth of Priorat came only much later, as winemakers from Rioja began to invest in this forgotten appellation, including Álvaro Palacios and René Barbier. These pioneers were convinced that the old vines of Priorat, combined with the breathtakingly steep hillsides and unique llicorella soils, could create exceptional, world-class wines. The natural suitability of the land, combined with attention from premier Spanish winemakers and investors worldwide, turned this region from a quiet backwater into an internationally recognized producer in the span of only a few decades. In fact, Priorat remains one of only two regions in Spain (along with Rioja) to earn a DOQ (Denominació d'Origen Qualificada) in 2000 (in Catalonia) and 2009 (in Spain). Politics, eh?

A spectacular producer of red wine (a small proportion of white wine is made as well), there remains a surprising amount of flexibility in terms of production for such an esteemed wine region. As it is so new, laws are more in keeping with modern winemaking practices than in most Old World regions. There is no regulation on what proportion of grapes must exist in the blend, although they are typically mostly Garnacha Tinta and Cariñena, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. As in Rioja, the aging is the focus, with a required 6 months in barrel, 18 in bottle for criança; 12 months in barrel, 24 months in bottle for reserva; and 24 months in barrel, 36 in bottle for gran reserva. However, in such a modern, innovative landscape, most winemakers eschew these traditional labels and pursue the aging practices they feel is most suitable to their wines. 

The best way to get to know Priorat is not to read about it, it's to taste it! So join us on Friday, March 23rd, 6-8 PM, as we taste the wines of Cesca Vincent, an organic producer working some of the oldest parcels in the region. Bold, complex, and spicy, these wines are guaranteed to blow your mind!

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