The remote, rocky hills of the Priorat wine region are the birthplace of intense, minerally reds that are consider to be Spain’s most elite wines. The distinctive slate-and-quartzite soil, an abundance of sunshine and an energetic group of young winemakers have earned the region a reputation as one of Spain’s most innovative. And we were lucky to have found the guide to this little know wine district, Miquel Hudin.
Hilly terrain and leafy green vineyards fill this rural region two hours from Barcelona. The vineyards are planted in steep terraces, climbing the hillsides in neat, curving rows seeming like enormous staircases, creating a pretty picture but back-breaking work for those who have to pick the grapes by hand (machine harvests are all but impossible here). The land is demanding, but it’s also the ideal place to grow the indigenous grapes like Garnacha, Cariñena as well as international varieties including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vineyards are planted at altitudes ranging from 100m to 700m above sea level.
Priorat’s best wines are concentrated and full of character thanks to the very low yields produced by the region’s harsh conditions. Those low yields, in addition to the intense manual labor required to make wines here, mean that Priorat wines are some of the most expensive in Spain. They are also, in the eyes of many, among the best wines produced in the country. Expressive, fresh and less oaky than many traditional Spanish reds, Priorat wines have earned a devoted following in Spain and the wine world.
Priorat cuisine is the ideal accompaniment to these potent wines. Robust sausages, hearty stew, and roasted vegetables served with the tangy romesco sauce are a few favorite dishes.
Vall Llach Wines
During our wine tour of Priorat we begged and bartered to get into Vall Llach. This vineyard is not open to the public, no tours / no tastings. But I am fairly persistent, and our wonderful guide, Miquel, happened to live across the street from the vineyard, in a small charming town in Priorat. He was able to convince the controller to do a private tour for us on a glorious afternoon in October. And it was worth the effort. These were certainly the stars of Spain, and Vall Llach the leading actor.
Vall Llach was founded in the early 1990s by singer Lluís Llach and Enric Costa, the first wine to be marketed was released in 2000. Its pride and joy are the old (60–90 years) Cariñena and Garnacha vines. They have also planted some Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Some grapes are also bought in to supplement these.
Three wines are made.
- Embruix aged 14 months in used casks, all French oak, and consists of a blend of Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and young Garnacha, supplemented with a bit of Syrah and Merlot. Tight, slightly close nose. The palate is savory, earthy and spicy with good density and firm structure. Very good and very reasonable.
- Idus is aged in new oak (lightly to medium toasted barrels) for 18 months, and consists of 40% old vine Cariñena, 25% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 10% Garnacha and 5% Syrah. Sweet, intense liquorish nose which is quite smooth and high toned. The palate is supple and expressive with elegant red fruits and an earthy, spicy edge. Quite delicious.
- The flagship wine, titled simply Vall Llach, is aged for 18 months in new French oak, and is mostly (65%) old vine Cariñena with the rest Merlot and Cabernet. Wonderful, powerful spicy nose. Chocolaty, spicy, minerally, expressive and full with lots of complexity. The palate is bold with concentrated, dense spicy fruit. Very full and tannic (there’s huge structure here). Excellent.
They agreed to sell us a bottle of both Embruix and Idus, but not the “Val Llach” as it is a small production wine and was totally sold out. I flattered him, then begged, tried many other techniques and finally wore him down. He sold me a bottle from the owners private stock at a very reasonable price. I shared the bottle with friends back in New York, and it was as good as it’s reputation, a once in a lifetime experience!