Priorat: Medieval Monks, Modern Rebirth and Outstanding Wine from Spain

Close-up of vineyard in Priorat, Spain.

Today we travel to Spain to the Priorat DOQ. This is a place with an ancient history that has only recently re-emerged as a formidable growing and wine making region.

Catalonia (Catalunya or Cataluña)


To begin, let’s get our bearings on the globe.  We are in Spain in the province of Catalonia. This the Northwest corner of Spain and its northern border in the Pyrenees is shared with France.  It’s western border is the Mediterranean Sea and famous city of Barcelona sits within its boundary. 

Catalonia boasts 10 DOs, (Denominaciónes de origen or recognized wine regions) including the over arching Catalunya DO. 

  • Alella DO
  • Conca de Barberà DO
  • Costers del Segre DO
  • Emporadà DO
  • Monsant DO
  • Penendès DO
  • Priorat DOQ
  • Pla de Bages DO
  • Tarragona DO
  • Terra Alta DO

The people of the region speak Catalan, which has different spellings and pronunciations than Spanish. You may see multiple spellings for regions, grapes etc.

Priorat and its history

Serra del Montsant in the Priorat, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.
Serra del Montsant in the Priorat, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.

Priorat sits south east of Barcelona, just 18 miles from the Mediterranean sea.  Located in the mountains, the steep vineyards are protected from the sea air as well as from the winds from the Ebro Valley.

The region’s name comes from the Carthusian Order of monks. They arrived here in the late 12th century and created the Cartoixa d’Escaladei Priory at the foot of the Montsant Mountains.  Of course, they got busy planting grapes.  They tended these vineyards for nearly 700 years.  Then, similar to France, the state took the lands and redistributed them.  Things were looking good for wine here, and then phylloxera hit.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, then Franco came to power. Franco believed wine was only to be used for sacramental purposes, well, and to boost the economy. He was interested only in quantity not quality. At this time, wine in the region all but disappeared.

I will admit, I love to dig deep and I have found some sites with amazing details on the history of this region.  If this has just whet your whistle, scroll to the bottom and check out some of the links.

A new start and some new varieties

In 1979 René Barbier bought a vineyard here. Soon several friends joined him. In the early 1990s René and five friends created five “Clos” in the village of Gratallops in Priorat.  They revived the ancient Carinyena (Carignan) vines and planted some other varieties including Garnatxa (Grenache), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The skill and knowledge of these winemakers, who saw the potential in this region’s landscape and soils, have turned this into one of Spain’s most exciting areas for wine.  In 2009, Priorat was elevated to a DOQ (DOCa), only the 2nd in Spain.  Much of the unique quality is due to the soil and landscape

Llicorella soils and “costers”

Mountains and vineyards in Priorat, Spain
Mountains and vineyards in Priorat, Spain

The landscape here is unforgiving.  Even the foothills of Montsant are “costers”, meaning “steep slope” in the Catalan language.  Much of the land has to be terraced to be worked. 

Old grenache grapevine  with llicorella soil in Priorat Region, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain
Old grenache grapevine with llicorella soil in Priorat Region, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.jpg

Also, there is a unique soil here is called llicorella.  This is a decomposed slate, flecked with mica that breaks easily.  Lovely.  Steep slopes with bits of slate that break and slide under your feet.  Sounds like heaven right?  Well…for the grapes, it is.


The climate here is continental. Summers are long and hot with little rainfall. This is helpful for the late-ripening Carinyena (Carignan), and Garnatxa (Grenache).

Priorat DOQ

The Priorat DOQ takes quality seriously and labeling indicates the level of quality. The new classification system is inspired by the Burgundian model.  Visit the Consell Regulador DOQ Priorat for all the details.

Els noms de la terra (The Names of the Land) Classification system

  • Priorat DOQ = regional wines
  • Vi de Vila = village wine, 90% vines over 10 years old, 60% Carinyena and/or Garnatxa
  • Vi de Paratge = single zone (smaller than a village, larger than a vineyard), 90% vines over 15 years old, produced inside the village,60% Carinyena and/or Garnatxa
  • Vinya Classifacada = single vineyard, 80% vines over 20 years old  (premier cru), 60% Carinyena and/or Garnatxa
  • Gran Vinya Classificada = single vineyard, 80% vines over 35 years old, 90% Carinyena and/or Garnatxa. Vineyards must have been planted before 1945 (grand cru)

The region has over 2,000 hectares of vineyards, 575 winemakers and 109 wineries.

Vines here are low yield, due to the heat, the soils and the age of the vines. This makes for delicious wine.


Within the Priorat region there are 12 villages and the different villages or sub zones, are the Vins de Vila. The different villages fall into 4 different categories as far as flavor.  (Think of this like the distinction between the Beaujolais Cru.)

The 12 villages were established by the monks and the oldest, Escaladei, means “ladder to god” in Latin. The wine we are tasting comes from this village. Wines of this region are noted for structure and finish.

Main gate to the monastery of Scaladei in the Priorat region of Catalonia, Spain

Conreria d’Scala Dei

Conreria d’Scala Dei, the winery that this wine comes from, is located near the old priory and it is from there that it takes its name. Winemaker Jordi Vidal founded this winery in 1997 with two friends. He makes wines from several vineyards in the area with vines from 10 to 100 years old. This allows him variety in elevation, location and soil.

Black Slate Escaladei 2017

The Black Slate Escaladei is a blend of Garnatxa, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carinyena. The grapes come from vineyards in the foothills of the Montsant Mountains. There are 3 “Black Slate” Wines made by the winemaker, Jordi Vidal. This is said to be the most elegant of the three. The fruit comes from 40 to 100-year-old vines grown at 500 meters (1640 feet). The soils here are a mix of the llicorella and clay-limestone and the vineyard is certified organic.

From the Producer:

  • Hand-harvested, destemmed, 2-day pre-fermentation maceration, fermented in concrete, 20-day maceration
  • Aged 18 months in French oak foudres (50HL) and 500L French oak demi-muids

Steak and romesco

We had chosen a recipe from Sun Basket for Steaks and romesco with baby broccoli, summer squash and almonds.

The steak was simply pan fried rare. While it rested the baby broccoli cooked in the same pan, soaking up the juices and getting just a little char. Then the summer squash and almonds were added and we scrapped up all the delicious bits on the bottom into the mix.

We served this with some sage gnocchi, and placed the sliced steak on a bed of romesco sauce.

The Pairing

When we chose the dish, I went off looking for pairing and found one inspired by Nikki at Palm & Vine. She says:

“If serving the sauce with grilled steaks, try a full-bodied red like a Priorat. The mineral qualities of a Priorat would help to enhance the nuttiness of the romesco sauce.

Nikki of Palm & Vine

The pairing was sublime. The wine had notes of black plum and licorice.  The slight char on the broccoli was lovely with these notes and made the fruit sing.

The Romesco sauce with the priorat was genius (thanks Nikki).  The pepper and spice vibrate with the wine and the umami of the meat resonates with the more savory notes in the wine.

Okay, I’m a bit exhausted, but happily full after this whirlwind trip to Catalonia and Priorat. Tomorrow I’ll check the cellar and plan my next trip.


Where are you heading to as you travel in a bottle? Share you virtual trips with us in the comments!

Sources and links

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

The Scenic Route Part 6 – Visiting Rioja in Washington and dinner at a gas station in Walla Walla

Valdemar Estates in Washington's Walla Walla AVA

It was a quiet morning as we drove south of Walla Walla toward the Oregon border. Pulling off Peppers Bridge Road into an area with several large wineries, we headed to the one that stood out architecturally. This was Valdemar. Bodgas Valdemar is known in the Rioja region of Spain, and has ventured to Washington to explore making wines of place here.

Valdemar Estates in Walla Walla

  • Valdemar Estates Winery and Tasting Room in Walla Walla Washington
  • Entrance to Valdemar Estates Winery and Tasting Room

Modern with clean lines the building evokes the feel of the modern architecture seen in Spain. There were few cars here at this point and we headed to what we thought was the front entrance, an immense door that stood a full story tall. Natasha let us in and we met Kaleigh Vrapi, the Valdemar Estates Hospitality Director. We were led upstairs around the stunning space as things started to open up for the day. After a stop in the tasting room, we headed out to the patio next to the fountain with a beautiful view of the Blue Mountains for our interview with Kaleigh.

  • Basket Press at Valdemar Estates in Walla Walla Washington
  • The Barrel Room at Valdemar in Walla Walla Washington

The sparkling winery

After our interview, which we will share with you later, Kaleigh led us through the rest of the space in this beautiful facility. Down the open stairway that spans the full height of the space, past the antique basket press, into the barrel rooms and finally into the winery, to meet Assistant Winemaker Devyani Gupta. Devyani was awaiting the crane to install new fermentation tanks that morning. As the truck had not yet arrived, she took a few moments to show us around the sparkling facility.

The Working Winery at Valdemar Estates in Walla Walla Washington
The Working Winery at Valdemar Estates

Flights of Rioja & Washington

Kaleigh then led us back up to the tasting room and took us through a tasting. Tastings here are done as flights and we began with a couple of flights from Bodegas Valdemar beginning with their rosé of Garnacha & Viura, followed by their barrel fermented Viura and then into the reds, which as you would expect…are Tempranillo based.

Now it was time to move on to the Vlademar Estate Wines, which are labeled as “Component Trial” . This exploration into the wines of this region features labels are perfect for the geeky wine nerd, listing vineyards by percentage, as well as the harvest notes etc.

Valdemar Estates Component Trial 2017 Syrah Walla Walla Valley
Valdemar Estates Component Trial 2017 Syrah Walla Walla Valley

All of their Washington wines are Syrah. The first of these is their Blue Mountain Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley, then they have 2 from Red Mountain. The Red Mountain Syrah is a blend of syrah from Kipsun and La Coye vineyards and then they have a vineyard specific Klipsun Syrah.

This is the perfect place to come and explore wine and food pairings. Find a comfortable spot with a view, chose a flight or two, then ask your server for suggested pairings from their Tapas and Pinchos menu. They are all about hospitality here.

A stroll in Walla Walla

We headed back to Walla Walla and after a stroll, stopped in to the Cadaretta tasting room. In October with WBC18 we had been treated to an extraordinary dinner at Cadaretta’s glass house. We needed to get back and explore some more of their wines.

Cadaretta Tasting Room

Cadaretta Tasting Room in Walla Walla Washington
Cadaretta Tasting Room in Walla Walla Washington

In the tasting room, Greta was a friendly face! We had met her at the Glass House. She took us through a tasting and we left happily with a bottle or two.

My Dinner at Andrae’s

(Can anyone give me a shout out for that movie reference?)

Now we were ready for dinner and dinner had a plan! At our dinner at Doubleback back in October, Chef Andrae of Andrae’s Kitchen had put together a spectacular meal. Thaddeus Bugs of the Minority Wine Report had gushed about his food when we arrived and asked if we had been to the gas station? What? Well, now were were back to do just that.

Andrae's Kitchen at the Cenex gas station on Rose Street in  Walla Walla Washington
Andrae’s Kitchen at the Cenex gas station on Rose Street in Walla Walla Washington

Chef Andrae Bopp has a resume filled with work in restaurants like Balthazar and Le Bernardin. His current restaurant and catering business run out of the Cenex Gas Station on Rose Street in Walla Walla. His food is impeccable, but he keeps it real. Unsure of what to expect, we pulled into the Cenex, but the sign over the door let us know we were in the right place.

I stood back to peruse the chalkboard menu for a bit. It was a tough decision, but we settled on AK’s Corn Salad, Poutine and a combo of tacos. The kitchen runs like a well oiled machine. The staff are polite, attentive and obviously in love with the food they are making. We kicked back at table up front to wait while they did their magic. Chef Andrae came in while we were there to check in. We grabbed our to go order and headed back to the hotel to indulge in some deliciousness to end our day and our stay in Walla Walla.

Rest for another day…

Tomorrow we would spend a good deal of the day driving. First it would be back to Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley to meet Kerry Shiels and visit her Du Brul vineyard and a stop to see Co Dinn at his Sunnyside tasting room. Then we would drive back to the gorge through Hood River and up to Hiyu with their stunning view of Mt. Hood. We would finish our day with views of Mt. Hood as we headed back to Salem Oregon for the night. Join us for more!

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Bella Conchi Spanish Brut Rose (Cava)

Brut Rose

This post is a throwback.  It was an evening off alone, and I pampered myself with a little Cava and pairings.  It’s kinda making me crave some bubbles now…


So Michael is working tonight and he doesn’t typically like sparkling wines, so…Tonight we dive into the Spanish Cava.

About the Cava

Spanish Brut Rose

Bella Conchi Spanish Brut Rose

This Cava is a Bella Conchi Brut Rose.  It is 70% Trepat and 30% Garnacha.

So lets break it down (this is the geeky wine stuff, feel free to scroll past if you just want to get to the pairings)

Cava is predominately made in Catalonia in Spain and may be white or rose. (We went with the Rosé).  And if it says “Cava” on the label, then it must be made in the traditional Champenoise method.

The word “Cava” means cave or cellar, which were originally used for aging.

This particular Cava is  a blend of Trepat & Garnacha.

On a side note: The name “Bella Conchi” is in honor of Javier Galarreta’s mother who loved Champagne and passed away before her son had produced this lovely Cava.


If you are like me, you have not heard of this grape before. Although it has gone by many names: Trapat, Traput and Trepan are all easy variations, but it has also been known as Bonicaire, Parrel and Embolicaire.  This is a red Spanish grape that is primarily used for rose.  You will find it grown in Catalonia in the Conca de Barbera and Costers del Segre DO’s (Denominacion de Origen).  This is the Northeast part of Spain (think the Barcelona area).

The wines from this grapes are typically light to medium bodied.  You will get strawberry, raspberry and rose petal on the nose.  It tends to be very fresh and have bright acidity.  While mostly used for Cava, there are also some high quality red wines made with Trepat.

It likes sandy soil and as such you find it near growing near the coast.  It buds early and is typically resistant to fungal diseases, but is susceptible to frost.


Garnacha is Grenache, just grown in Spain where it originated.  This grape is more often thought of as a Rhone, the G in GSM.  This grape hails from the Aragon region of Northern Spain.  From here it spead to Catalonia, Sardinia and Roussillon in Southern France.

This grape likes hot dry soils and is great with wind tolerance (this would be the reason Steve Beckman told me he plants it on the top of Purisima Mountain!)

It is thin skinned and low in tannins and brings the fruit to a GSM blend.

The Pairings

So as I mentioned, Michael wasn’t home, so this was all about me.  I picked up the recommended cheeses, Mahon and Garrotxa from the cheese counter.  I grabbed some Marcona Almonds too, as they are fried in oil and salty, which is always a good pairing with sparking wine.  The guide suggested pairing with salads, grilled seafood, barbequed pork spareribs or spicy curly fries.  I must admit, I wasn’t really hungry.  I had just finished a great Yoga class and kinda just wanted to snack.  So, I picked up strawberries (pink with pink), blackberries (with thoughts of dropping them in my glass), Salt & Pepper popcorn (another great sparkling pairing) and a small jar of caviar.  I mean if you are going to do a pairing that gets you both ends of the budget spectrum to go with a sparkling wine.  Really though, this was grocery store shelf stable caviar so not so fancy at just $5.99.

Brut Rose

Bella Conchi Spanish Brut Rose Pairings

So how did the Pairings go?

I started with the Marcona Almonds which were fried in olive oil.  (details on Marcona Almonds).  This pairing was nice the rich oily, salty almonds and then a splash of the Cava to clean the palate.  Same for the Salt & Pepper popcorn.  I had been turned onto the popcorn sparkling pairing back when we visited Laetitia, a winery in SLO Wine Country that produces sparkling wines.  Their winemaker sites popcorn as his favorite pairing with sparkling wine.  Potato chips are also a great go to with the oil and salt.  The pepper on the popcorn was made a tad spicier with the Cava.

After that spice I needed to cool my palate down a bit, so I dove into the black berries.  They were lovely and sweet and picked up the fruit in the wine, as did the strawberries.  The fact that this was relatively dry allowed the berries to taste even sweeter.

The caviar I picked up was a Vodka Lumpfish caviar and was super salty.  I did not pick up creme fraiche, so it was just a little caviar on a cracker.  The popping caviar with the bubbles in the sparkling was lovely.  I just finished it off with a berry to clean my palate of the residual salt.

The brilliant thing about bubbles is that they clean your palate after every bite, so each bite is as fresh as the first.


Now the cheeses.  The guide recommended a Garraotxa and a Mahon.  Two cheeses I was not familiar with.  Time for some geeky cheese research.


The guide classified it as a moist cakey semi-firm cheese.  They said it “offers sweetness with a sharp white pepper flavor”.

This cheese had a grey speckled rind that kinda looks like a river rock.  You pronounce it ‘ga-ROCH-ah’.  Imported from Catalonia it is a goat cheese that is crafted in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  In 1981 some young cheese makers saved this cheese from going extinct. This is traditionally made with the milk of the Murciana goats and is cave aged to get the mold to grow making that river rock rind and adding flavor to the cheese.  Theses cheeses mature quickly due to the humidity in the Pyrenees, taking between 4 to 8 weeks.


There were a bit more details on this cheese from the guide.  “Aged seaside on the island of Menorca, this Hard, Flaky paste has buttery and fruity flavors with a hint of vinegary tartness.”

Mahon is a cows milk cheese and picking it up with it’s orange rind and soft interior I was reminded of Muenster.  This cheese is named for the port of Mahon on the Minorca island on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

The Mahon I chose was young, and was soft.  An aged Mahon will be hard.  It can be served over pasta, potatoes etc..  Traditionally it is served sliced with olive oil, black pepper and tarragon.  (This I will try the next time I pair it!)

I found this to be a fragrant with a slightly floral character that was really lovely.  The cheese was soft and smooth and this was intriguing with the Brut Rose, the Rose bringing out these floral notes in your mouth.

Surprisingly, Michael came home and finished the last glass I had left in the bottle.  Unfortunately he missed out on the pairings.  I do expect to pick up another bottle in the future, specifically to pair with some spicy curly fries!

Stay tuned for our next pairing!

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Spanish Wines via the Grocery Store

Spanish Wine guide

I have dreams of Not being a grocery store wine buyer, but….when Michael and I pick up a bottle at a winery, it’s special and I won’t open it without him. Unfortunately due to our schedules we typically can only enjoy a bottle together twice a week. If I have time off and he is working, I want to enjoy a glass anyway, hence grocery store wine buying.

Now typically we are Trader Joe’s people but sometimes we run into the local Smiths to pick up something quick and on one trip we found a huge Taste of Spain display. Intrigued, we picked up a selection of 6 of the Spanish wines they had and a pairing guide. I will applaud Smiths for this. I know that these will be larger exporter wines and might possibly be geared toward the typical American palate, but I am more than willing to give it a go. So…join me (and sometimes Michael) on a little Spanish Wine journey!

Spanish Wine guide

A Taste of Spain guide

Here are the wines we picked up:

The Spanish Wines

Bella Conshi Brut Rose

El Pensador Tempranillo

Las Rocas Garnacha

Martin Codax Albarino

Tablao Tempranillo

Val de Vid Verdejo

So… 3 reds, 2 whites and a sparkling wine.


Within the guide it gave basic tasting notes as well as Cheese pairings. Suggesting Garrotxa and Mahon with the White & sparkling wines and Drunken Goat or Queso Iberico with the Garnacha. With the Tempranillo they recommended the Drunken Goat and a Young Manchego. You can expect that I will set out to pick some of those up this evening.

The flyer also has some recipes, including Albondigas with a Spicy Tomato Sauce meant to go with the Marque de Caceres Red or Garnacha (yes, these are not wines we picked up, I may try to remedy that when I get the cheese), Steak with Quince paste on Toast to pair with the Marques de Riscal Reserval (yep yet another), Jamon with Goat Cheese with the Val de Vid Verdejo (yep got that one!), Garlic Shrimp with the Pazo de Senorans Albarino (we might just do this with the other Albarino) and Patatas Bravas to pair with the El Pensador Verdejo (we will see if I pick up a bottle of that). Are you wondering what some of those things are? Me too, we will discover together.

And, did you think I was just going to recite what you might find in your local Smiths? Are you kidding? This is Crushed Grape Chronicles! We will explore details on the wines and regions, California wineries and their variations on these grapes, and expand our pairings immensely!