Vail Masterful Picks: Spanish wines from the ‘Stairway to God’
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – It was some 30 years ago that a group of ambitious winemakers known as the “Gratallops Prioneers” set out to re-establish the once lost vineyards of Priorato, and develop them as one of Spain’s premier grape-growing regions. Priorato had previously been overshadowed by the larger, more well-funded estates in Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and had relied on old winemaking techniques to produce rather un-inspiring wines. The group planted traditional French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon alongside ancient Garnacha and Carinena vines. They used modern winemaking techniques and new French oak barrels to create wines that took the world by storm. Now these visionaries are part of Spanish wine history and are credited for re-energizing one of Spain’s nearly lost wine treasures.
Spain is divided into 17 autonomias, or autonomous states, which are then sub-divided into various provinces. In the autonomia of Catalunya in northeast Spain lies the province of Tarragona, which in turn houses the region of Priorato. Priorato, which isn’t far from Barcelona, is one of Spain’s Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) wines, noting the highest level of quality for a Spanish demarcated wine region.
The name Priorato, Spanish for “priory,” was taken from the 12th century Carthusian monks that established the Priorato de Scala Dei (Priory of the Stairway of God) in the region. The monks are gone but the small village of Scala Dei remains. The region’s unique topography lends itself to producing outstanding wines. The vineyards are planted at ranges of 300 to 2,300 feet, in either rocky escarpments or secluded valleys. In the highland areas of Priorato’s most famous village, Gratallops, the soil is intensely stoney, and perfect for old vine Garnacha and Carinena vines. The region also is characterized by a unique soil called llicorella, a blend of light-colored quartzite and dark slate, said to produce a tiger eye-like color when reflecting light.
The wines of Priorato are produced from insanely low-yielding vines and many of the best are from vines that are at least 50 years old. The result is a highly concentrated, monstrously full-bodied wine of deep color and intense individuality –wines worth seeking out for both their unique character and hedonistic style.
Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He currently holds the Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Razee is one of 96 Master Sommeliers in the United States and the only person in the Vail Valley that holds the distinguished certification.