Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

[Travel] A weekend in the Priorat

Last August, I found myself standing on top of a hill in the Priorat, surrounded by vines laden heavy with grapes, under the intense searingly dry heat of the late summer sun. The vineyards were enjoying the quiet time that comes before the hustle and bustle of the harvest. It was a pretty intense moment, where I really felt connected to the land, to the vines and to the magnificent wines of the region. 

Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Torres Priorat winery
The Torres Priorat winery at El Lloar
The Priorat is recognised by wine experts and wine fans as the stand-out wine region in Spain. Its powerful, minerally red wines are critically acclaimed, driven by a new generation of rock star winemakers who have bought French winemaking techniques to this stony, mountainous region of Spain. Yet, a mere 40 years ago, winemaking had nearly disappeared in the Priorat, largely due to Franco economics and a decline in population. Abandoned terraces, where vines once grew, are visible everywhere on the steep hillsides, a remnant of the abundant past.

It's very easy to get to the Priorat. We flew into Barcelona (although Reus is even closer) and drove south towards Tarragona, where we turned inland leaving the sea behind and starting our climb into the mountains. Within a short time, you find yourself in the wine region of Montsant (DO), with the  Priorat (DOQ) located in the middle of it all. The roads are winding with steep drops to the side, but are wide, in excellent condition and fun to drive. 
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Gratallops
The mountain top village of Gratallops
Our first stop was just outside the mountain top village of El Lloar, where we visited the state of the art Torres Priorat winery. Part of the famous Torres family, this winery produces powerful Priorat reds that are readily available here in Ireland. See my previous blog post for more details. 

The next day we visited the legendary Clos Mogador, who played an integral part in the revival of the Priorat fortunes. In 1979, French winemaker Rene Barbier Ferrer and his wife Isabelle Meyer purchased their first land in the Priorat and along with 4 other producers, introduced fine winemaking techniques and added classic French varietals to the local grapes. The results are world famous. 
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Clos Mogador
The Clos Mogador minivan
Along with 2 other visitors, we piled into the Clos Mogador minivan and headed off at breakneck pace for a guided tour around the vineyards. It's a completely different experience when compared to driving around in our comfortable rental car. Here we rattle from side to side in the van as we climb and drop around the hills. But the effect of being this close to the biodynamic vines with their carpet of dry hay and wildflowers is intense.
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Clos Mogador
Grapes on the vine at Clos Mogador
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Clos Mogador
Tasting the wines of Clos Mogador
Lesser known products of the Priorat and Catalonia are the local vi ranci and vermouth. The unattractively named "rancid wine" has an oxidative nature similar to sherry that you'll probably either love or hate. If the vi ranci isn't for you, you can enjoy a glass of the local vermouth, simply served in the evening shade with ice and slice of lemon. In our hotel, the vermouth was poured straight from a well-used 3 litre water bottle, direct from the local co-operativo. It was damn good, but when my eye started to twitch incessantly, I decided that enough was enough.
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Vi ranci
Local vi ranci
Our final stop was on our way to the airport, at the main Torres winery in Penedes near Barcelona. After a video introduction to Torres, there is a guided tour of the vineyards and winery, with solar-powered mini-trains to shuttle you around. Established in 1870, Torres are undoubtedly a huge name in winemaking and their professionalism shows in every aspect of the tour. Different wine tasting options are available at the end of the tour and thanks to the efforts of Pico Communication, PR for Torres in Ireland, we are treated to a superb tasting of top flight wines, including the prize winning Mas La Plana.
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Torres winery
The Torres winery at Penedes
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Wine tasting at Torres
Wine tasting at Torres
Where we slept...

We stayed at the rustic and charming Hotel-Hostal Sport, in the town of Falset. Rooms are simple but well priced, and there is a fantastic top floor suite available for a special stay. The downstairs bar and restaurant offer local drink, right alongside the locals.
Stitch & Bear - The Priorat - Hotel Hostal Sport
The top floor suite at Hotel-Hostal Sport, Falset
Where we ate...

Clos Figueras, in the village of Gratallops. A winery and restaurant, serving local dishes

El Celler de l'Aspic in Falset, modern food with a killer, well-priced wine list

Restaurant Cal Cassoles, located just next to the Torres winery in Penedes. Grilled Iberico pork that will have you wanting never to leave. 
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1 comment

Sun Dry said...

Went here for a great all-you-can-eat buffet and they held nothing back. The food, service and mostly the staff from Los Angeles event venues were truly amazing. I was starving and am one of those voracious "sampling" type eaters who has to try everything in a buffet, and I couldn't make it!

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