Priorat – the DOC wine area amidst steep hills

Just 30km away from Hospitalet – this is what we discover on the map – there is the small town Falset (‘Falset – accent on the first syllable) which is the gateway to the DOC wine region Priorat and the adjacent DO region Montsant . On the map we select a round tour from Falset to Gratallops and back to Falset. Later we will return to explore the Montsant region with Escaladei (literally staircase to God).


Falset – a charming small country town

Falset is a charming small country town located in a friendly broad valley with olive trees, fruit trees and vineyards. There are many wine cellars, the most known one being the Cooperativa Scala Dei. Falset also hosts an enology school and a wine technology institute called Vitec that allows the local wine growers to analyze and optimize their wine production. I found this in Miquel Hudin: “Vinologue Montsant”, Liberdúplex 2004.

The town is quiet on this Sunday, the restaurants are full with people eating around three in the afternoon (the normal time for lunch in Spain).


Continuing through steep hills to Gratallops

We continue north towards Gratallops. Our road climbs and meanders through steep and rocky hills. No vineyards. I am surprised. Where are the Priorat wines? We have a coffee and a crema Catalana in the restaurant “La Cassola del Priorat”.

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Around this place we can see the first vineyards, terrassed on steep hills.

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The vines are loosely arranged, it must be hard to grow wine here.

Behind the next hill appears this gorgeous village perched on a hill. This is Gratallops.

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We enter the village. Narrow streets…

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… a church,…

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and a restaurant closed right now, on Sunday.

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Also the shop selling honey is closed today.

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One shop is open. We buy some wine – Garnatxa red (Lluna Vella) and white (l’Udol), a bottle of  Vermouth by de Muller, some local marmalade and the guide to the Montsant wines by Miquel Hudin. Three innovative wine growers have their cellars just outside of Gratallops: Alvaro Palacios, René Barbier and Carlos Pastrana. This is for some other time… I would have had to call them beforehand.

We continue our way along a narrow street above the Siurana river. Around us the steep vine gardens of the Priorat.

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Torroja of Priorat is just above the river Siurana.

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The road winds uphill with vineyards and olive groves on steep slopes. I had not imagined Priorat being so precipituous. In the “Vinologue Montsant” I read that in the DOC area of Priorat, 90% of the vines grow on llicorella slate (slate mixed with quartz), while DO Montsant has many different soils which also makes it interesting, as winegrowers start to produce wines exploiting the variety of the terroir.


Montsant – I am curious and will go back to Priorat

In the background we see the rocks of Montsant.

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Prices for wines are not as high as in the Priorat region, where prices reach even several 100 Euros. The Canadian Miquel Hudin fell in love with Monsant and wrote his book “Vinologue Monsant”.

While already the Romans had grown wine here, this tradition was interrupted during the Moorish reign, until 1153. Then the “Cartoixa de Santa Maria d’Escaladei” was  founded as the first Carthusian monastery in today’s Spain. A shepherd had a vision here: Angels climbed a staircase to heaven. Hence the name “scala dei” or “staircase to god”. The monastery owned the land that subsequently was called “Priorat”. In 1835 the ecclesial possessions were abolished and the farmers destroyed the monastery.

After reading this book and having seen the rocks, I am curious and decide go back to the Montsant area of Priorat with its staircase to God (Escaladei)









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