Llicorella is the Priorat word for the slate soils that distinguish the Priorat as a wine region. There are many different ideas about the meaning of the word, but etymologically it likely comes from the Celtic word likka, which means "stone." This is the most plausible origin for the word because Celtic people occupied the territory in 1500 BCE.
Different parts of the Priorat have different shapes and colors of rocks, depending on composition, heat and compression when the rock was formed and on oxidation. The size of the pieces has nothing to do with how much they have been stepped on. The rocks naturally broke if they experienced changes in temperature as they were metamorphosing. The smaller pieces help prevent erosion. The bigger pieces are heavier, so they tend to fall down the mountains to lower elevations.
Depending on one’s imagination it could be believed that the colors of the rocks could impart different flavors. It is agreed that the size and shape of a stone has an impact on flavor (as with the difference between rock and clay). But scientists are definitive about the fact that there is so little mineral present in a wine that no one could distinguish one from another, particularly when they are hidden within all the attributes of the fruit. However, south-facing rocks may impart a more dry-rock sensation than rocks with a cooler north orientation. Those who debate that fact need to visit the Priorat and taste some specifically selected wines.
Spanish has a word, terruño, similar to the more familiar French terroir. It embraces all the elements the French word does: soil, climate, the surrounding plant life and history — the human quotient that has been recorded within the earth’s depths, some say 60 feet down. But terruño also includes the people who belong to the land, counter to the common conception that the land belongs to the people. More than a word, terruño is the essence of the concept that wine has a soul; it defines the elusive experience of sense of place.
The Qualified Designation of Origin (DOQ) Priorat is in the center of Montsant National Park. This often creates confusion because another wine region, the Denomination of Origin (DO) Montsant surrounds the DOQ Priorat. The DO Montsant also produces excellent wines, but its terroir is different. Its soils are predominantly clay and, most importantly, they lack the chunky slate that is distinctive of the DOQ Priorat.
The elevation in the DOQ Priorat ranges from 656 to 2,300 feet, with costers (steep slopes) inclining by 15% to 60%. The predominant soil is the famed llicorella (schist/slate). The rest is a mix of sedimentary and igneous rocks. As many as 20 different soil compositions were distributed by the Siurana River from the Montsant to the lower, southern part of the region.
The Priorat is influenced by two opposing winds — dry, hot continental winds entering from the south and west, and cool moisture-filled winds from the Mediterranean Sea to the east and south — creating optimal thermal variation. Summer temperatures range from 104°F in the day to 55°F at night. These elements join together with adapted varieties and earnest caretakers to make the terruño in the DOQ Priorat a vivid story that is told in its wines.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.