In the Priorat, rocks that are not llicorella are sedimentary or igneous granite. Both originated in the Mesozoic Era. Their constitution is generally the same as that of llicorella but their metamorphosis is different. Sedimentary and igneous rocks form closer to the earth’s surface, so the transformation is cooler, with less compression, resulting in a material that is not as hard or compact and often returns to a sediment state.
The Montsant Mountains were formed during this era and are composed primarily of limestone, sandstone and a few other rocks. The Siurana River distributed them through the Priorat on its way toward the Ebro River valley. The rocks stayed behind while the majority of the lighter clay found its way to the lower, southern parts of the Priorat. Codòls de Riu, river rocks, are also sedimentary. The Siurana has a dam now, but these colorful, smooth stones remind us of its more glorious past.
Igneous rocks are intrusive, which means they are formed from liquid rock, which is either magmatic (under the earth’s surface) or lava (from volcanos above the surface). In the Priorat igneous rock is magmatic, originating from granite (the oldest, deepest layer of the earth) and becomes one of the hardest and strongest rocks. There is very little of it but it does exist.
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.