The DOCa area (Catalan priory) in the middle of the province of Tarragona in the Spanish region of Catalonia is named after the monastery Priorato de Scala Dei (Priory of the Ladder of God). According to legend, in the middle of the 12th century, a shepherd boy saw angels descending on a "ladder to heaven". In 1163, Carthusian monks founded the monastery named after this event. The wine is mentioned by the Franciscan monk Francisc Eiximenis (1340-1409) in his work "Lo Crestia". He describes the "decent drinking of wine" and advises to mix the strong wine from Priorat with water. Already in the Middle Ages, Priorato was one of the most important wine-growing regions in Spain. The decline began in 1835, when the monks left the monastery. Then, towards the end of the 19th century, phylloxera came and destroyed the vineyards, which at that time covered 17,000 hectares. Only a small part of them was replanted afterwards.
From the mid-1980s onwards, "young, wild winegrowers" such as, above all, Álvaro Palacios from the winery of the same name, René Barbier (Clos Mogador), Adrian Garsed, Dafne Glorian and Carles Pastrana (Costers del Siurana) established the area's present-day fame. But the real discoverer is the biology professor José Luis Pérez (owner of the Mas Martinet and Cims de Porrera wineries). Through numerous experiments, he recognised the great potential of the Garnatxa (Garnacha Tinta) and Carinyena (Mazuelo) vines, some of which are over 100 years old. He also acted as a mentor for the winemakers. To complement the autochthonous varieties, French varieties were introduced and new techniques such as barrique ageing were introduced for this area.
Today Priorato covers 1,600 hectares of vineyards in the eleven municipalities of Bellmunt, Falset, Gratallops, La Morena de Montsant, La Vilella, Mola, Lloá, Poboleda, Porrera, Scala Dei and Torroja. It is almost surrounded by the DO area of Montsant. The vineyards on terraces or steep slopes are situated between 100 and 700 metres above sea level on the Sierra de Montsant with sometimes extreme inclination. They are among the steepest vineyards in Europe. The climate is mild, Mediterranean influenced with dry summers. The Siurana (Ebro tributary) flows through the area, whose soils of volcanic origin, ideally suited for viticulture, consist of small-leaved slate (Llicorella). Due to the special terroir and the often extremely low yield, red wines in particular are among the most famous and expensive in Spain, with a maximum of 10 hl/ha or less.
The most important red wine varieties predominant here are Garnatxa(Garnacha Tinta), Garnacha Peluda, Carinyena(Mazuelo), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah; the most important white wine varieties are Garnatxa Blanca(Garnacha Blanca), Macabeu(Macabeo), Pedro Ximénez, Chenin Blanc and Viognier. The deep dark, concentrated, tannic and alcohol-rich red wines (at least 13.75 to 15% alcohol by volume) require at least five years of bottle ageing until they are ready to drink and can be aged for up to 25 years. Priorato was qualified for the DOCa level in 2001 as only the second Spanish area after Rioja. Well known producers are Capafons-Ossó, Cartoixa de Montsalvat, Celler Cecilio, Cims de Porrera, Clos Mogador, Clos i Terrasses, Costers del Siurana, Dixneuf, Fuentes (with the brands Finca el Puig, Gran Clos and Vinya Llisarda), Mas d'en Gil, Mas Igneus, Mas Martinet, Álvaro Palacios, Pasanau Germans, Rotllan Torra, Scala Dei, Vall-Llach and Vinicola del Priorat.