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Rioja vs Priorat

a wooden table topped with glasses of wine and cheese, nuts and meats

Wine tasting | Picture by: Laurel Widdoss

Spain is well known for its huge number of wine regions, so it might not surprise you that Spain is the second largest wine producing country in the world. With famous wine regions such as Andalucia, Castilla y León, Rioja and Priorat there is plenty of choice for those who like to visit the beautiful wineries and of course taste the delicious wines Spain has to offer. If your time in Barcelona is limited, sadly enough you might not be able to visit both wine regions. So, here is the comparison you need when deciding you need to decide which region suits your interest and travel itinerary the most!

Unique geographies 

Rioja is located in the north of Spain and is about 500 kilometres from Barcelona. It consists of three different regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. The landscape of Rioja is diverse, with both hilly and flat areas and the Ebro river flows through this landscape. Within the Rioja region you can find lots of mediaeval villages and extensive vineyards. The Ebro river, together with the Oja river, influence the local climate and soils and, consequently, so the characteristics of the Rioja wines. Priorat is located in Catalonia, and is therefore only 145 kilometres from Barcelona. This area has a unique landscape as well, characterised by its mountains and terraced vineyards as shown in the image below. The Rioja vineyard area counts 63,593 hectares (2021) and is about 33 times bigger than the Priorat area, which consists of 1,900 hectares (2021) of vineyards. 

The shorter travel distance makes the Priorat region more suitable to visit during a day trip from Barcelona than the Rioja region. On the other hand, a multi day trip is perfect to discover all the charms of the different picturesque villages and several wine regions Rioja has to offer. 

a tree with a barrel and  mountains in the background

The beautiful Priorat wine region | Picture by: Laurel Widdoss

From grape to wine bottle

In the Rioja region the primary grape is Tempranillo, and most of the Rioja wines contain between 70% and 80% of this Tempranillo grape. Grapes that are permitted for blending are the Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan), and Graciano. The Rioja wines are traditionally aged in wooden barrels, which gives the wines their flavour and character.

The taste of the red Rioja wines eventually depends on the time the wine has been aged. The younger wines are more soft and fruity, while the older wines contain aromas of ripe fruit and notes of leather, tobacco and vanilla. Rioja wines go very well with red meat such as ribeye and entrecote.

The red Priorat wines are typically blends dominated by Carignan (locally known as Cariñena) and Garnacha, and nowadays they are often complemented with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah. In Priorat the process of wine making has more modern features compared to the more traditional Rioja region. While respecting the traditions of the area, the winemakers apply modern techniques such as small-barrel fermentation and limited oak aging. The taste of the red Priorat wines is full bodied and dark fruity. But the secret to Priorat wines is the mineral flavour they have because of the unique Llicorella soils on which the grapes grow. These flavours go well with for example grilled meat, aged cheese and roasted dishes. 

The wineries

The Rioja wine region is more widely known then the Priorat region because of their internationally broader distribution, the history of this region goes further back and there is a larger production then in the Priorat region. Over the years, approximately 600 wineries have sprung up in Rioja where you can experience the uniqueness and history of this region. For example, the Bodega Roda winery has its vineyards located in a meander of the Ebro. Also, some restaurants in Rioja are located within historic wine cellars which will create a unique dining atmosphere. In the smaller Priorat region there are 109 wineries, from family owned wineries until renowned wineries. The oldest winery in Priorat is Scala Dei, which has existed since 1194. Many restaurants in Priorat offer wine and food paired experiences, so the dishes will complement the wine flavours.

a castle with a mountain in the background

The Rioja landscape | Photo by: José Luis Barbi

Both Rioja and Priorat will give you an amazing experience of the higher end of Spanish and Catalan wines combined with stunning nature. If you are short on time during your visit to Barcelona, a day trip to the Priorat wine region could be a great choice. You will experience multiple wineries together with a genuine culinary experience. If you have more time to spare, you can indulge yourself in the rich culture of the Rioja wine region with a 3-day journey from Barcelona. You will have enough time to explore the extensive vineyards and mediaeval villages. Of course a multiple day experience is also possible for the Priorat wine region, for example combined with the Penedès wine region. Also, you can get in touch for a fully customised tour!