… but that’s one of the reasons why the wines can be great, the sparseness of the stony soil forcing the ancient vines to work for their supper. The small region lies in Spain’s extreme northeastern province of Cataluña, northwest and inland from the coastal spainwine_01.jpg city of Tarragona. Vines have been grown and wine has been made in Priorat since the 12th Century, though a thousand years ago the vineyards were under the care of Carthusian monks. Long neglected because it was difficult to find workers to toil in the steeply-terraced vineyards, Priorat made a comeback in the 1990s, led by a producer called Scala Dei — “ladder of god” — that occupies the buildings of one of the old monasteries. Since 2001, Group Codorniu has owned 25 percent of Scala Dei. You can see how tiny the region of Priorat is on this map of Spain’s wine regions. In fact, you can see all of Spain’s wine regions. Thank you F.K., for this terrific educational feature of your blog!

Priorat is unusual in that its principle grape is grenache — garnacha in Spanish, garnatxa in Catalan — which in this arid climate and demanding topography manages to ripen and produce deeply colored and flavored wines. An irresistible example is the Scala Dei 648.jpgNegre 2005, a 100 percent grenache wine that features luscious, fleshy and meaty black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors permeated by dried thyme, cedar and smoke, dust, tobacco and garrigue, that earthy, parched and weedy yet perfumed herbage of the south of France. This panoply is wrapped around an intense core of licorice, bitter chocolate, tar and minerals, while the whole package is framed and founded on bastions of polished oak and grainy tannins. Yet the wine is approachable, even likable and essential with grilled red meat. Excellent and Great Value for the Price, about $20.

Grenache composes 88 percent of the Scala Dei Prior Crianza 2001, with the balance made up of eight percent syrah and four percent cabernet sauvignon, a blend that serves as an example of Scala Dei’s innovative methods (along with aging in small oak barrels). Lord have mercy, what a mouthful of wine! This is like drinking liquid blueberry and blackberry jam with licorice and lavender, rose petal and plums and touches of something wild like muscadine and cranberries; it’s that exotic, but it’s never out of control. And though the wine is intense and concentrated, dense and chewy, there’s a touch of rose petal softness to the texture, that is until the tides of oak, tannin and minerals inexorably rise. It’s a tremendous achievement, meant to be consumed from now through 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $25.

Last in this trio is Scala Dei’s Cartoixa Reserva 2001, a blend of 55 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 15 percent cabernet 652.jpg sauvignon that saw 12 months aging in French and American oak. This is a wine in which personality and character are one, in which detail and dimension are of a piece. The color is inky purple, the bouquet an amalgam of macerated and roasted black currant, blackberry and plum infused with minerals, smoke and an edge of charcoal, chocolate-covered raspberries, cloves and sandalwood. These elements segue seamlessly to the mouth, where palate-tingling acid keeps the oak and tannin structure vibrant. The finish, not surprisingly, is long, spicy, dry and increasingly austere. Try from 2008 or ’09 through 2014 or ’15. A triumph. About $36.

These three wines register 14 percent alcohol, not an outlandish level nowadays. And I would say that for the superb quality, they’re underpriced, especially compared with high quality wines from, say, Tuscany or the Napa Valley or Australia’s Barossa.

The importer is Vinum International, Napa, Ca.

The map of Spain’s wine regions is from customtours.com.