Unlike the Spanish wines of Rioja or Ribera del Duero, Priorat wines are almost never aged in American oak; French oak is preferred.
The influence of the France on the wine industry of the Priorat goes back to at least 1136, when the Cartoixa d’Escaladei Priory was established. The resident Carthusian monks, who had learned vineyard techniques in Provence, tended the land in the region for nearly 700 years until 1835, when lands were claimed by the Spanish government and redistributed. Following the ravages of phylloxera and a mass exodus of the population to find work in the cities, many of the vineyards were abandoned to the elements. That was until the early 1980s, when a group of enthusiastic young wine visionaries arrived in the region, led by René Barbier, Bordeaux-trained descendent of French viticulturists. Together with his friend, Rioja-born Alvaro Palacios, Barbier set about recruiting a handful of like-minded winemakers to join them in their quest to revive the area. They introduced fine winemaking techniques (like small new French oak barrels) and, in addition to indigenous Spanish varieties, used French grape varieties—including cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot. They adopted the French-inspired site-specific term of clos, meaning “protected” or “walled” vineyard in their winery names. These original five labels—Clos Mogador, Clos Dofí (now Finca Dofí), Clos de L’Obac, Clos Martinet , and Clos Erasmus–all received international acclaim for their outstanding wines in the middle 1990s, and have been making stellar wines ever since.