"Llicorella" (slate), the real star of the Priorat
The Priorat area has a type of soil that is very unusual on the Iberian peninsula. It is a type of slate dating from the Carboniferous period that takes up much of the centre of the area and is known here as llicorella or llecorell. Etymologically, this word comes from the Celtic likka, meaning stone, but its origin is also linked to the word llècol, used to refer to humour, taste, tasty thickness, which takes on a whole new meaning here when applied to its wines.
The vines of this ancient Priorat lie on an endless series of dark hills, thrown one against another like giant waves on a restless sea, as one writer put it.
However unyielding it may look, llicorella is essentially a fragile stone, formed from fine layers that break apart relatively easily. Despite this apparent fragility, the roots of the vines have to make titanic efforts to get through this stony soil and find what they most crave: fertile ground from which they can suck the water and nutrients they need to offer up their prized fruit.
Due to its high mineral content, llicorella creates an optical effect when it is bathed in sunshine. The mineral particles make the stone shine, turning the ground into a distinctive sea of silver.
As the writer Josep Pla put it, the Priorat is a tempestuous, cataclysmic land, of impressive geological violence. Evidence of this violence is the extraordinary folding of the slate subsoil into capricious shapes, visible in many places in the embankments beside roads and paths.