A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei with Duck

A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck

A Priorat Wine Masterpiece comes from Open That Bottle Night – one of my favorite Saturdays of the year. I liken it to the Hallmark holiday for wine. 

A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck

About Open That Bottle: The former Wall Street Journal wine columnists and now proprietors of The Grape Collective realized that wine lovers often hoard amazing bottles of wine. We buy these bottles, are super amped to open them one day – only that ONE DAY seems to always be a different day. So, they created an annual day dedicated to opening that bottle. I’m game for any excuse to uncork something special – what, it’s Tuesday?  

Selecting the wine

For Il Marito and I the choice was pretty easy: our prized Priorat wine, a 1974 Scala Dei. Yes, 1974. That bad boy just hit the big FOUR-OH. Time to celebrate!

We procured the wine on our first European road trip in 2013 at a little wine shop in Priorat’s primary winemaking village of Falset. When Il Marito found out the shop actually had the wine available he was like a little kid on Christmas morning. It was adorable.A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck

About Scala Dei

The 1974 Scala Dei is sort of a big deal in the Priorat wine world because it’s said to be the first wine bottled from the region in its modern form.

A representative from Scala Dei explained it is “the first modern Priorat, the first step in the renaissance process, which took Priorat from oblivion.” 

At Scala Dei wines were bottled in the XIXth century. They don’t have any left from that time, but you can see pictures at the location.

Priorat expert and guide Rachel Ritchie explains that the region was dominated by the Carthusian monks in the middle ages. They ruled the land from the Scala Dei monastery with the prior overseeing the area’s seven villages, thus the origin of the Priorat name. The monks controlled all the cultivations, which are limited given the area’s poor schistous soils. The story goes that in 1974 Cellars Scala Dei bottled the first Priorat wine under the newly launched DOQ Priorat. That first vintage was of Cartoixa, the garnatxa grape (garnacha to the rest of us).

A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck
Priorat is known for its dramatic terraced vineyards – one of the reasons the wine is so spendy. There is no machine harvest in this ‘hood. It’s intense and expensive manual labor.

Prepping an old wine

We pulled the wine from the cellar a few days before the big do and positioned it upright so the sediment would sink to the bottom of the bottle. We selected two wines in case our prize number was skunked. We opened the Scala Dei the night before. We have one of those wine tools that gently extracts the cork of an older bottle – in case it has started to disintegrate. It was rough getting it out, but we finally did. We dropped a taste in our baby tasting glass and hoped for the best. It was good! We evaluated and it had a bit of a fino sherry thing going on, so we decided decanting was not necessary.

A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck
The Heir & The Spare. Our back-up choice was a 1993 Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes. Luckily the Scala Dei was in good shape, so the Jean Leon will be called upon another day!

Read More: 5 Things to Know About the Priorat Wine Region

Tasting Notes

The wine definitely was starting to show the brick red that comes with an older red wine. It was clean to the sight and on the nose. It smelled like an old wooden table that has been polished regularly for the past 100 years. It also had scents of nutmeg and cinnamon. They were both also notable on the palate as well as caramelized almond. The length seemed endless. A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck It paired perfectly with the rich, savory duck. The spices and caramelized tastes matched perfectly with sweet from the hazelnuts and the garlic add a perfect zest. Find the duck recipe below.

Crispy Duck Legs with Toasted Hazelnut & Garlic Sauce

This recipe was adapted from Food & Wine. It calls for duck legs, but as it happens duck is not easy to come by in Italy if you have not ordered it in advance – rookie mistake. After three hours of visiting every butcher and supermercato in town, we finally found a duck breast. Wrapped in pancetta. It was marvelous. The original recipe does not call for pancetta, so I’ve incorporated that into the Girl’s Gotta Drink version. Enjoy!

A Priorat Wine Masterpiece: 1974 Scala Dei & Roast Duck

Servings 4 people

Prep Time 45 minutes

Cook Time 1.5hours

Passive Time 10minutes


1/4cup olive oilextra virgin
1large spanish onionchopped
One 3-inchstick cinnamonbroken
2 cups plum tomatoeschopped
pancetta or thin baconlarge enough slices to wrap around the meat
1cup dry winered
1 cup chicken stock
Eight 8-ounce Peking duck legs trimmed of excess fat
black pepperfreshly ground
1/3cup hazelnuts
1cup crustless baguettefinely diced
2large garlic cloveschopped
1tablespoon unsalted butter


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F / 162°C. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the chopped onion, broken cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, for about 8 minutes until the onion is softened. Add tomatoes, then cook over moderate heat. Continue stirring until very soft, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and boil over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
  2. Wrap the duck with pancetta. Season the duck with salt and pepper and set the legs skin side up on the vegetables; keep the skin out of the liquid. Bake the duck legs on the top third of the oven for 1.5 hours, until the meat is tender and the skin is crisp.
  3. Next, spread the hazelnuts over a pie plate. Place them in the oven to toast until golden for about 10 minutes. If your hazelnuts have skin transfer to a towel and rub to remove the skins. Put them in a mini food processor.
  4. In a medium skillet heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the bread and cook over moderately high heat. Stir until browned, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, then add the garlic. Cook and stir until the garlic is golden. Transfer the bread, garlic and oil to the food processor, then coarsely grind with the hazelnuts.
  5. Transfer the duck to a rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Strain the pan sauce through a sieve positioned over a saucepan; pressing on the solids. Scrape the vegetables on the underside of the sieve into the sauce and then skim off the fat. Boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 2 cups.
  6. Whisk the hazelnut mixture into the sauce and simmer. Take of the heat, then whisk in the butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the duck.

Recipe Notes

Let me know if you have any good ideas for Priorat food and wine pairing! A presto, ragazzi!

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