Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cariñena A Spanish Region To Watch

IMG_20180804_094532-01Planted at high altitude, the vineyards  of Cariñena descend into dramatic windswept plains with extreme day-to-night temperature swings, ideal conditions for rich, expressive wines.

On A Spanish Train

Somehow I missed it. As my train rumbled along the tracks from Logroño to Barcelona, I rode right past Cariñena. Cariñena is located in the heart of the Ebro Valley in Spain’s northeast region of Aragón. It’s history dates to 50 BC, but it is the future that has winemakers in the region excited.

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Tucked between two of Spain’s highest profile wine regions (Rioja and Priorat), it might be easy to overlook Cariñena. To do so would mean missing a growing assortment of well-crafted and interesting wines. Wine lovers might also be confused by the region’s name. Cariñena gave its moniker to the grape of the same name (known elsewhere as Carignan). Today, though, there is hardly any Carignan planted. You’ll find instead whites from Viura and reds from Tempranillo and Garnacha.

A Royal History

Cariñena has been attracting attention for centuries. In 1415, King Ferdinand I of Aragon declared his preference for Cariñena wine above all others. In 1585, King Phillip II of Spain was welcomed to the town with “free flowing fountains of wine.” I’m sorry I wasn’t there!

In the 1860s, 90% of European vineyards were wiped out by phylloxera, an insect that destroyed the roots of grapevines. Cariñena was largely spared and became a destination for winemakers vacating decimated areas. In 1909 King Alfonso XIII of Spain granted Cariñena a city charter for their winegrowers’ role in helping European vineyards recover from the phylloxera blight.

Cariñena WinesOur journey of discovery began with three bottles of Cariñena wine from the 2017 vintage. We tasted the Paniza Viura Chardonnay, Particular Garnacha Rosé and the Corona de Aragon Garnacha Blanca.

Tale Of The Grapes

The Cariñena wines weren’t what we expected. I say that in a good way. First, I expected red wines. The region has been promoting Garnacha (known in other parts as Grenache) as its signature grape. Two of the bottles were Garnacha, but one was a rosé and the other a white Garnacha. Interesting indeed!

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We opened the Particular Garnacha Rosé on a particularly steamy hot day. I enjoy Spanish rosé as it has a bit more heft than the typical Provence rosé. The Particular rosé is pale pink in color with nice floral aromas. On the palate there are fresh berry and mineral notes. At 12.5% ABV, this is a lighter wine that is friendly with a variety of dishes including rice, pasta and light meat dishes – as well as being great on its own.

My wife is an ABC person – Anything But Chardonnay that is. Disregarding that, I popped open the Paniza Viura Chardonnay blend. Viura, also known as Macabeo, is the most widely grown white grape in northern Spain. In many cases, Viura is very ordinary tasting, light in body and acidic. However, paired with Chardonnay in this 50-50 blend, it works wonders. The Chardonnay, finished in stainless steel, adds a depth of flavor. The Viura creates a different flavor profile when added to the Chardonnay. There are nice green apple notes and some tropical fruit too. Great for seafood and tapas.

The Corona de Aragon Garnacha Blanca was part of a wine dinner for which we were joined by out of town guests. The summer heat was unbearable, so we tried to keep everything light. To pair with the Garnacha we served a garden fresh Gazpacho topped with Collard Micro-Greens with Bell Pepper Focaccia. Of the four (or was it six?) bottles we served that night, the Garnacha Blanca was the favorite. We had arranged a different white to pair with our Potato & Wild Salmon Cakes with Ginger, Scallions and Dill Sauce – but our guests kept wanting to go back to the Garnacha Blanca until the bottle was dry.

The Garnacha Blanca has 13% Chardonnay and is pale yellow in color. The wine has more body than you may expect from a white wine with flavorings of lime and peach and aromas of white blossoms.

Cariñena is a wine region on the move. We expect to see more and more Cariñena wines on the shelves. The wines we tasted are fresh and invigorating – just the thing for an evening of entertaining or a special meal with friends and family.

Full Disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

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