Friday, February 26, 2021

Ancient Soils In Cariñena Yielding Modern Expressions Of Garnacha Grape

PXL_20210211_210649559.PORTRAITTabbed as an up-and-coming wine region in Spain, Cariñena has roots dating back to the Romans.

Birthplace Of Garnacha

Cariñena is a 32-square mile patch of dry rocky soil in Northwest Spain. It’s located in the autonomous community of Aragon, which was once a medieval kingdom.

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It is said that this is the birthplace of Garnacha, known in France and other countries as Grenache. A theory that the variety came from Italy was recently debunked when DNA evidence showed that the Italy’s Cannonau grape isn’t the same as Spain’s Garnacha.

Whatever you call it and whatever the origin, there’s no denying that the grape flourishes in Spain’s climate. The country is bounded by two completely different seas, buttressed by mountains, and blessed with large valleys created by rivers resulting in ideal growing conditions.

Master of Wine Pedro Ballesteros Torres and DOP Cariñena recently presented a master class on Cariñena, touching on its history and guiding a tasting of current wines. Cariñena is the second oldest DOP in Spain, being established in 1932. People have been loving the wines from this region for many centuries prior.

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Fountains Of Wine, Yes!

The region, near the Sistema Ibérico mountains, was well known to the Romans. As far back as the 3rd century they were known to enjoy the local wine mixed with honey. The region, and Spain for that matter, has a rich and sometimes tumultuous history.

Once the Kingdom of Aragon, in the 15th century King Ferdinand I declared a preference for Cariñena wine “above all others.” Perhaps the most interesting historical fact is that in the 1585 King Phillip II of Spain was welcomed to Cariñena with two fountains flowing with wine, one white and one red. At this time, wines from Cariñena were renowned around the world.

The Decline And Rise Of Cariñena

A decline in the Spanish wine industry started in the 19th century with the Napoleonic War. A series of wars followed by repressive dictatorships meant that for almost 40 years the only highly recognized wine from Spain was sherry. That script has been flipped as wines from Cariñena are again capturing world attention.

Garnacha requires a lot of heat. Monks from Monasterio de Veruela are believed to be the first to produce wine from the grape. “Garnacha is quite adaptive,” says Ballesteros Torres. “We have many different clones in Cariñena compared to the rest of the world.

PXL_20210221_001635774~2“If you want to know what Garnacha tastes like,” said Ballesteros Torres, “look at where it comes from.” The different clones result in different aromatic definitions and textures. In France, Grenache has more tannins. In Cariñena the wine has more balance and more acidity, the result of different soil types.

The altitude impacts the flavors as well, ranging from robust, fruity wines on the plains at about 1,300 feet above sea level. Climbing higher, vineyards on the slopes of the rugged Sistema Ibérico mountain range at more than 2,600 feet produce more lifted, high-toned expressions. The Ciezo wind, which can blow across Cariñena at more than 60 miles per hour, offers relief from the extreme heat and keeps the summertime humidity around 50%.

Contrasting Styles

Perhaps it is surprising that Cariñena, the grape not the region, isn’t the most planted variety in this area. Also known as Carignan it is considered the Cinderella grape, which is only now being translated into unique and interesting wines. Garnacha is the most widely planted grape in Cariñena, which is home to more old vines Garnacha than any other region in Spain.

We popped open the 2016 Bodega San Valero Celebrities Old Vines Garnacha with an Impossible Black and Blue Burger accompanied by sweet potato fries. This Celebrities bottle is 100% Garnacha. It’s priced at $12.99 and is a joyful wine to drink. This is an example of a fresh and fruity Garnacha, which we found was a fun pairing for our burger and would be delicious on just about any wine occasion.

The 2013 Monasterio de la Viñas Gran Reserva is a blend of Grenache (60%), Tempranillo (30%) and Cariñena (10%) from vines that are between 40- and 50-years old. This is in the classic Spanish style which goes beyond fruit to a more austere result. It has plenty of oak and complexity. It is priced at $21.99.

Cariñena is has been named a region to watch as winemakers build upon centuries of tradition with new and exciting expression of its famed grapes. With wallet-pleasing prices, its an ideal chance to begin your exploration of Spanish wines.

Full disclosure: We received these wines as marketing samples.

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