When one thinks of Spanish wine, what comes to mind? Rioja (obviously), Ribera del Duero (most certainly), and Priorat (quote possibly). Cariñena? Probably not. This region is relatively unknown to the majority of American wine drinkers but is starting to take its rightful place on store shelves amongst Rioja, Ribera, and Priorat. And rightly so. The wines of Cariñena are a true Triple-Threat: Price, Quality, and Accessibility.
Located in the autonomous region of Aragon, DO Cariñena is located in the heart of the Ebro Valley and is home to 31 wineries. It is one of Spain's oldest wine regions, gaining DO status in 1932 when the system was established. The region has a long history of providing wine to Spanish royalty and, in the 19th century, was the recipient of numerous French wine-growing families when Phylloxera destroyed the French vineyards. Today, as a result of advances in cultivation, winemaking techniques, and technology, Cariñena is taking its place on the world wine stage.
Cariñena is home to extremely favorable climate and land quality. The climate tends towards continental which cold winters and extremely hot summers. Winds frequently blow across the region and torrential downpours are not uncommon. The "cierzo" (wind) in the area also contributes to the dryness in the area. As a result of the numerous microclimates in the area, a large number of varietals (both red and white) are grown here.
Nine red (including Garnacha Tinta, Monastrell, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon) and five white (including Garnacha Blanca and Chardonnay) varietals are grown in Cariñena. The area produces red, rosado (rosé), white, sparkling, and sweet wines. Many of the wines produced here are light, fresh, fruity, and meant for early consumption. But many winemakers also produce incredible age-worthy red wines. These wines include "Crianza," "Reserva," "Gran Reserva," "Roble," and "Noble" (please see The Basics for an explanation of aging and terminology).
I had the opportunity to sample some wines from this region and found they offer the wine lover a variety not found in many wine regions around the world. And all of these wines retail for less than $15/bottle!
2013 Bodegas Paniza "Agostón" (50% Tempranillo, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) - the wine ferments in stainless steel tanks in contact with the skins for 10 days with malolactic fermentation taking place in American and French oak barrels for two months prior to bottling. Intense aromas and flavors of blackberries, dark plums, chocolate, and herbs. Fruit-forward with medium acidity and a medium, expressive finish.
2012 Bodegas Paniza "Viñas Viejas" (100% Garnacha) - produced from vines up to 100 years of age, the grapes for this wine ferment for 15 days in stainless tanks and then spend six months in American and French oak barrels before filtering and bottling. This wine is full-bodied with intense aromas of red and black fruits. Toasted notes are followed by those of vanilla, toffee, and chocolate. Medium tannins carry through on a medium finish.
2011 Grandes Vinos y Viñedos "Corona de Aragón Special Selection" (85% Garnacha, 15% Cariñena) - 40-year-old vineyards are the source of the grapes which are aged for five months (the Garnacha in 50% French/50% American oak and the Cariñena in French oak) prior to bottling. Spicy aromas lead to blackberry and cherry on the palate. Smoky overtones and cherry-vanilla flavors are prominent in this high acid, low tannin wine. An incredibly enjoyable wine with a lengthy finish.
2014 Grandes Vinos y Viñedos "Beso de Vino Old Vine Garnacha" (100% Garnacha) - produced from vines more than 40 years old, this young Garnacha wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in barrel (50% French/50% American) for only four months. This produces a fresh, fruity, wine with aromas of black cherry, strawberries, and milk chocolate. Flavors of crushed berries, cherries, and vanilla exude on this medium-bodied. This fresh, fruity wine is meant to be enjoyed young.
2013 Bodegas San Valero "Particular Cariñena" (100% Cariñena) - The only 100% Cariñena (Mazuelo) wine tasted, this wine is aged in American oak for a minimum of six months prior to bottling. Fresh and minerally, this wine has ripe fruits and spicy notes on the nose and palate. Fresh acidity with a balanced finish.
2014 Bodegas San Valero "Particular Garnacha" (100% Garnacha) - This wine undergoes maceration and fermentation in stainless steel tanks for at least 25 days. After separation from the must, the juice is transferred to another tank where malolactic fermentation takes place. Beautifully intense aromas of ripe red fruits and floral undertones. Well-balanced with plenty of body and flavors of red fruits. Long, silky finish with well-integrated tannins.
2011 Bodegas San Valero "Monte Ducay Reserva" (Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon) - The parchment wrapping on these bottles is handmade by two disadvantaged groups from Cariñena. After maceration and fermentation in stainless tanks, the wine ages in American oak for 13 months then in bottle for an additional 24 months. Red fruits and spice abound on the nose with flavors of ripe, dark red fruits and vanilla. Medium-bodied with great depth of flavor and a medium-long dry finish. A true bargain from Cariñena ($7 at Trader Joe's!).
It is easy to see the tremendous versatility in the wines from Cariñena. These wines can be an everyday drinker and a special occasion wine. Price wise, the wines from this area are quite low in comparison to other wines from Spain and the price-to-quality ratio is very high. In the past, these wines were not as readily available, but now you can find them from your local Trader Joe's to high end wine shops. Take a journey through Cariñena and discover what Spain's latest Triple-Threat has to offer.
Life is short. Drink Spanish wine!