D.O.P. Cariñena has been tagged as a hot Spanish region to watch by Wine Enthusiast in a recent issue. If you are seeking great value and intense flavors, then this historic region is one you will want to get to know. Cariñena is not only the second oldest region in Spain, but is also home to its own varietal and appellation. These qualifications have led to the production of some of Northern Spain’s best-priced, most exciting and food-friendly wines.
Producers in this almost 32-square mile area are making reds redolent of red berry, smoked meat and baking spices. A steady ribbon of refreshing acidity also lends these wines an extra layer of complexity. The average age of the vines—which is often more than 50 years old and sometimes even pushing a century—and the small berry size provides greater skin contact during the winemaking process that helps to produce fruit-forward wines that over-deliver at every price point. Powerful winds throughout the region keep the vines cool and relatively disease free.
The bulk of the wines made in this region—located in the Ebro Valley of Aragón midway between Barcelona and Madrid—are based on Cariñena and Garnacha grapes. The area is also home to many other red blends and delightful rosés. As a result, wines from the region have doubled their U.S. distribution in the past year.
Birthplace of Garnacha
The region’s winemaking culture dates back to the 15th century and its D.O.P. (Denominación de Origen Protegida) was created in 1932 making Cariñena one of the oldest officially recognized regions in Spain. In 1415, the wines of Cariñena were already on the list of preferred supplies of food and drink that Ferdinand I, King of Aragón planned to take on a journey to Nice. The grape was likely transplanted to Italy, France and the New World from here.
Cariñena’s single-variety wines and blends are the next great discovery for your clients. Many of these wines are structurally similar to those found in the Rhône Valley of France, but are much more affordable and accessible in their taste profile.
Think of an appealing $10 or under by-the-glass price point for your clients, compared to an off putting $30 or more for similar French wines. “The wines as a whole offer an extreme value for money as a result of the purity of fruit,” says Christopher Tanghe, one of Seattle’s Master Sommeliers who previously worked at Spanish restaurant Aragona.
The Top Three
A trio of producers account for the majority of the region’s wines. Bodegas Paniza, named after the town where it is based, is a forward-thinking cooperative made up of 400 growers. Their vineyards can be found at some of Cariñena’s highest altitudes and are entirely hand-harvested. Many of the younger generation are moving back to farm these vineyard lands.
Bodegas San Valero has a lengthy history in the region and depends on a network of 700 growers. All of the winery’s vineyards directly surround the village of Cariñena and many of them are single-vineyard designations. Indigenous varietals are key here, accounting for 70 percent of plantings. These vineyards are home to some of the region’s oldest Garnacha vines that are up to a century old.
Grandes Vinos y Viñedos works with vineyards in all 14 growing areas of D.O.P. Cariñena. Many of the vineyards can be found at 1,000 to 2,800 feet in altitude and a third of the land is devoted to growing Garnacha. The winery is known for its incredible diversity of winemaking styles and its ability to deliver value across the price spectrum.
Diversity and Flexibility
While the Cariñena region isn’t large, its producers offer a huge range of wine styles. According to key sommeliers, such as Rachel Merriam of Casa Mono & Bar Jamón in New York City, Garnacha from the region is a versatile and food-friendly grape.
The legendary Garnacha is often blended with other grapes like Cariñena, Tempranillo and Syrah and is also available in a rosé style. The grape’s fruit-packed flavor profile and soft, accessible tannins make it an ideal pairing for everything from BBQ and hamburgers to spicy stews and braised meats.
These flavor-packed reds are easy to place both by the bottle and the glass as well as hot items on retail shelves. Without a doubt this is a historic region, with a bright future, that you will want to keep a close eye on.