Digging in the Dirt: An Inside Look at the Region of D.O.P. Cariñena


Youthful, fruity, and transparent. Dense, savory, and structured. Garnacha from Spain’s D.O.P. Cariñena delivers pleasure in many forms. Despite being a relatively small region, its unique terroir, aging considerations, and range of producers contribute to the diversity of wine styles. Translation: there’s a bottle for every occasion.

Influence of Terroir

Altitude defines Cariñena’s vineyards and, thusly, stylistic differences. Planted upwards from the flood-plain of the Ebro River, vineyards extend up to the slopes of the Sierra de Algairén mountain range to the west. Garnacha grows well in a range of elevations, from 1,300-2,800 feet, with a soil composition of limestone with a little chalk at higher sites, and slate with alluvial deposits at lower levels.

The continental climate features extremes in seasonal temperatures and a wide diurnal range during the growing season. A wind unique to the region called the Cierzo blows cold air from the north. This helps moderate otherwise hot and humid conditions in the summer. The combination of climate, wind, and altitude enable Garnacha to ripen fully yet retain a key component of balance: acidity.

Aging Potential

Cariñena wines have several aging designations available under DO regulations. The most relevant to Garnacha include Crianza (24 months, 6 in barrel), Reserva (36 months, 12 in barrel), and Gran Reserva (60 months, 18 in barrel).

Producers and Their Styles

Three co-ops produce the majority of Cariñena’s wines: Bodegas Paniza, Bodegas San Valero, and Grandes Vinos. Each has its own identity, lending range to the region’s styles.

Bodegas Paniza, named for the local town, works with Garnacha solely from the surrounding area. Elevation influences Paniza’s wines: the average vineyard sits around 2300 feet above sea level. Further complexity and depth comes from the area’s wealth of old vines, diversity of soils, and significant diurnal range. Increasingly, Paniza works with a cadre of younger farmers, making this 400-grower cooperative one of the most dynamic in Spain.

Bodegas San Valero can tap the resources of 700 growers. Based in a historical area, critical factors in quality and style include an abundance of indigenous varieties, single-vineyard designations, and old Garnacha vines, many nearing 100 years in age.

Grandes Vinos draws from vineyards across all 14 growing areas in the region and 700+ grower families. The cooperative sources from a range of altitudes between 1,000 to 2,800 feet, contributing fruit diverse in concentration, freshness, and flavor. Because of this, the winery has earned a reputation for myriad winemaking styles and delivering value across price segments.

Other Grapes

While about 32 percent of Cariñena’s wines come from Garnacha, the region’s namesake variety deserves attention. Cariñena, also known as Mazuelo and Carignan, was once the leading grape of the appellation. Difficult growing conditions led to dwindling interest, but a surge of appreciation of native varieties has inspired producers to bring it back. It accounts for almost 5 percent of production today. Cariñena makes a full-bodied wine with vibrant acidity, firm tannins, opaque color, and notes of plums, red fruit, and spice.

Success with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot has further lifted the reputation of Cariñena as a source of quality wines. Today, about 87 percent comes from red varieties, while just over 12 percent is made from white grapes, notably Chardonnay, Viura, Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca.

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Published on March 22, 2018