This is the second of five instalments for a comprehensive study concerning the wines of Garnacha from the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.
In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine. The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.
Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones were Ignacio, Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral and Roser Mestre, in Zaragoza and on expeditions to the five DO’s that comprise the wines of Garnacha.
As we did each evening before heading out the following morning to a particular DO, Sofía, Ivo, Ignacio and Roser introduced the intrepid Los Canadienses travellers to the wines of that DO over dinner in Zaragoza. For the wines of Cariñena the matchmaking happened at Restaurante Palomeque, a Zaragozan institution that bridges exemplary regional cooking with 21st century acumen. The dishes at Palomeque were as much exciting as they were down to earth. The cast of Cariñena could not have chosen a more supporting role.
What is most glaring about Cariñena is the prevalence of a prairie geography and how it differs in stark contrast to the other DO’s in Aragon and Catalonia. Though mountains (including Moncayo) loom in the distance, Cariñena’s obvious dissimilitude to other wine growing regions has as much to do with climate as it does with soils. The Cariñena terra is primarily composed of clay and limestone, with very little in the way of slate like you find in Campo de Borja. The ground’s constitution aggregates with a significant absence of altitude, relative to the hills of Somontano, Calatayud and Terra Alta. That said, the are’s best examples of Garnacha are culled from vines that grow at reasonably impressive heights. What all of this essentially translates to is the basic, hard fact that the harvest here is completed earlier. At the point of our visit (October 18-19), the reaping was 90-95 per cent done. The brusque and breviloquent conclusion sees to less acidity and tannin, more elegance and less ageing potential, as compared to (certainly) Calatayud.
Calatayud is the DO to offer the best compare and contrast with Cariñena, just as a similar distinction can be ascertained with Somontano and Terra Alta. Campo de Borja is the outlier, unique, singular, the brother from another mother. Very important is the increased Mediterranean influence in Cariñena. Calatayud has more extreme seasons, particularly in spring and summer. In Cariñena, some striking, ancient Garnacha bush vines exist (and again, produce the region’s best bottles), but the age of the vines are generally younger. This aspect separates it from all of the other DO’s, especially when the discussion centers around the laying down of Garnacha.
After a brief tour through the wine museum housed in the offices of Cariñena’s DO, Christopher, Sara and I sat down for an extensive and brutally honest tasting with Care winemaker Jorge Navascues Haba.
From old bush vines (40-66 yrs) with some altitude. A family winery Garnacha with a gravelly feel, not so much rustic as gritty, for Cariñena and with really fine and necessary acidity. Reaches black cherry near ripeness, though being struck by that acidity (from altitude therefore later ripening) but more so from recent changes in winemaking. Judging ripeness has become the catalyst and in 2014 this is a wine of terrific extract, restraint and pinpoint focus. Possessive off Motherwell like brushstrokes, thick swaths of fresh blue-green cool colour and shaded by naturalism, in cure without funk. A good example of “good ripeness.” A lean and direct example. Only three chippy months of oak was used. All in all this is just prime freshness with a minor amount of green tannin. Approximate price $18.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted October 2015 @ @
Carries with it more attitude in 2013, from a vintage that seems to have delivered variable ripeness over the course of the picking weeks. Definitely and devilishly imbued with complexity, from floral, through medicinal by way of bitters and across many angles. Has real garnet, Garnacha tang levied out of vivid acidity, sweet limestone tartness and those ever-bearing fruity bitters. Perhaps more interesting if not as accessible as the follow-up ’14. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted with the Wines of Garnacha, Toronto, November 2014
From one of the more stated quality terroirs with elevation (between 500-650m) and stony-clay-chalk soils. In almost every and all respects it shies in a subdued, restrained and reserved quality. This quiet repetition and still the phenolics seem optimized, the acidity resolved and the tannins in relative, correct ripeness. Another family project, small and philosophically sound in practices. Working one of the highest and best quality vineyards in Cariñena. “The waning moon,” for a biodynamic outfit, not certified, the old vines in that altitude receiving the most benefits from the Cierzo wind. From this it is easier to cultivate organically and biodynamically because of nature’s pest control. Some 80-year old vines throw wisdom and culled subterranean culture into the mix. A bit of citrus and chalk bleeds on the very fresh finish. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015 @ @
Two years on and with more oak this is a very different animal than the subdued ’14, integrated but on the other side of the aromosphere. The oak is dominant, vanilla and cocoa are the great waft in what is ostensibly pitch perfect fruit, in bottle on the dark side of the moon. Coconut, vanilla extract and cinnamon. The wood brings layered and sheathed character. Very plush and notes Jorge, “if you come to Cariñena to experience Garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.” The deep fruit and earth melded into and by the barrel makes for a very pleasurable drop. The ’08 released into the Ontario market in November 2014 lends credence to the ageability of this Garnacha. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
A grand, beguiling, sensuous, perhaps even pushing the boundaries of voluptuous Garnacha, “a wine that describes THE Garnacha,” according to dining companions in Zaragoza. Velutinous in composure and texture, with an orange skin finish. Here the gap is bridged, from traditional to modish, by nature and into seductive polish. The peeled citrus finish is also one of great mouth-watering acidity, intrigued by l’air de panache and laced by spice. Very well done. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted at Restaurante Palomeque, Zaragoza, October 2015
One of the very few white Garnacha from Cariñena and the only example sampled in Aragon, alongside dinner in Zaragoza at Restaurante Palomeque. The mineral skips like a stone across the palate, white Grenache walking on water like a bone of peach skin and the weightlessness of almond paste. So subtle, breathless, atomic and minute. Mineral in ways to mimic Alsace, of low pH and high grape tannin, “the waning moon” is poignant to anti-fruit extreme and yet so refreshing it will, with age, point to honey and petrol. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted October 2015
The Lechuza “owl” is a collaboration between Valkyrie Selections and local winemaker Ana Becoechea from old vines vineyards just outside the town of Cariñena. This Garnacha Tinto from 45 year-old vines is borne with nature’s funk and an earthy dusting in the way Merlot can be. A chalky grit in distilled, liquid form carries a river of grain marked by the milled smell of warm cereal. Persistent, lengthy and purposed. Smell’s like victory. An excellent pairing to Somontano pork sausage filled with little black trumpet mushrooms at Restaurante Palomeque. Approx. $15 CAN. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Named for the prevalence of owls, here old vines Garnacha is uncovered out of clay and calcareous soils. You can really smell and taste the natural vineyard funk, thankful to no oak, fresh and unctuous in simultaneous fashion, yet full and yes, lifted. Highly perfumed, and incredible value at $10 US. Impossible actually. Old vines, likely 40-45 years. You can smell the violets for sure. Approx. $15 CAN. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted October 2015
Covinca Terrai OVG 2013, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
From a good-sized cooperative with almost 1.700 hectares of vineyards where native varieties like Garnacha, Mazuela or Cariñena are merged with others such as Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Macabeo, Syrah and Chardonnay. Fruit purity escalated, with just a quick dose of oak, both French and American, more than seemingly good sized barrel, because there is integration and balance. Not the longest Garnacha in the DO but certainly a pleasurable drop. A bit sour-edged and lactic on the backside though a diplomatic red effectively considered. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted October 2015
Covinca Terrai TLG Torrelongares Old Vine Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
The vines in here are old by Cariñena stain cards (45 years) and the rich, suave texture brushes the velvet reasoning. Antecedent the median regional perfume and with Mediterranean effect, seen by an increase of the savoury, through briny black olive and caper. The converse flip side slides softer tannin, riper fruit of gregarious behaviour and that savour is a step up from the tart OVG. Accumulation sports a meaty, protein laced sensation. Comparatively speaking, this has more guts and virility. The mix of satin and natural cure matches beautifully with Palomeque’s Foie Gras Migas. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Bodegas Prinur Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
A family winery with soils gravelly and with (not so common to Cariñena) slate and even more singular with some vines that are 100 years-old or more. Vines sit at altitudes of 600m (Cariñena) and 800m (Consuenda) above sea level. The old vines sports some raisin and prune ripeness with evolution void of the natural cure necessity, “a zombie wine,” notes Jorge. Here it is hard to recognize Garnacha, with age that could be 2009 or 2010, along with a showing of VA. This is a flawed but very curious wine. Sour and tightly tannic on the finish but not long. Very disjointed. Cooked fruit. From such a warm to scorching vintage. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted October 2015 @
The rusty, saline savour stands to be counted in a firm and responsibly, if surprisingly tannic blush. Talc, funk and serious tang but certainly not antiquity. Don’t expect the fruit to jump out and bite you in the behind, nor has it jumped the shark. Quite the structure for $12, sapidity and ping. Wow Rosado. Slightly higher in RS than Provence. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
Paniza Agoston Grenache and Syrah 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
From a 50-50 split with elevated sugar and acidity. French and American oak with an absence of restraint, and the oxy modernity of plush and pitch. The Syrah is so dominant in every way. The olives, pepper and bovine syndication is blatant and bullish. “Not a fair fight,” chimes in Jorge, and “that’s the point.” Dark and not so mysterious. “A winemaking wine.” No idea of origin but “a good palate.” Drink 2015-2016. Tasted October 2015
Paniza Garnacha Vinas Viejas de Paniza 2012, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
From variegated (schist, clay, loam and chalk) soil at the base of the Iberia Mountains at 800m altitude. Has a multi-terroir funk and a level of unctuousness mixed with savour from altitude. Sour but rigid and tempered acidity. Chalky yet cool and with much character and personality. Two oaks give obvious and integrated flavours. Were it not quite so ripe this would be a wine to see what can be done with Garnacha from Cariñena and five plus years. A bit sweet. If it were three instead of six, this would age like it should, low and slow. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015
Here Rosado advances into the glo but stops short of cool thanks to a retreat into warm aridity and salinity. Together they deliver, with strawberry and a bit of Co2. Refreshing, as if blush Vinho Verde. With a briny sea creature like clams or scallops (Zamburiñas Gallegas) it actually accentuates the crustaceous amplification, in both directions. Aprox. $9.99 CAN. Tasted October 2015 @ @ @
The Beso de Vino is produced by the third largest cooperative in Spain. It is basic, straightforward, red fruit juicy Garnacha from low altitude, flat clay soils of Cariñena. Character comes in a modern, big box style, more international than regional. There is a dusty component mixed with a chew of Bubbilicious and no shortage of tangy fruit to match with wide ranging cuisine. Simple and effective Garnacha. Has travelled to where it needs to be. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted October and November 2015
Another commercial wine with a North American market intent. Elevation gives cooler savour and yet it’s volatile and short. Boletus sensation, the sour a bit of a deterrent, but it has savoury interest. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted October 2015
A perched Garnacha, of a kind entrenched in the lush, the stylized, the worked and of smoothed edges. Extreme modernity, of a fast forward prepared cure, with similar fruit to the Corona but different winemaking. The fruit perhaps lags a bit behind the acumen. Possessive of an intriguing wild mountain herb. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Musty, mushroom and an hour ago tobacco linger, cool modern savoury and pitchy sweet though aromatically, not in taste. High acidity and much cocoa/espresso. High yield Garnacha (50 hL/L). Commercial to be sure. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted October 2015 @ @
Combines Cariñena and Tosos fruit, of the same high yields, with a similar profile with some volatility. Cocoa, chocolate, coffee and liquorice. Very firm and rigid wine. Not fresh and fruity that’s for sure. Resinous and the long direction taken with wood. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted October 2015
From 80 plus year-old vines, this has the levels of kirsch and high toned fruit I would hope for in an old vine Garnacha. Still the espresso, the cocoa and the high levels of acidity, more aridity, firm and quite striking. This is a meaty, savoury and mountain herbal expression. Really impressive. Cariñena and Villanueva fruit. Pretty? Sure. Volatile? Yes. Polarizing? Certainly. This is where the style goes with time and this kind of winemaking. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
The most prized perfumed is found here, standing out among the extensive Cariñena line-up, of oaked violets arranged with aromatic presentation. One of the very few that truly preserve a heightened level of quality and identity for the region. From old (80 year-old vines) up at high altitude. Fashioned with carefully selected fruit and dealt a cool fermentation, followed by one month of maceration. Aged in bigger volume, old and new (300-500l barrels). “We are not pioneers, we are imitators,” admits winemaker Jorge Navascues Haba. What’s special is the size of the barrels and the mixture of oaks. Here Garnacha that should and will certainly live another six to eight years. Shows off enough fruit to match the tannin and the acidity pulsating in full rage. Grainy like few others yet with wooing, seductive, elegant, ripe red fruit. This is the benchmark for Garnacha from Cariñena with ego checked and left at the door. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted October 2015
Bodegas Ignacio Marin Duque de Medina Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
From a family winery (largest in Cariñena) and a wine unlike any other yet in Aragon. Mature, nearly caramelized, nutty and almost desert like. Very low in acidity and tannin. Oxidative. Quick work. Drink 2015. Tasted October 2015
Bodegas Ignacio Marin Old Vines Garnacha 2010, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)
Touched, volatile, nutty to fruitcake, turntable vinyl and vaporizing. A flavour that recalls white cocoa and spun white wool. Once forbidden fruit playing hard to get. Old school, chiseled, locked in. Freshness no longer its number one asset. Drink 2015. Tasted October 2015
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel