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.
Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlign: Discover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha
The journey has already established a forever Garnacha embed into our hearts and minds. The adage of “keeps on giving” was spinning forth from the gift of five erudite nights in Zaragoza and four synoptic days of Garnacha immersion through the DO’s of Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Terra Alta. On the fifth morning it was high time to get out of Zaragoza city and head southwest, to the fertility fields of Calatayud. The feeling immediately impressed, of calm and wonderment created by gently rolling hills through wide open spaces.
Related – Garnacha covered part four: Terra Alta
Related – Garnacha covered part three: Somontano
Related – Garnacha covered part two: Cariñena
Related – We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja
Before continuing with this fifth and final installement on Garnacha, thanks again must be afforded to our hosts; The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. First to Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. To Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral and Roser Mestre for their guidance and companionship.
Garnacha rules in this Denominación de Origen. It is here where winemakers hang on with clenched grips to ropes made of hope and the idea of “keeping the secret alive.” The master plan is to perpetuate the passion, the centuries of accumulated knowledge and the drive for a prosperous future. The task currently resides under the tutelage of Presidente de la DO José Félix Lajusticia.
Calatayud is one of the latest harvesting DO’s, in fact the vintage was still in motion during our visit on October 23rd and would not finish until late October or early November. Cooperatives play a major role, like Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra which farms 650 hectares of vineyards. Older Garncaha vines are 80 – 100 years old. One bush vine produces one kilo of fruit for one bottle of wine and the market supports the flow through with one euro paid to the grower. That needs to change.
We walked the boundless and endless vineyards with Javier lázaro Guajardo, Secretary of the Calatayud PDO. We also came upon abandoned Macabeo (Viura) vineyards, sitting in silence, waiting to be ripped out for almonds, apricots and olives. The equation is simple. Wake up the world and open eyes to such travesties and to the sentient upright varietal that is Garnacha with the indisputable quality it can deliver. Find two euros per kilo and turn $9.99 wines in North America into ones that fetch $19.99.
“Calatayud is like a bicycle wheel,” with the river Jalón running through the centre. Remains of winemaking date back as far as 153 BC. Marcus Valerius Martialis from the Roman town of Bibilis documented winemaking in the first century made by Cistercian monks who founded the Monasterio de Piedra, now the museum for the PDO. The region works the effects of an extreme continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters that combine for upwards of 50-60 degrees of variance.
The night before we paid a visit to another Zaragoza resto to feast on local specialities and to get a glimpse of Garnacha from Calatayud. At Borago Cantina we tasted Cruz de Piedra, Altovinum Evodia, Altos Las Pizarras, Las Rocas Viñas Viejas de San Alejandro and Clos de Baltazar El Heroe Garnacha Viñas Viejas.
At the offices of the DO in Calatayud we were presented the following wines.
Bodega Virgen de la Sierra Cruz de Piedra Garnacha Tinto Selección Especial 2013, DO Calatayud, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)
From 50-100 year old vines out of the largest cooperative and the stable of Axial Vinos, special selection, the “cross of stone,” to guide the pilgrims. Magnified, elevated acidity and tones, lashing the red berry fruit, offering exhilaration and consternation. Six months in oak for a shine and with faith to seek happiness. A demanding wine, rich, clay-limestone cakey, citrus expansive, blessed by bitters, tinged in tar and crackling with char. Fierce tannin, actually, for Garnacha. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted October 2015 @louisgeirnaerdt
Bodega Virgen de le Sierra Albada Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, DO Calatayud, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)
Song of the ancient vine growers, or dawn, or both, in meaning. Curious, musty, reserved, muted, of perception in tobacco and spices. So very rustic, leathery and reeking cedar, the aromas coming out with aeration though the tannin are tough and demanding, Still, this does not give away much, especially considering the longer ferment and the fact of American Oak. No vanilla or white nut, not necessarily a bad thing, but again, curious. Not nearly as expressive as the second of two bottles tasted in Zaragoza the previous night. That second bottle was much more expressive, integrated and rich, with acidity piquing. Would like to see this with some further integrated age. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015
Altovinum Evodia 2014, DO Calatayud, Spain (Winery)
A custom cuvée for Eric Solomon from 800-900m vineyards and 60-80 year old vines. The name means “perfume,” a person’s scent passing by. No oak, great acidity, rock, slate and aridity. This is a very pure expression, unencumbered, unadulterated, liquorice red and black. The freshness and the soil aspect so front and centre is just perfect. Terrific wine that lets the basic purpose of Garnacha to speak and to shine. Must agree with the “place over process” notation on the bottle. Tannin is certain of itself and willing to keep this grooving alongside acidity for three to four years. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @EuropeanCellars
Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2011, Do Calatayud, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)
From vines 70 years of age in vineyards at 900m of altitude. A very warm, soothing, inching up the heat scale Garnacha with each passing breath. Quite the fruit to rock perfume, very concentrated, jammy, nosing red currants, plums and strawberries. So much fruit. All in. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted October 2015 @BSanAlejandro @TrialtoON
Bodegas y Viñedos del Jalón Las Pizarras 2011, Calatayud, Spain (Winery)
The winery dates back to 1960’s and the fruit from vines 60 plus years of age. Just one month in French oak gives barrel kisses in vanilla and leather, despite the short stay. As a 2011 it is offering delicate balance and small notations from that wood. Silky, in threads through the nose, in linen on the palate and in glide on the finish. Cool, slightly savoury, elegant, so interesting to taste a Garnacha with just a kiss of oak and post four years in bottle. Says so much about the quality of the grapes, the winemaker’s confidence to let is rest before releasing. This program is unlike any other that I tasted, not just in Calatayud, but in all of Aragon and Catalonia. Valiant, brave, sure. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015 @bodegasjalon
Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Altos Laz Pizzaras 2011, Calatayud, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)
The same fruit but this time 11 months in oak. Richer certainly, a hyperbole of expression as compared to the unplugged, with more tannic structure and extraction from the barrel. Bound by a cure, a natural weighty funk, liquid chalk and the acidity preserved. Stronger, by the wood and the tannin. This feels like a wine that has yet to alter its initial course, that it will take three more years before change is going to come and five to seven before its slides back down the other side of the Moncayo. Drink this between 2017-2022. The fruit aromas will stand, alongside the tannin and will begin to peel away in 2019-2020. Tasted October 2015
After our visit into the hills and vineyards of Calatayud our final Aragon feast took place at Casa Escartín, a local joint with a sense of the parochial as much as any we visited the entire week. The Garnacha from the region and the winemakers sent us packing aboard a rush hour train back to Madrid.
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel