Cariñena Is Ready for You

So what’s the first thing you think of when you read Cariñena? I thought of the grape Cariñena, aka Carignane, eponymous as it is. what I did not think of was the region Cariñena in Spain’s province of Aragon. Why is that? It’s a good question, and on I resolved while visiting the region briefly early last month. 

Cariñena the region doesn’t jump to mind because they have not been terribly present in the US market. I bet the same applies to you.

Fair enough, but that is about to change, and for some pretty compelling reasons.

As many of you might know I am not a huge fan of Grenache. I understand the wine’s appeal, and think it is going to be huge once casual pinot drinkers start tasting the right examples. It’s kind of big but not tannic, easy drinking and soft with typically candied strawberry flavors. All reasons why I don’t enjoy the wines. But then there is this. Garnacha from Cariñena. It’s darkly fruited, of modest alcohol, if 13.5% can be considered modest, and of course with grenache that is modest. It’s all complex, minerally, resplendently showing off its terroir, and surprising structured. In short it can make even the most die hard critic of Grenache stand up and take notice!


So what is it about Cariñena that produces wines like these? Terroir first and foremost. The region sits on a high plateau, so even though the vineyards appear to be fairly flat and there are few true hillside vineyards we are talking of elevations of roughly between 1300 and 2740 feet. That’s pretty high, and it allows for relative cool nights even in the face of some hot and dry days. 


And then there is the soil, or what little there is of it. The morphology of the region is fascinating.  The bulk of the vineyard lay on gently undulating slopes that roughly form the center of a wide valley. here one finds glacial moraine and alluvial soil layered over clay. As one moves away from the flats there are increasingly diverse stretches of soil that include significant patch of colluvial rock, some regions of heavier clays and loams, and soils with significant quantities of iron and some sulphur as well. All this means that there is great variety, along with some fantastic drainage, in the region which, when paired with the varying altitude offers producers here a pretty diverse range of styles to play with.


I was fortunate to be able to taste through a line-up of wines produced and the differing altitudes and the results were remarkable. As you climb in height the fruit in these wines progressively got darker, and richer with high acid and finer if harder tannins. Much of this is most likely due to the availability of water, which at about 17 inches per year in rainfall, can be an issue. Much of the vineyard here are in fact irrigated, with the usual protestations of how minimally that system is used but a significant portion of the vineyards here are old vine and bush trained.


It is a windy spot, the vineyards of Cariñena, and bush trained vines not only allow for easier passage of wind through the vineyards, but they also allow for farmers to be able to plow both on the north/south and east/west axis. In a land with such limited water, and not enough soil to grow actual cover crops, plowing under what little weed growth there is has historically been the norm. No need to offer even more competition for such limited water resources. Of course, as with everywhere, as these bush trained vineyards expire they are being replaced with easier to farm trellised vineyards. We are losing a bit of a treasure when that happens but thousands of hectares to farm one can understand why the owners of such properties are making the switch.


Fortunately much of the new plantings rely on the local genetic material, and there can be no doubt that this Grenache, small berried, well adapted to shutting down each day from the heat instead of going into full hydric stress, and producing relatively small clusters of small berries is the final piece of the puzzle here. Bring all the component together and you have these surprisingly fabulous examples of grenache that show great fruit and character. Of course there is that true final piece of the puzzle, the producers, but with fairly little experience with these wines, and the current state of flux the region is facing, it’s probably best to add just a few words about the producers and rely on the terroir to help frame the discussion of these wines.


My visit to Cariñena was based around visiting but three producers, though the largest three producers who account for roughly 50 million bottles of potential production each year. that some big number. As is the case the world over with producers of this size, things have been increasingly difficult over the past few decades as domestic consumption dropped and the need for powerful blending wines has virtually disappeared. you see that was the market for Carignena in the past. Lots of inexpensive wines, some of which is still produced, and lots of big, powerful, sunbaked wines that were used to add power and depth to other bulk wines. There was of course always some small premium wine production, but it was not the heart of the local industry.


With so much wine to sell these three producers needed to turn to new markets, and for the moment one of these is the states. in an effort to expand their foothold here the producers have been playing around with a variety of wine style, though all seem to rely on base wines that are decidedly fresher and lighter than what was typically produced in the past. You’ll still be able to find so-called supermarket wines coming from the region, and some of their simple unoaked examples are joyously fresh and delicious and worthy of everyone’s attention. the you are likely to encounter the typical progression of wines where a bit of oak and a bit more power differentiates one line from the next. Not to knock these wines. the market has shown that this is what many folks are looking for, just for my money i’d be on the lookout for some of the less oaked examples that really capture what is unique about the wines from Cariñena.


I have been speaking about Grenache through all of this and realise that a few words should be spent on Carignane, which got its name, if not its start here, and other varieties typical to Spain. While garnacha dominate the landscape with about 55% of land under vine, Carignane is an important player here as well, taking up about 15% of vineyards. As I’ve been learning over the course of the past year while i devoted a notable amount of time to trying Carignane, its not an easy grape to love. There’s a reason that it was historically a blending grape, but here in its namesake region it does produce some compelling examples. the bitter edge typical to the wine is accentuated by the minerality and freshness the wines exhibit. that freshness seems to be a calling card for the new wines of Cariñena, as evidenced by the absolutely terrific Agoston Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bodegas Paniza. Clocking in at all of $8, yes eight dollars, this little wines is zesty and bright with terrific juicy character to the fresh fruit. 


Among the wineries I tried while in Cariñena, Bodegas Paniza was a bit of a standout. unlike the other two cooperatives, and all three are coops of one sort or the other, only paniza is geographically focused. All the fruit for these wines comes from within the village of paniza, and to my palate this shows in the wines with notable purity and a lovely mineral freshness that no doubt comes from the vineyards here, 2,200 hectares, or about 5,400 acres at roughly 2250 feet above sea level. About 400 of the 700 or so families that live in Paniza belong to Bodegas paniza and for many, if not most the income they derive from farming these grapes is their only source of income.


These high altitude vineyards are typically dry farmed and have plenty of blue slate in their soils, which consist mostly of red clays in the northern reaches of the appellation, gaining some chalk as you move further to the south. because of the altitude here the climate is cooler than in lower lying areas and the season quite a bit longer, with harvest often extending into the middle of November.  Garnacha is the king here with 35% of the land under vine but tempranillo follows closely behind with 30% followed by Cabernet, Macabeo (Viura), Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot and Carignane.


Also visited on my trip were the cellars of San Valero, the first to bottle wine commercial in Cariñena and one of the early leaders to sell wine under their own brands in the region. Drawing fruit from throughout the Cariñena DO, the wines here reflect a bit more of a diverse outlook than at paniza, with wines that run the gamut from deeply traditional a perhaps a bit rustic for some palates to full on modern interpretations of grenache replete with toasty oak and supple rich mouthfeel.


And finally there was Grande Vinos y Vinedos, which produces several tiers of wines in all manner of size and style. The result of the merger of four local coops, Grande Vinos e Vinedos currently has about 500 members who farm vineyards throughout the D.O.. the coop is able to draw fruit from all four of the local soil types and from the complete range of altitudes typically farmed here. Their wines are a bit uneven in some ways, but they can’t be faulted for trying to produce such a wide variety of wines that sometimes really hit it out of the park.


So that’s the short of it. I’ll leave you with tasting notes for many of the wines I tried and the list below of the standouts. These are not simply the most expensive wines on offer. One of the strengths of Cariñena is the economy of scale they benefit from there are some fabulous values to be had here, and again the freshness and minerality inherent in the wines makes some of their simplest wines their most notable. If they get distribution some of their $8 wines are going to amaze consumer and absolutely crush much of the competition!


One finale note on the wines tasted for this article. As a region working to develop their presence in the US market not all of the wines available to taste in Spain are for sale on our shores. I’ve included my notes here to give you a better idea as to the style and quality of the wines on offer. If you see something that sounds like you might like, why not ask you local retailer if they can find it for you, or perhaps they have a wine similar in style already available to them. This is one of the great disruptions the internet has created in the wine world. We are no longer sitting around waiting for our retailers to find wines for us. Now every consumer has the power to discover great wines and assist in getting them into their local market!


Bodegas Paniza



Tight, subtle, low mineral and yellow fruit, with a hint of vanilla and banana on the nose. Bright acids greet the palate followed by a modestly rich body with nice mineral flavors and a slightly dusty finish. 86pts



Spicy and a bit floral on the nose with lovely blackberry and black currant aromas that have a subtly refreshing green herbal edge to them. A bit astringent in the mouth but refreshingly so with lovely fruit tannins that are a bit aggressive but are well balanced by the slightly chocolatey tinged dark yet fresh wild berry fruits on the mouth. A burst of blackberry with hints of blue fruit pops on the backend and leads to a fairly long if simple fruity finish. Playful and refreshing this is downright delicious and a perfect wine to serve with a slight chill this summer. 87pts



Gassy with slightly green herb framed warm apricot fruit on the nose.  Moderately rich on entry with  good acid, supporting a little apricot and mostly green apple fruit with green plum on finish, good length, and a hint of rs covering the acid on the lemony finale. Fruity and straightforward with a hint of mineral spice. 85pts



With a hint of reduction on the nose, this shows tight and spicy with hints of apple skins and a touch of dusty minerality and some leesy background notes.  In the mouth it’s a decent Chardonnay a bit fat, lots of slightly warm apple and pear fruit with a hint of pineapple on the palate and through the modest finish. 83pts


100 Grenache


Strawberry, stem and mineral along with a hint  of orange on the nose. In the mouth this is bright, dry, modestly rich and refreshing, with just a hint of sweetness to the strawberry and slightly tropical fruit flavors gaining a hint of watermelon on the modest finish. 83pts


A horizontal tasting of 2013 Grenache Bodegas Paniza components


10 to 15 youngest vines from the lowest youngest vineyard, trellised vines, machine harvest


Fruity on the nose with attractive herb framed sweet blueberry and wild strawberry aromas, fairly floral with some bubblegum notes and a hint of sage/dill. In the mouth this shows good acid, broad in style and a bit spicy, with good freshness and spice to the dark berry fruit and a modest, clean  finish. 84pts


35 year old vines, 600 to 750 meters


Tight, more focused aromas on the nose include some prosciutto fat, more stems and earth, candied violet and candied blueberry aromas. Light in the mouth with excellent height, fine grained tannins, integrated acids, and a nice spicy edge to the dark blue and black fruits. Today this is a bit short but shows well in the mouth. 87pts


Over 50 year old vines in slate soil,


Tight, leathery, and with a hint of redox on the nose, though one can sense an innate sweetness to the tart berry fruit, mineral backdrop, and black tea aromas. In the mouth this is the lightest bodied, very fine with transparent slightly liquory blue and strawberry fruit, attractive purity and depth with good energy on the backend. This has great purity and fine edginess to it. 90pts


2013 Grenache with 5 to 6 months American oak


Smoky, vanillin and char on the very wood dominated nose. There is the sweetness of American oak on entry, a nice melding of whiskey lactone and fresh fruit. The fresh, small tannins add some volume in the mouth supporting the blueberry and vanilla flavors though the tannins turning drying on the backend and through the tough, modest finish. 84pts


2013 Grenache with 5 to 6 months French oak


Tobacco, dried meat, cigar box and baking spices come together elegantly on the nose. Lighter bodied and more elegant than the example aged in American oak, this is nicely focused with decidedly balsamic framed wild berry fruit on the palate, supple fine grained tannins and subtle spice notes that adding detail and length to the finish. 87pts


2013 Syrah 1

Unoaked cask sample


Sweet blueberry fruit on the nose with hints of slate, dried meat and yellow soil, powerful, good acids up front, ripe tannins, big wine, very on the line between old world flavors and new world size and structure, shows a hint of violets in the mouth, clean, fresh, brisk and short, rosemary on the nose, briar, blueberry and blackberry 87pts


2013 Syrah 2


Less than six months in oak


Smoky, carob and toasted spice nose, shows a little sweetness on entry, rounder in the mouth with vanilla and spice woven in to the palate, oak clips the finish. 84pts


2013 Bodegas Paniza Merlot


Lactic, smoked vegetal nose,  mid bodied, chunky, dull, innocuous, broad, seamless, with a plummy core of fruit, a bit short, and chunky, 83pts


2013 Bodegas Paniza Cabernet


Candied herb, tomato leaf, blueberry marker, tree bark and vanilla on the nose, a little grainy in the mouth, lots of wild blueberry fruit in the mouth, hint of  blackberry and black currant, clean, slightly austere, fresh, modest finish, a bit raw  84pts



20% whole berry


Smells like electric typewriter, inky, herbal and mineral ionized air, polished on entry, dark fruit, lots of dark plum fruit, shows a hint of bacon on entry, ripe tannins, great spicy dried rosemary, drops off on the back of the palate, finishes a bit short, shows a hint of bitterness on the finish but it’s very well controlled, sour plum and a hint of flint on the finish, sweet gum and rosemary accents on the nose, this has an innate sweetness  89pts



Toasty and spicy on the nose with nuanced herbal base notes and hints of pollen framing the core of red berry/raspberry fruit. Supple and fairly rich on entry, this is attractive light on the palate with good intensity to the red raspberry and strawberry fruit that is layered over subtle hints of pencil shavings, vanilla and toasty spice. A bit on the modern side of the spectrum this still retains the bright red fruit and subtle mineral shadings so typical of the region. The oak does come out on the finish with some woody tannins and a whisper of heat as well but this is very well styled for the US market. 88pts


San Valero



Very spicy on the nose and with hint of leather and suggestions of barnyard framing the core of black cherry fruit with a hint of a peppery top note. Smooth and supple with nice leather and mineral notes early on the palate followed by fresh blackberry and slightly jammy strawberry fruit. this shows a hint of herb and floral spice on the palate, just sharings of licorice and tar as well with nice dusty yet soft tannins and enough acidity to keep the blackberry and mineral flavors fresh and lively through the modest finish. 87pts



80% Garnacha, 15% Tempranillo, 5% Cabernet, partial carbonic


Inky, raw, mineral, and high toned on the nose with grapy fruit and  some pomegranate seed notes framed with smoke and dried herb accents. In the mouth this is a little gamy and slightly candied and ashy, with a sweet entry, fruity midpalate, and a sweet finish. A simple wine with good acids, dusty tannins, black fruitish, dry, tough balancing the sweetness and the dryness in the mouth though the end result is quite smooth with a bit of sweetness on the moderately ong finish. texturally this is quite attractive but it is simple. 85pts



100% indigenous yeast, five day cold soak, ten degree Celsius, over the course of five to six days temp goes up to 28 degrees, extracts softer, sweeter tannins,


100% particular line is sponti


Mineral and herb over stony, slaty, dusty depth on the nose with a bit of wild mint Fine intensity on entry to the rusty and seemingly just a bit sweeten entry, rich with wild strawberry, wild herb, and mineral tannins on the backend, this tightens nicely on the midpalate, with integrated bright acids supporting dark slightly jammy strawberry and blackberry fruit. In a slightly thick and chunky style, this trades elegance for power and is a bit thick on the palate but displays fine aromatics and attractive fruit. 88pts



Leather, oaky, lighter bodied in the mouth with  raw tannins, simple red fruit, gently herbal. Smells slightly herbal on the nose. 83pts



Dark and meaty, this is also a bit lactic and smoky on the nose with a little olive and olive wood Character. On entry one finds big fruit, dark fruit, fine tannins which are bright and slightly austere, a little coffee extract on the palate, dark dried fruit that is a bit and, a bit chunky lacking some detail on the palate and showing lots of acid and almost dried date character on the finish which does indeed feel a bit dried out. 86pts


Grande Vinos y Vinedos



Yellow and green fruit with a bit of dusty chalkiness and hints of wild herbs on the nose. Bright fruit, juicy acids, bit of astringency, bit of sweetness late on the palate, decent finish, grapefruit, kiwi, white grapefruit pith and just a suggestion of steel on modest finish. 85pts



Strawberry, hint of lime and citrus, light lemon verbena on the nose. In the mouth this is bright and juicy with just a hint of tannin and mostly acids driving the bright cranberry and slightly candied cherry fruit on the palate and through the short finish. 84pts



Malo in barrique


Very wild herb driven on the nose, with a hint of black fruit, spicy wild blueberry, lots of soil, dried thyme and balsamic notes. A bit soft on entry, though broad on the palate and with some edgy mineral notes, pointy tannins, and a core of slightly bitter lack fruit. Medium bodied, fruity but with cut in the mouth and  just hint of wood on the nose, this is fairly long, focused and sapic in the mouth with good purity to the fruit. 88pts



Black herbs and spicy blackberry, little blackberry, blackcurrant, almost sweet fruit on entry,black fruited, nicecut, a bit spicy, long fruity finish, nice complexity on the midpalate which is a bit mineral and savory and leads to a modest finish. 87pts



Nice herbal nose with fine dried chile and blackcurrant fruit. Pure, varietal and bright in the mouth if a little chunky and showing a little heat. There’s  lots of blackberry and black currant fruit here, though this finishes a bit short, it remains nicely fresh and angular in the mouth. 86pts



Cherry, strawberry fruit, hint of blackcurrant on entry, hint of sugar upfront, nice subtle and balanced fruit in the mouth which is moderately fresh if simple. Blackcurrant really pops on the nose with a bit of air. 84pts



Floral, iodine and typewriter air come together with blackfruit, and little peppery and violet base notes on the nose. on entry this shows bright acids, medium plus body, and a very transparent feel. The boysenberry fruit shows a nice blend of tension and fruit, with fine precision and good complexity on  the palate finishing with sweet, dusty tannins. 88pts



Slight balsamic tone, lightly candied, dark fruit, a little dusty and rose bush, light and fresh and fairly frooty, a bit short, light black raspberry, a little inky on the finish, dusty, bushy tannins. 85pts



Hints of tobacco, nuts, grated dusty baking spice and blackberry fruit are draped over a nice floral background on the nose. In the mouth this is clean, bright, focused and tense with nice energy to the crisp raspberry and blackberry fruit. This really has lovely purity though it doesn’t show great depth it remains clean and fresh in the mouth with some fine grained tannins adding texture to the moderately long finish. 87pts



Spicy, sliced strawberry fruit, gently balsamic herbs, high toned and with floral tones on the nose. in the mouth this is transparent, with juicy red currant and strawberry fruit with a lightly smoky underlay. Texturally slightly softened, this is broad on the palate with good length and. nice acid driven fruit flavors that pick up some rusty and stemmy complexity on the modest finish. 87pts



Inky, black fruity and a little smoky on the nose this shows some latex American oak, toasted hickory notes that rise with air. A big wine on entry, the fine acids help to keep this bright in the mouth and even though it’s fairly tannic, the tannins are ripe and round and well integrated into the dark berry and slightly plummy and leathery fruit on the palate with good depth and subtle integrated spice on the finish, which shows some elegance. 88pts



Dark, bitter chocolate, dried meats, big floral extract, licorice and smoky spice all come together on the nose where the oak is obvious but well balanced by the fruit.  Deep, bright, and with huge fruit on entry, this is quite elegant with the not inconsequential oak adding mostly spicy cinnamon and vanilla accent notes to the palate at this stage. red fruits are supported by fine grained tannins, lending this a nice firm base and good drive with late arriving mineral notes adding further detail and complexity to the long finish. A bit modern and with noticeable oak, though I get the feeling you just can’t tame Carignane. 91pts



A bit of band aid sneaks through the core of black fruits on the nose with added cedar and coffee scented nuanced framing the dark fruit Tight on entry, this immediately reveals complex savory, herbal, a hint of barnyard flavors on a  medium full frame with fine acids and rounded tannins completing the smooth yet slightly austere texture.  Earthy and complex with a soft mineral underlay, this shows a hint of heat on the finish, which is a bit dry, making this feel very old school and yet it has its attractions. 90pts



Jammy, figgy, and filled with quince jelly, and lots of chocolate on the nose Chocolate covered cherries drench the palate followed by lots of dried spices and toasty note which highlight the sweetness on entry. the midpalate is filled with plummy fruit, big, plump, smooth, yet not terrible distinct. This is a modern wine for a modern palate but it could come from anywhere. 87pts


By: Snooth – Articles


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