|© Wikimedia Commons ||
The tasting, and the coverage it generated, gave the proud Garnacha producers in Aragón and Catalonia in northeastern Spain a clearer vision of how to advance their wines. By unifying to promote wines across these five Denominación de Origens (DOs) they could show the most widely grown grape in the region at its best.
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Garnacha has long been planted in these regions and has good success over the border in the Rhône Valley, as well as in California, primarily in Rhône-style blends. Even in Sardinia, Cannonau – which is the local name for the same grape – is finally garnering some positive attention.
One of the region's biggest challenges continues helping consumers to understand that it is indeed the same grape grown in the swanky hills of southern France and beloved by California producers.
Spanish-focused wine lovers may also remember it is one of the most frequently planted grapes in the Priorat region, which was all the rage in the 2000s. However, these big, tannin-rich wines – along with the Montsant DO – were primarily blends so producers there never focused the marketing dollars on one grape.
However, these five DOs have both the benefit of old vines and abundant acreage under vine. Somontano is the smallest at 549 acres and Cariñena is the largest at 24,428. Average vine age here tends to be at least 20 years and can go up to an impressive granddaddy size of 100-plus.
What is more many innovative cooperatives in the region are producing stellar wines at great prices. Borsao and Las Rocas are among the two most successful and both labels continue to produce some of the region's most consistent, high-volume and food-friendly reds at bargain prices – $6 for Borsao to $8-10 for the introductory Las Rocas label.
The wow factor and the hurdles
Vineyards in the five regions are primarily planted on schist, granite and limestone soils. The Garnacha vines thrive best in a hot, windy and dry climate, where savvy winemakers manage to keep their alcohol levels in balance despite the heat. These aren't the soft, lush and mineral Grenaches found in the Rhône Valley. Terra Alta would be the closest of the five regions in terms of its general winemaking style to its French cousins. Northern Spain's Garnachas are wildly inconsistent. "Garnacha is very influenced by its terroir," notes de Albornoz, adding that, as a result, the picky grape "has been called the Pinot Noir of the South."
For those who love them, they are a staple on winelists and easy to pair with food. Andy Myers, a master sommelier and wine director of the Washington DC-based ThinkFoodGroup – led by Spanish chef José Andrés – who pours dozens of Garnachas at the group's 25 restaurants had strong opinions about the grape. He joked that if it wasn't already Spain's most important red grape then someone should have told him.
Despite the diversity of wine styles produced in the five DOs, Myers thinks most Garnacha-based wines share a common soul. These wines are "dominated by red fruits no matter where it is grown. The common link for me has always been the fine, front-palate tannins. They are tiny and persistent, like little chihuahuas nipping at the tip of your tongue." He adds that the stylistic differences from region to region are microscopic and too minor to mention.
I beg to differ and think this is an area of Spain where you have to dig deep – and taste regularly – to find the Garnachas that appeal to you. Producers here have wildly different style, reflecting their terroirs, and while some regions – such as Terra Alta – seem to produce fairly consistent wines, the bulk don't.
|© PDO Terra Alta/Campo de Borja ||
While many in the region have done an admirable job of bringing five diverse regions together, some of the producers are clearly less than united in stumping for their grape's success. Neither Borsao's wines, or its marketing team, were part of the roster for this trip, as the cooperative seems not to need the press. It is also likely that their importer may not have wanted to invest in a promotional campaign for an already successful brand.
Trends and favorites
There was so much diversity of style in each of the DOs that it was hard to have just one favorite. Terra Alta was probably my overall favorite regions, for its wines' pronounced minerality and consistent balance. Whereas, in Campo de Borja, many of the wines were driven by super-green tannins that hardly let the fruit shine through.
Terra Alta – the only DO not in Aragón – is also home to most white Garnacha produced in the region, Somontano has some and so does Calatayud.
De Albornoz seems to be easily able to sum up what he sees as some of the regions' stylistic differences. He says the range runs from "from fruity and easy-to-drink wines from Cariñena, full-bodied reds from Campo de Borja to higher acidity and minerality in Calatayud and Somontano, to the Mediterranean resemblance of Terra Alta's whites."
In the three DOs where white Garnacha is produced, many are reminiscent of the white Rhônes in terms of stonefruit notes and minerality. Terra Alta is home to many of them.
As in the Rhône, many producers are also making judicious use of Syrah as a blending grape in many of their wines. It often gives them a spicy flavor that can balance out their natural tendency to be lush and fruit forward. The 2014 Clave de Sol, from Cariñena, was a great example of this – with 15 percent Syrah, it is still marketed as a Garnacha.
The use of minor amounts of blending grapes has been a plus for both Spain's domestic and export markets. Unlike the Portuguese, the Spanish have a long tradition of making single-variety wines, so they are comfortable with them. The export market will also probably benefit, as they continue to build it, from wines that can be easily identified and affiliated with one grape.
De Albornoz is confident that Garnacha can make a name for itself and that there will be room for both it and Tempranillo, in Spain's future. If the bulk of the region's producers continue to focus on high-quality Garnacha-based wines that reflect great terroir and benefit from old vines, my bet is that the international wine market is only likely to see more of them.
Comment of Wines Inform Assessors:
Seven years ago I heard in the voice of a well-known expert who underestimated a wine saying "It's a Grenache" ... and that's because it was historically a wine that was sold in large quantities in bulk ... Nowadays it is one of the main components of DOC Priorat wines
Youre absolutely right, Dos Cortado. Solomon has done a great disservice to both the garnacha grape and some regional Spanish wine in general (as well as some regional French wine), by getting a few winemakers to concoct a lot of cheap, generic, Parkerized stuff for the US market. Easy to sell, but nothing at all interesting.
Dos Cortado wrote:
Not one mention of high altitude Grenache from Gredos?
You can argue that the Solomon/Ordonez wines have also done a disservice to the grape since they brought in many inexpensive, industrial style wines that went for big fruit, oak, and alcohol (aka - wines for specific critics) ----and those wines are what the consumers associate with Spanish Grenache.
Origin information: Wine Searcher