I dread winter. If you ever have experienced a Canadian winter, then you would know what I am talking about.
For those readers that don’t know what is like: picture an outdoor temperature that resembles more your home freezer. Of course, some people will say, it is not always like this, but the last few weeks in Quebec has felt like like living in an ice block.
I am not the type of guy who does winter sports. Figurati, being born in Venezuela, soccer and baseball were the sports familiar to me. Years ago, I took a skating class in college. Unfortunately, it was not my first choice because all the other courses were taken. To make the story short, I ended up learning how to skate with a chair rather than the real thing.
What do I love to do in winter?. This is the season where I hibernate: Drink lots of red wine, cook using the slow cooker and read quite a bit of old magazines. This year, I am also practicing my home baking skills since I decided to get a diploma in professional bread baking.
Winter is also the time of the year when I drink my fair share of Spanish reds. When I have a glass of Ribera del Duero, Rioja or Priorat, my heart warms up and I get a ray of sunshine to face the tough winter days ahead.
Being this month, the coldest of the season, I can’t stop thinking about the wines of Cariñena. I have known the wines of Aragon way back before I went to live in Spain in 2002. Cariñena is the kingdom of Garnacha but not any kind: old vine in high altitudes from 400 m to 800 m above sea level. These are rich and robust reds perfect for the hearty fare of winter.
Lucky for me, the wines of Cariñena were present in the late Wine Bloggers Conference. In a seminar led by veteran wine educator Lyn Farmer, I learn about a fair amount of new trivia that I did not know about of one my favorite wine regions of Spain.
First, I learnt that Cariñena is the name of a Spanish town as well. Second, the wine region has a lot of goat herders which explains the excellent quality of their cheeses. Other information in the seminar was a fresh review for me. You see, the wines of Carinena have a modest following in Quebec. For instance, the SAQ list more than 25 references in the catalog with incredible modest prices ( $9.95 to a maximum of $45)
Despite the excellent prices, for many lovers, Cariñena still remains much of out of their radar and it should not be like that at all. The region boast some of the oldest Grenache and Carignan plantings in Europe. The average age of the vines is 50 years old and sometimes pushing more than 100. Furthermore, the favorable climatic conditions such as the strong winds of the region keep the wines fresh and free of disease.
After the presentation, we tasted 6 wines from the region to demonstrate the variety of styles in the appellation. First came 3C Premium Selection Carinena 2012. From Grandes Vinos y Viñedos , this wine enterprise works with different winegrowers in all 14 of the sub areas of D.O.P. Cariñena. This bottling is mono varietal Carignan relatively old (45 years old) from the Sierra de Algairén at 700 m altitude. It had a penetrating bouquet of ripe red fruits accentuated by the floral notes of the variety. On the palate, spicy and not too oaky with silky tannins.
The second wine was Artigazo 2009. A blend of 40% Garnacha, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon of 40+ years agre. This bottle was denser and more complex than the first one featuring notes of roasted coffe, cedar, graphite and spice. This is a tried and tested example of what old vines and power blends can achieve. Artigazo is made by Bodegas Paniza, a cooperative made of more than 400 growers. This is a nice little wine to have with a good old-fashioned roast beef.
The third wine presented was something quite different. From Bodegas San Valero, the Particular Garnacha Joven 2016. From younger Garnacha vines ( 15-25 years old) grown in a high altitude ( 800 m) and no oak aging. This was a bright and fresh wine with aromas reminiscent of red fruits and soft floral undertones. Bodegas San Valero has a track record in the region and works with a network of more than 700 growers.
Carrying on, we had El Circo Garnacha 2016. A young Garnacha bottling as well with no oak aging, This bottle had aromas of ripe strawberries and cherries with a delicate touch of spice. Smooth and racy with firm tannins and a long finish. A very accessible wine that coud be easily be my house wine.
The wine that followed was Vinas Viejas 2012 from Bodegas Paniza as well, was no stranger to me. I had the chance to review a few times in the past. An old vine Garnacha ( 100+ years old) grown at 800 m with a minimum of 6 month oak aging. The aromas were stunning featuring plenty of blackberry fruit, cedar, and plum with a hint of spice. Fruity with a good balance and silky tannins. This was a well behaved big Garnacha.
The last bottle was the Particular Centenarias 2012. An old vine Garnacha ( 100+ years old) with a long aging in barrel ( 12 months) and bottle ( 18 months). This was an exceptional wine in the restrained rather than big style. Very elegant with fine cashmere tannins and flavours redolent of cassis and black cherry. My favorite wine tasting. As I am writing these lines, I wish that I could have a bottle to have a sip.
That’s it for now. All this writing has made thirsty and I am starting to feel cold. I am going to take a break and have a glass of Carinena myself.