Known as carignan in France, the cariñena grape variety (aka mazuelo and samsó) thrives in warm climates, which are required to bring this late-ripening variety to maturity. It is best known for being a small contributor to the great garnacha-based wines of Catalunya’s Priorat and Montsant DOs; in its supporting role, cariñena adds good acidity, dark coloration and a boost of tannins, coupled with bright, unmistakable blueberry and violet notes. That said, while its traditional role has been as a blending grape, it is just starting to be used on its own to make respectable single-varietal wines.
Carinena…a grape or an appellation?
Carinena is both a grape and an appellation!
Created in 1932, the longstanding Cariñena DO is located southwest of Zaragoza on the border of Calatayud.
- Vineyards. Vineyards sit in a rolling plain that straddles the Ebro river at 400-800 meters in elevation.
- Soils. Soils are comprised primarily of limestone, slate and quartz.
- Climate. The climate is dry and continental, with large fluctuations between day and night temperatures.
Cariñena offers some of the best red values in all of Spain.
- Red wines are dominated by garnacha. They are executed very well, exhibiting strong aromatics and flavors of blackberries and plums. As in neighbors Calatayud and Campo de Borja, old vines (30-50 years old) are in abundant supply and are responsible for the denomination’s best wines. Overall, Calatayud’s garnachas are perhaps a bit more delicate than those of neighboring Campo de Borja, given the lower mix of clay in the soil.
- Interestingly, the grape variety that gives its name to the denomination accounts for less than 10% of plantings.
- Tempranillo-based wines are on the rise, often blended with garnacha for some punch.
- Rosés are also dependable and made to high quality standards.
Although wines have historically been joven in style, there are some nice crianzas being produced.
The dominant white variety is viura (the local name for macabeo), made in a fuller-bodied style.
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