Cariñena, Cariñena, Cariñena - Wine So Good They Named It Thrice!

Buyer for Spain Pierre Mansour explores Cariñena, the little known wine region and birth place of the cariñena grape (or carignan).

The beautiful vista of Rioja The beautiful vista of Rioja

In June my buying trip to Spain took me to Cariñena. One of the first wine regions in this vast country to be registered as an official quality wine area (back in 1932), Cariñena remains one of the country's least known. Located in Aragon, around 50km south west of Zaragoza, the vineyards here lie at an altitude of between 400 to 800m which offsets the incessant heat of summer (the temperature gauge on my car reached 45c when I was there).

The region is planted to mostly black grapes with a high proportion of garnacha but, ironically, a smaller amount of the region's own special grape, called -like the region itself- cariñena. I wanted to learn more about this grape which over the years has regularly impressed me. There is something revitalising about the best wines made from cariñena, which tend to express a wonderful bright red fruit character backed by energy and lift, no doubt thanks to the grape's high natural level of acidity. It is this, explains my host Marcelo Morales (one of the region's best winemakers), which makes it an ideal variety for hot climates.

Marcelo lined up ten wines for me to taste; some are 100% cariñena, some blends thereof. For me it's the single varietal wines that are the most interesting, completely individual in the way they combine ripe, Mediterranean flavours with crisp, almost mouth-watering freshness. Apparently the best vineyards are those located around the village of Cariñena itself (the third 'C' in our story!) and the inspiration behind the name of our very own 3C Cariñena which is currently listed.

After bidding Marcelo adiós, I was off to Navarra to continue my Spanish odyssey.

Navarra- Proyecto Zorzal

Established in 1989, Zorzal was created by Antonio Sanz with the aim of becoming one of the best wineries in Navarra, purchasing a new site in the village of Corella to this end. In recent years Antonio's sons have run the business and have completely re-energised the wines, from the way they grow grapes to the packaging and labels. My visit today was to go and see a vineyard that the brothers have recently bought near the Navarra village of Fitero.

Here, at around 500ms above sea level, Xabi Sanz talked proudly about the historical vineyards he is determined to get his hands on. One of these, the Malayeto vineyard, is planted entirely to bush vine garnacha, planted decades ago, with one vine boasting an age of 117 years and nicknamed the 'octopus'. Vine age is especially significant for garnacha, a thin skinned variety, because older vines produce less bunches. With fewer bunches, vines tend to produce smaller grapes with thicker skins, resulting in fuller flavour.

Octopus vine garnacha
Octopus vine garnacha
Xabi Sanz- Zorzal Wines
Xabi Sanz- Zorzal Wines

Rioja- 2010 Vintage & A New Supplier For The Society

The door to the vault which contains CVNE's library of old vintages in their cellar
The door to the vault which contains CVNE's library of old vintages in their cellar
The hotel wasn't up to much... (this is actually the cellar at CVNE, not our hotel)
The hotel wasn't up to much... (this is actually the cellar at CVNE, not our hotel)

From Navarra I made the short journey to Rioja where I spent my next few days, starting with a visit to Contino and the CVNE winery. My expectations were high as this would be my first taste of the about-to-be released 2010 reservas and gran reservas, a vintage that has been touted as the best since the almighty 2004; luckily my expectations were met and I was very impressed with this later vintage. Whilst at Contino I was able to plan a revisit to blend a special wine which will be released in 2024.

After visits to Society mainstays La Rioja Alta my trip concluded in the small village of Cuzcurrita in the heart of the sub-district Rioja Alta. It was a first for me and my mission was to learn more about Bodegas Urbina, a family who have been growers in Rioja for over four generations making very traditional, elegant wines.

I was shown around the winery by Pedro Benito Urbina, the young and unassuming winemaker here. His wines are aged extensively in barrel, mostly American oak, then stored in steel tanks before being bottled. The family's vineyards are at the northern limit of Rioja which means the weather is cooler, resulting in tempranillo which ripens beautifully with naturally high levels of acidity. This endows the wines with longevity and finesse. Despite its young winemaker Urbina's reds are some of the region's best traditional style wines, very much in the mould of a classic Rioja. Keep an eye out for the crianza in our Christmas offerings this year!

Where to go next?

> A Grand Day Out

> Trips to other countries

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