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 relatively 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 vineyards 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 patches 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 from 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 vineyards here are in fact irrigated, with the usual protestations of how minimally that system is used, yet still a significant portion of the vineyards here are dry-farmed, old vine and bush trained.