Located in the Aragón region, DOP Cariñena has a rich winemaking history and tradition dating back centuries to the time of the Romans, when inhabitants in the town of Caræ (later renamed Cariñena) drank wine mixed with honey before the 3rd century BC. In 1585, King Phillip II visited the town of Cariñena and locals filled the fountains in the town square with wine instead of water as a grand gesture. To this day there is an annual September wine festival to commemorate this historic event, and the fountains run with wine for the occasion. In 1692, Cariñena hosted the talks that resulted in the Statute of the Vine, an early attempt to limit production in an effort to increase quality, a practice which continues today as winemaking regions look to improve the attractiveness of their wines. During the phylloxera infestation of European vineyards, the grape growers of DOP Cariñena were largely able to fight off the disastrous pest, leading many winemakers from other areas of Europe who were not so fortunate or successful to settle in the region. In 1932, DOP Cariñena became one of the oldest appellations in Europe to achieve protected status.
While most of the vineyards in DOP Cariñena are now planted to Garnacha, the region does originally derive its name from the Cariñena (Carignan) grape that dominated early plantings. As Garnacha has proven itself to be well suited to the climate of the region, it has largely replaced the original plantings in Cariñena. Still, the Cariñena grape is used in many blends and varietal wines made in DOP Cariñena.
DOP Cariñena is home to temperature extremes though it is largely considered to possess a warm, continental climate. Rainfall is low as uncommon seasonal rain spreads across Ebro plain into the mountains, leading to the region being generally arid. The summers are hot during the day and cool at night due to the steady northern winds known as the cierzo that dry out humidity and allow wine grapes to develop without fear of moisture-born scourges. The varied growing conditions of DOP Cariñena create a wide variety of microclimates in the region, providing the flexibility for a range of wine grapes to thrive, from Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah for the reds, to Macabeo (Viura), Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca and Moscatel for the whites.
The soil in the region is predominantly gravel with pockets of slate, hard clay and sandstone. The gravel soils are particularly well suited to the region’s low rainfall, as it retains water well and is able to drain any excess from periodic torrential downpours.
And how are the wines? Of course for a region with such history there is a tradition of careful and exacting winemaking, resulting in wines of excellent quality and fortunately for us, incredible value. Look for Garnacha from Cariñena to experience all of the soft elegance, delicate spice and zesty acidity that this region has to offer, with plenty of approachable red and black fruit flavors to please any palate.
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Photo credit: Wines of Garnacha