Cariñena is both a grape variety and a wine region, where, ironically, the grape variety does not dominate; instead it is the Garnacha. The DO is next to, and east of Calatayud, and was famous for two things: the natural very high-strength wines that were widely used for blending both in and outside Spain; and the village of Puentetodos,
the birthplace of Goya. Cariñena has been the most high profile of all of Aragons DO zones, perhaps because it has been around the longest. The zone was first demarcated in 1932 and received its official denominacion de
origen documentation in 1960.
Cariñena today produces excellent, full-bodied tinto’s for which the region is justly renowned. The Romans, as ever in this part of Spain, were the first to organize winemaking on a commercial level, but Cariñena had its own
regulations in place as early as 1696. It was also one of the first wine-producing regions in Spain to have its borders delimited.
The vineyards spread upwards from the flood-plain of the river Ebro into the mountains of the Sistema Iberica at
altitudes between 400 and 800 metres. Soils are good for vines, being comprised of limestone, a little chalk with some slate and alluvial deposits at the lower levels. The climate produces long hot summers and even longer autumns. Rainfall is relatively low at 300-350 millimetres, so yields are not likely to be high.
Garnacha accounts for 55% of the tinto grape varieties grown, with Tempranillo at 15% and Cariñena at 6%. For blanco’s the main variety is Macabeo, which accounts for 20% of the vineyard.
Cariñena produces some of the best wines in Aragon, and are usually given pride of place in many of the region’s restaurants. They are served alongside Migas, which is a dish of fried breadcrumbs and leftovers (bits of ham and cheese, but also fish, vegetables etc.). Roast lamb, kid and suckling-pig, which is the standard cuisine of northern Spain, are prominent menu items, and beef is often served raw alongside a plate of baked rock-salt to allow diners to cook it the way they want.
I first discovered the wines of Bodegas Solar de Urbezo, when a friend of mine, wine expert and fellow wine critic, Colin Harkness, recommended their young (joven) tinto, Viña Urbezo, about three and a half years ago.
After tasting the wine, I was convinced that this bodega would have an outstanding future, and help to elevate Cariñena into the big league. Their range of top quality wines have increased since then, and now the bodega carries the respect and admiration it so rightly deserves.
Santiago Gracia, carrying on the tradition of his grandparents, founded Bodegas Solar de Urbezo in April 1995 with a desire to cultivate grapes from the vineyards owned by the Gracia-Campillo family in Carinena. Of the 100 hectares of vineyards that the bodega uses, the traditional varieties of Tempranillo, Cariñena and Garnacha are planted in bush style, while the new varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay are planted in rows and pruned trestle style.
Bodegas Solar de Urbezo was created in order to bring together both tradition and innovation to its wines. The avant-garde design of its new building includes a reception hall, offices and an impressive tasting room, which I
will have the pleasure of visiting, when accepting the kind invitation made by Santiago a few days ago.
Meanwhile I will describe the wines, that Santiago and his colleagues brought along from Carinena, to another of the now famous wine tastings, held at La Parilla Del Cellar, and organized so professionally by owner Pepe, and
Francis from restaurant Bon Appetite.
Urbezo Chardonnay 2002 – Aromas of jasmine and citrus blossom with a touch of tropical fruit (pineapple etc.) and an elegant fresh taste to match. With the exception of David and Sherry, who are confirmed members of the
ABC club (Anything But Chardonnay - brought about no doubt after drinking to much of it during their jet-setting days) the rest of our table of seven found it very acceptable – 5.50 euros.
Viña Urbezo 2002 – Made from 40% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and 30% Syrah, this young wine shows violet and purple tints at the edge of the glass (typical of a young tinto). Aromas of balsamic ripe fruits are followed by
a well structured, full-bodied, smooth and fruity, long lasting taste with just a hint of liquorice – an excellent value wine – 4.25 euros.
Urbezo Selección 2000 – Made from a blend of Garnacha, Carinena, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from a single vineyard, located in a clay and stony area with low rain levels. This wine is fermented, blended and then spends 10 months in oak barrels, before being bottled, and left to age in the bodegas cave, prior to release.
Aromas of pepper and concentrated fruits followed by a taste of smooth and well-balanced fruit, with spicy and vanilla overtones that linger in the mouth – a quality wine for 6.75 euros.
Solar de Urbezo Crianza 1999 – Made from 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Tempranillo and 20% Merlot, having aromas of spice, oaky vanilla and ripe red fruit, followed by a well balanced and mature fruit taste with a hint of toast – a very good value Crianza at 6 euros.
Urbezo Reserva 1999 – Made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carinena and Merlot. This wine was the shining star, of an excellent selection of wines, so proudly presented by Santiago and his colleagues. Having lovely aromas of stewed red fruit (cherries etc.) and toasted oak, with a silky smooth, well structured, full fruity taste, followed by a long and memorable finish. When asked by Francis what I thought of this wine, I said that had it been made in Rioja, or Ribera del Duero, it would be selling for three times the price of this truly wonderful wine - 9 euros.
Thanks to everyone concerned for an unforgettable afternoons wine tasting.