Aragón is in north-eastern Spain, bordered by France to the north, La Rioja and Navarra to the west and Cataluña to the east. It’s flanked by two significant mountain ranges: the Pyrenees to the north, and the Sistema Ibérico to the south (separating the region from the Meseta).
The Ebro River flows through the central part of the region, creating a landscape of rolling hills and vast plains. The climate is continental, with wide diurnal temperature ranges and seasonal temperature swings. The cold “cierzo” winds blowing from the north, lead to a slower ripening of the grapes
A grape it’s impossible not to get excited about is Garnacha, which is without a doubt the signature grape and pride of Aragón. After a long-standing debate about the grape’s true homeland, the current consensus is that it’s indigenous to this region.
By the end of 19th century, Garnacha was still rather undervalued (due to its alleged oxidative character) and used solely in wine blends and even then, rarely playing a starring role. But after phylloxera hit Aragón it was fortunately replanted, and the grape has thus been revitalized in all its splendor.
In the 1990s, a number of producers from the region banded together to protect and uphold the vinous legacy of their older vines and showcase the uniqueness of their native grape.
Today, Garnacha is the most-planted variety in the three DOPs located south of the Ebro River (Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Cariñena). In contrast, in the northernmost DOP Somontano, international varieties have a stronghold, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay amounting to 65% of all vineyard land.
DOP Calatayud: high-flying Garnacha
Situated in the foothills of the Moncayo massif (part of the larger Sistema Ibérico), vineyards grow at a considerable altitude (most of them situated between 650-900m). The climate is continental and there is constant risk of spring frosts paired with the cooling influences from the north “Cierzo” winds.
DOP Calatayud wines are typically Garnacha based, and generally deep-colored, concentrated wines with fresh acidity and minerality.
Old vines designations in Calatayud
“Viñas Viejas” on the label indicates that the vines are at least 35 years old, with a maximum yield of 4,500 kg/ha.
“Calatayud Superior” on the label indicates even older vines (at least 50 years old) and lower yields (3,500 kg/ha), with a minimum of 85% Garnacha in the bottle.
DOP Campo de Borja: strength through unity
Situated in the northwestern part of the region, Campo de Borja borders the southern tip of the Navarra province. Here Garnacha accounts for almost 55% of the plantings. With more than half of the vines aged between 30 to 50 years old, and some even dating back to 1890.
Six well-managed and quality-focused cooperatives account for the majority of wine produced in this appellation. Their typical style is elegantly expressed single variety Garnacha and blends featuring floral notes and red fruit character.
DOP Cariñena: the vinous legacy of old vines
With a rich history of winemaking (dating back to the Romans) Cariñena is one of the oldest protected appellations in Europe dating back to 1932. It’s located in the heart of the Ebro Valley, in the foothills of the Sistema Ibérico Mountain Range in the province of Zaragoza.
It has a long and distinguished history as has been mentioned numerous times due to the outstanding quality of its wines, from King Ferdinand in 1415 to the French philosopher Voltaire in 1773.
Despite the name of the appellation, the grape Cariñena (Carignan) accounts only for 5% of the plantings, with the principal grape being Garnacha once more (with 32% of vineyard land) followed by Tempranillo (23%). It’s the DOP with the oldest planted vines in Spain, many of them over 80 years old.
The Garnacha wines of Cariñena carry many similarities to those in DOP Campo de Borja, but with stronger and more intense fruit expressions and a variety of spicy notes.
Apart from the commonly used Spanish ageing designations (Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva), Cariñena includes an additional category “Añejo”, reserved for wines made via intense oxidative methods, then aged for at least 24 months in barrel, leading to alcohol levels over 15%.
DOP Somontano: the French influence
Somontano is the northernmost wine producing area in Aragon, evident in its humid climate and green landscape. It’s the closest DOP to the French wine frontier, which made it a popular destination for Bordeaux winemakers during the phylloxera crisis.
That French influence left a clear imprint on the grapes grown in the area which has continued to this day. In Somontano today, international varieties (led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay) account for 65% of the plantings, while only seven of the 15 authorized varieties are native Spanish grapes, accounting for only 17% of the vineyard area.
Somontano produces a wide range of red blends and varietal whites, even including great examples of Gewürztraminer, which illustrates the wide palette of wines produced in the area.
Concentrated, terroir-driven red Garnacha wines from some of the oldest vines in Europe.What are the most popular grape varieties in Aragón?
Garnacha reigns supreme in most of the producing areas, followed by Tempranillo. Except in DOP Somontano, where the grape palette is wider and French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay are dominate.What types of food works well with wines from Aragón?
Full-bodied red Garnacha: game stews, roasted lamb, grilled beef, charcuterie, gently spiced Asian dishes. Regional matching: “Ternasco de Aragón” (local roast lamb), chorizo sausages.