It’s been almost a year since I discovered a bottle of Garnacha at my local liquor store and realized it was one of the best bottles for the price at the store. I recently learned that my experience was not an anomaly. Garnacha is often a great value wine.
At a recent Garnacha tasting at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in New York City, I learned more about this grape. The tasting was part of The Next Great Grape tour, led by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson. She is one of 21 women in the U.S. to have achieved the master sommelier credential.
Andrea took us through a tasting of six wines from the Cariñena wine region. Cariñena has the most old-vine Garnacha planted in Spain. When asked, 92 percent of wine industry professionals voted Garnacha from Spain as the most promising grape of 2015. The optimism over Garnacha can be attributed to something everyone on a budget is looking for in a wine: Quality that exceeds price expectations. Or as Robinson put it, Garnacha is “under promising and over delivering in terms of taste.” Garnacha is a great grape that is waiting to be discovered by wine drinkers looking for value.
For about $10 to $15 an average per bottle, many Garnachas from Spain, particularly from Cariñena, have the full flavors you expect from 40 plus-year-old vines that create more expressive wines. The price tag might not lead you to believe it, but tasting the wine will. That’s what I experienced the first time I opened up the $9 bottle of Garnacha from my local store, and that’s what I experienced at the Garnacha tasting led by Robinson.
Old gnarly vines grow grapes that create expressive wines. (Photo: Irina Kuzmina/Shutterstock)
The wines we tasted came from three Cariñena winemakers: Bodgas Paniza, Bodegas San Valero, and Grandes Vinos Y Viñedos. Some of the wines were 100 percent Garnacha; some were blends with other full-flavored grapes like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed each of them even though the differences between the wines were notable. Some were dry. Some were juicy. All were fruit forward with flavors of wild berries, cherries and raspberries, mixed with spiciness. They have a balanced acidity, making them pair nicely with food.
“Acidity,” said Robinson, “makes your mouth water. If your mouth waters, food tastes better.” She also pointed out that one of the reasons that Europeans put a carafe of wine on the tables with meals is to bring out the acidity and make the food taste better. Here in the U.S., we tend to use salt and pepper to fix food. Robinson prefers the European method. (I'm with her.)
Garnacha is a wine for all seasons. Foods that pair well with Garnacha are barbecue, burgers, Indian foods with woodsy, aromatic spices (not chili pepper spices), stews, aged Cheddar cheese and blue cheese. I opened a bottle recently at home to drink with a pizza topped with steak, blue cheese, caramelized onion, tomato and drizzled with aged balsamic, and it was quite a complementary pairing.
The wines from two of the wineries are looking for distribution in the United States, so I’ll only specifically describe the two that are available from Grandes Vinos Y Viñedos.
Grandes Vinos Y Viñedos Beso de Vino Old Vine Garnacha, 2014 (SRP $9.99) comes from 40-year-old vines. It is 100 percent Garnacha aged in French oak. It tasted of black raspberries and ripe plums with a nice minerality from the stone-clay soils it grows in.
Grandes Vinos & Viñedos Corona De Aragón Special Selection, 2013 (SRP $14.99) comes from 50 percent Garnacha and 50 percent Cariñena (Cariñena is both the name of the region and the name of a grape). This wine is aged in American and French oak barrels and has a jammy taste mixed with a smokiness. It was particularly mouthwatering.
Even if you can’t find these specific wines, I encourage you to look for Garnacha from Spain at your wine store. If you can find ones from the Carinena region, all the better. If you can’t find them from that region, choose a bottle to take a chance on. For under $15, it’s not too much of a risk and there’s the possibility that you’ll discover an “under promising and over delivering” bottle to add to your go-to value wine choices.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t inquire about the sustainability initiatives used by the winemakers who shared their wines at the tasting. The Cierzo winds in the Cariñena region act as natural pest and disease control. They literally blow the pests and diseases off the vines, never giving them enough time to stick around long enough to cause damage. This greatly reduces the need for chemical treatments.
The individual wineries have individual sustainable practices, too.
“In the winery we have introduced best practices in water usage and management of residues. But the most important thing Paniza has done is the transition from using pesticides to control pests, to using pheromones. Paniza is therefore, actively joining the D.O´s initiative to obtain a certification for sustainable practices in the next few years,” said Michael Keiter of Bodegas Paniza.
“Grandes Vinos is the biggest winery of D.O.P Cariñena, and holds 1/3 of the total production. Therefore, it’s a leader for the other wineries, and tries to generate awareness on the importance of sustainability in the vineyards,” said Manuel of Grandes Vinos Y Viñedos.
“San Valero minimizes the use of insecticide due to the use of pheromones to control the lobesia botrana or the cluster moth. We started this practice five or six years ago and now it is mandatory in the D.O. Furthermore, the privileged conditions of the weather and soils in D.O Cariñena vineyards help avoid plagues,” said Isabel Peribáñez of Bodegas San Valero.
Related on MNN:
- Does wine have to be certified organic to be sustainable?
- Red wine compound may boost memory
- 7 lesser-known U.S. wine regions to visit