Last June I spent a week in Cariñena, the historic wine region of the province of Aragon, located midway between Madrid and Barcelona. It's less than two hours by fast train from Madrid to Zaragoza, the regional capital. Zaragoza is widely known for its tapas as well as for being the home of the Jota Aragonese, a dance I knew long before I knew the wines of the region because it figures so prominently in the music of some of Spain's greatest composers (and, surprisingly and perhaps most popularly, in the music of the Russian composer Glinka!).
At the risk of stretching a metaphor, there is a lovely harmony to the wines of this region as well, and I believe Cariñena is positioned to take a vibrant place on the world wine stage. It is not (yet) so well known as regions slightly to the north like Ribera del Duero and Rioja, nor is it (yet) so trendy as Priorat and Toro, but Cariñena's day is coming.
The Spanish DO (Denomination of Origin) of Cariñena is home to hard working vintners who diligently tend scrappy vines in the rocky red soil, producing some of Spain's greatest garnacha (grenache in France) and cariñena (the grape is called carignan in much of the rest of the world, but here it carries its original name, the same name as the region). The winemakers of Cariñena say their wines are "crafted in stone," and in a week of walking through vineyards and driving from town to town, kicking up clouds of red dust along the way, I could readily see why.
Some might call the landscape bleak, but I found it lush in an understated way. True, it can be arid, but there is a subtle rhythm to the swaths of red stone punctuated with patches of green vineyard. As a photographer I was constantly holding up my group of wine-loving friends who were eager to get to the next tasting room. "This all looks pretty much the same," one friend pointed out, though I found the very subtle shifts of color and texture almost hypnotic. I kept snapping away - a mesa here, a gully there, a vast expanse of stony, unyielding soil, well, almost everywhere.
These subtle shifts of color and texture were qualities I also found in the wines of Cariñena. I must admit that as much as I loved some of the 100% cariñena wines I tasted, I was most dazzled by the cariñena-garnacha blends. I love garnacha and, up until now, some of my favorite wines of Spain had been from old vine garnacha in Priorat 200 kilometers farther along the train line to Barcelona. Garnacha from Cariñena is a bit less intense and perhaps more balanced and floral, qualities that give it great appeal and character (not to mention the fact it is half the price of Priorat).
I learned recently that my love of Cariñena is being returned. I'm very proud that the governing body of DO Cariñena feels so strongly that my photographs of the region captured the people and spirit of Cariñena, they will be using many of the photos in their educational and press materials about Cariñena in 2015 and 2016. You can see a selection of my photographs of Cariñena, and perhaps see some of what attracted me so, in the Cariñena gallery on this website. By the way, the photos are best viewed with a glass of a wine from DO Cariñena in hand...