Wait: Let Me Tell You More About Cariñena!

Trio of Sample Bottles
Two Cariñenas and a Syrah

I’ve been writing about Cariñena, Spain, quite a bit over the past few months – probably because I’ve been tasting quite a few wines that hail from the region. First there was a trio of summer sippers; and then came the six Garnacha stunners we learned about in #winestudio.

But, as the famous commercial for ginsu knives implores:


Did you know that the name Cariñena represents a town, a grape variety, and a denominación de origen (appellation)?

The Town: Cariñena takes its name from the original Romana city Carae, founded in 50 BC.

The Grape: a late-ripening variety that thrives in hot, summer climates, Cariñena can be a handful for the vintner, what with its propensity toward high levels of acidity, tannin, and alcohol. But, in the right hands and grown on high-elevation sites with a large shift between daytime and nighttime temperatures (aka, diurnal shift) Cariñena can make a beautifully balanced wine.

The DO: Cariñena was granted appellation status in 1932, making it one of Spain’s first official denominaciones.

3C 1932
Honoring the establishment of the Cariñena DO in 1932.

Alias Grape

What we know as Cariñena in northeastern Spain also goes by the name Mazuelo (in other Spanish regions) Carignan in southern France, Carignane in the United States, and Carignano in Italy. The Roussillon area of France makes very good varietal wines but, I have to admit, I’ve not yet tried wine from the other regions. (Note to self . . .)

Two Cariñenas and a Syrah Walk into a Bar

When I received an offer to sample three Cariñena-based wines from Cariñena, I jumped at the chance. (I do so love Spanish wine!) Stef from Gregory+Vine sent them over STAT, and I got to “work” tasting them and pairing them with food. As I mulled over my choices, imagining plates of grilled meat and braised vegetables, I discovered something: one of the bottles was actually a Syrah.

You’ll be glad to know that this was but a momentary distraction. Syrah is welcome on my shelf anytime, and this one from Cariñena piqued my interest.

Here’s how it all went down:

Particular Carinena with Medals
I sipped this wine while studying for my WSET spirits exam. What a welcome change!

2016 Bodegas San Valero Particular Cariñena (14% abv; about $10 retail)

This wine is 100% Cariñena and wears a gorgeous cherry robe with flashes of garnet, likely due to its 30-day maceration and daily pump-overs. On the nose, there are red and black fruit aromas (cherry, blackberry) as well as a delicate floral note. On the palate, ripe fruit flavors are brightened by tangy acidity and soft but gritty tannins. On the finish there is a distinct savory, meaty component which makes me long for a slice of rare steak.

3C Front Label
3C stands for the village, the grape variety, and the denominación de origen.

2016 Bodegas Grandes Vinos 3C Cariñena (13.5% abv; about $10 retail)

This is what the winemaker calls a joven or young wine, meaning that it undergoes no oak aging and is intended for early drinking. Fine by me! It’s 100% Cariñena from 45-year-old vines, which explains the concentration and complexity in such a simple wine (and belies its modest price tag.) In the glass, it’s deep ruby red with soft aromas of cherry, dust, and cherry blossom. On the palate it is much less demure, offering up juicy ripe red fruit (cherry, cranberry and pomegranate), medium+ acidity, and medium tannins. There’s also a hit of that dust from the nose. The finish is medium+ and leaves me wanting another sip.

Paniza Syrah
Surprise! A Syrah thrown into the mix.

2017 Bodegas Paniza Syrah (14% abv; about $10 retail)

At 100% Syrah, this bottle was the ringer of the group. In my mind, it was a happy accident though: I received a wine made from one of my favorite grapes, from an area in which it is a bit of an outlier. I gladly sacrificed myself for the cause.

Deep purple with glints of violet throughout, this Syrah is redolent of violets, black currants, blackberries, with accents of black pepper and ink. A sip reveals ripe black fruit balanced by tart acidity, silky tannins, and a definite meatiness in texture and flavor. Boy, oh boy, this is nice juice!

Grilled Flank Steak for Paniza (2)
My husband and I tried the wines with this herb-grilled flank steak. Perfection!

“How Much Would You Pay for All This?”

As the pitchman in the commercial asks :

“You get the Ginsu knives plus the carving set, matching steak knives, and the spiral slicer. How much would you pay for all this?”

He’s driving home the point that you’ll get a lot for your money; that you’re a savvy consumer who knows a bargain when you see one. Not so different from buying wines from Cariñena, in my opinion. No, you won’t get the carving set or the spiral slicer but, at about 10 bucks a bottle, you’re getting a heck of a lot of wine for the money.

This seems to be a theme with the wines of Cariñena: high-quality, food-friendly offerings that will impress your dinner guests but won’t break the bank. When you have a (rare) quiet moment during the holidays, open a bottle for yourself just because it’s Wednesday – or just because you feel like it. As they say in Spain, Cariñena is a “wine region to watch.” Why not try the wines before everyone else is watching them, too?

Take the Ginsu guy’s advice:

“Call now!”


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