THE CARIÑENA PANEL AT SOMMCON SAN DIEGO PROVES GARNACHA IS FAR MORE THAN JUST AN ALTERNATIVE
“PINOT NOIR is my favorite,” says your guest sitting at the head of table nine, “especially when it’s from the Russian River . . . but I’m open to something similar.” You’re in the weeds with three bottles waiting to be opened—two of which need to be decanted—but you’re so certain this alleged Pinot Noir buff will love the Grenache from Walla Walla that you dare to bring them a glass without offering a taste.
While this scenario may sound audacious, it’d be a solid bet for most somms. Master Sommelier Bob Bath, who presented at the Cariñena seminar during SommCon San Diego last November, said he’d likely make this same wager, as many sommeliers often recommend Garnacha as an alternative to Pinot Noir: “I like the comparison—it’s nice to be compared to Pinot Noir, but I think today we’re going to see how it is different,” he told attendees.
Bath began his presentation by diving into Garnacha’s genealogy, history, and various international aliases (Garnacha Tinta being “by far the most popular”), as well as how it behaves in the vineyard. Plants of the versatile grape “exploded as a result of phylloxera in the late 1800s,” Bath said, adding that climate change should only increase its global prevalence.
Beyond Garnacha’s vinicultural efficiency and the factors behind its current renaissance, the most compelling part of the seminar explored the spectrum of the variety’s regional personalities. In a tasting that covered Garnacha’s classic styles, SommCon attendees sampled expressions of the grape from Navarra, Cariñena, Sardinia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Santa Barbara, Walla Walla, and Barossa before ultimately capping things off with a dessert wine from Banyuls.
In reviewing the specifications of each of these regions from climate to soil, Bath turned most of his attention toward Cariñena, and for good reason. Planted to more than 50 percent Garnacha—the largest share of any region in Spain—Cariñena’s vineyards range from 1,300 to 2,800 feet above sea level. Demarcated in 1932 as the country’s second DO, it also has the most plantings of old-vine Garnacha in the country: The variety thrives in the region’s complex stone soils, where vines more than a century old produce wines with great depth and character.
The region has always been a center of wine production in the area and is therefore considered Garnacha’s birthplace; DNA studies have confirmed that the grape originated in Aragón.
A diehard fan of the variety regardless of where it grows, Bath ended the seminar with a final thought: “We’ve seen the spectrum of Garnacha from Rosado to Banyuls. All of these wines are offering great value with a grape that’s finally getting its due in the marketplace.”