Garnacha: Spain’s black beauty

Red grapesFine Garnacha wines are emerging from an increasing number of regions across Spain as winemakers discover that gently nurturing old vines can offer extraordinary results.

Garnacha Tinta, to give the grape its full title, has always played an important role in Spain. In Rioja, where it complements Tempranillo, it is a key component to blends. In Navarra, Garnacha once dominated as the grape of choice for the region’s characteristic deep-coloured rosados. The variety also thrives across regions such as Campo de Borja and Calatayud in Aragόn, often in its own right.

Garnacha’s attributes include good resistance to drought. It copes well with a long hot Spanish summer and continues to ripen as the cooler autumn weather arrives. Garnacha is also hardy and unlikely to succumb to disease, giving it the potential to reach truly old vine status.
Unchecked, youthful Garnacha plants will produce high yields but, given a little care in the vineyard, older Garnacha vines can produce small yields and grapes with intense flavours, complexity and impressive purity. This is precisely what is fuelling Garnacha’s revival as a source of high quality wines.

In Calatayud, Garnacha is described as the region’s ‘greatest asset’; many vineyards are over 50- years-old, often planted in high areas and on steep slopes. Over in Campo de Borja ‘The Garnacha Empire’, vineyards have been given no less than three classifications, with lower lying areas producing more powerful Garnachas, higher areas offering more complex, structured wines and the highest altitude vineyards being the source of finer, more elegant styles. In Priorat (Catalonia), the small DO which was the first to give a new breed of fine Garnacha wines international recognition, old vines can be seen clinging on to dramatically steep slopes where slate-like llicorella soils give wines of distinctive character and finesse.
A growing band of winemakers are placing Garnacha at the heart of their careers: Álvaro Palacios has blazed a trail for the variety in Priorat and, more recently, in Rioja Baja. Fernando Mora MW is focusing on Garnacha in Aragόn and winemakers such as Elisa Ucar and Enrique Basarte are helping to reverse the grape’s fortunes in Navarra. The spotlight has also turned to regions close to Madrid and notably the Sierra de Gredos area where the Garnachisa movement has spread over the last decade. Here winemakers such as Dani Landi, Fernando García and Rubén Díaz are nurturing high-lying long-forgotten old plots of Garnacha which are typically situated to granitic and schist soils. The emerging wines may come as a surprise to some with their lighter, less extracted styles which are a departure from the more structured, darker styles of Aragόn or Priorat.

Garnacha, in all it guises, is well worth another look!