Cariñena appears in a number of guises in Spain, among them traditionally as a minor blending variety in Rioja (where it is known as Mazuelo), and in Catalonia (as Samsó). What has driven it to top rankings in recent times is the appearance of single-varietal bottlings of the Cariñenas of Priorat DOCa. These are from dry-farmed bush vines grown on remarkable slate soils, and some of the vines are more than a century old. Neighbouring Montsant, and Aragón, are also producing spectacular examples. My enthusiasm for the variety and its transformation in Spain has prompted this tasting, which is Decanter’s first focused exclusively on Spanish Cariñena.

The contrast with France is instructive. In the 1960s and later, Carignan was the most commonly planted variety. Today production has shrunk, and it plays a role mainly in Languedoc-Roussillon. True, there are equally rustic versions in Spain. However, not far from the border with France, Cariñena reveals a shining purity, with blueberry, liquorice and graphite flavours. Tannins may be present-togrippy, depending on their management.

What links all the wines is their acidity. Cariñena has a superb savoury freshness, which in Rioja brings structure to classic blends, even in very small proportions – Tempranillo, which is low in acidity, has often benefited from a dose of Mazuelo.

Growing recognition

When it launched its elegant new 2016 vintage wine from the, whose Mas de la Rosa 2017 – a rich, aromatic 100% Cariñena with an explosion of black fruit and spices – won Platinum at the DWWA 2020. The Torres wine has some 40% Garnacha, and the contrast between the two is an absorbing study of a vineyard that has the quality to become a Priorat gran vinya classificada, equivalent to grand cru.

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