Aragon is a region situated in the northeast of Spain. The Ebro River passes from the region and flows through Zaragoza. If you travel with train, Zaragoza will be your arrival city in Aragon.
A winemaking region itself it’s also surrounded by some of the other viticulture regions of the country such as Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat. There are four denomination of origins (DOs) in Aragon, these are Somontano, Campo de Borja, Cariñena and Calatayud. A little bit more than 80 % of all the vineyards in the region are cultivated under these four DOs.
It’s interesting to know that, despite the low rainfall they receive, three quarter of the Aragon vineyards are producing grapes with dry farming. Correct selection of trellis systems (such as gobelet) and canopy management help grapes to give the best results with the water they receive naturally.
In terms of the market, Cariñena, Campo de Borja and Calatayud exports 70% of their wine, principally to Germany, UK and USA, while Somontano sells most of their wine in the internal market.
Somontano has a long viticulture history, dating back to a couple of centuries before Jesus. According to some findings from 500 BC, it was already planted in Ebro Valley at that time.
One of the factors that affected the development of viticulture and wine commerce was the settlement of Italians who brought the advanced techniques of those times and created commercial wine companies.
After the phylloxera attack, in 19th century, a very important step for the wine sector of Somontano happened: Family Lalanne arrived in Somontano from Bordeaux and they’ve planted grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then, these varieties are part of the wine sector in Somontano.
As we look at today, there are fifteen varieties planted in the region for winemaking, and more than 70% of the production is red wine. Most planted red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo, and the whites Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Macabeo.
Our visit in Somontano started with the vineyards of Bodega Enate. We visited a Merlot vineyard in Salas Bajas, just in front of the winery itself. It was a sunny and hot day in June, and the vines were with inflorescence (flower clusters) and already started the fruit set, meaning producing the berries.
Let’s give a small break here to talk about fruit set. Grape flowers of almost all Vitis Vinifera varieties are hermaphrodite, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs in each flower. This luckily makes the fruit set easier. However, rain and/or wind can be detrimental in this stage causing a decrease in the fruit set, meaning having less number of berries. At the moment of the visit, the inflorescence looked quite promising under the Aragon sun.
After the vineyard tour we went to the winery and made a tasting of their two wines, Chardonnay 234 from vintage 2017 and Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon from 2012. The wines were true to their artistic labels, created with the motto of “Where art & wine become one”.
Viñas del Vero
Following, we headed to some plots of Viñas del Vero, in Barbastro. In this area the fruit set already happened and the clusters are shaping up. After this stage, berries will start to grow, increase their size and start veraison.
After a long day visiting the vineyards under the summer sun, we’ve arrived at the winery Bodega Laus for dinner. We were welcomed with some appetizers and wines. It was one of those moments of relaxing, watching the sunset behind the vineyards and olive trees.
After the sunset, an exceptional dinner was waiting for us inside. We had a starter of goat cheese cone with tomato confit, paired with Gewürztraminer of Sommos, 2017. Then, we had a cold soup of cream of pink tomato from Barbastro and cherry soup paired with a glass of Garnacha Blanca (Mascun, Bodegas Osca, 2017). Nothing can be more refreshing than a cold soup in summer dinners, and the pairing made it even better. Main dish was a timbale of glazed suckling pig (called cochinillo in Spanish) and stuffed potatoes with soya and lime sauce, paired with Laus Reserva 2012. Finally, the dessert was a delicious chocolate and raspberry mousse with crunchy nuts and red velvet cake. It was a great way to finish a full day of discovering new flavours.
Campo de Borja
Campo de Borja, also known as “The Empire of Garnacha, is situated in the northeast of Zaragoza. It’s assumed that the ancient Romans introduced and developed grape-growing in this region, but the first written reference is a document in the archives of the Cistercian Monastery of Veruela which refers to donations of vineyards in the year 1203.
Authorized white varieties in the region are Macabeo, Chardonnay, Verdejo, Sauvignon blanc, Moscatel Grano Menudo, Moscatel de Alejandria and Garnancha blanco, which permits to give light bodied fresh white wines with elegant aromas. White wines represent a little bit more than 5% of the total wine production.
More than 50% of the total wine production is Garnacha, and the other authorized red varieties are Tempranillo, Carineña, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Garnacha tintorera. Different styles of red wines are produced in the region, some are single varietal from Garnacha, while it’s also possible to find some blends. There are young wines, as well as aged wines classified as Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, as in some other DO’s of Spain. Moreover, some rosé wine is also produced from Garnacha grapes.
In this region, as well as still dry wines, it’s also made “mistela” from Garnacha grapes. For making mistela, grape juice is mixed with alcohol obtained from distillation of wine. This way, mistela smells and tastes like grape juice and since there is no fermentation. You can taste the varietal aromas of the grape itself.
There are a lot of things to see in Campo de Borja for wine lovers, and the one would be the wine museum, where you can historical and current wine production techniques utilized in the region. The museum is situated in inside of the Veruela Abbey (Real Monasterio de Santa Maria de Veruela), surrounded by high ancient walls.
In the garden of the monastery, the centenary vines of Garnacha variety were maintained. The abbots are making a demonstration of how the old vines in the region were taking cared of. They were using besoms that they wet with water from their bucket to water the vines. It’s obvious that they were taking care of the plants so well.
Inside of the monastery has a very tranquil atmosphere that make one feel like travelling back in 12th century, when the monastery was first build. Funny enough when I see the abbots walking in the garden, one moment I innocently thought they were real abbots. But then, our guide told us that the abbots they were volunteers who make these demonstrations and sing as a chore in the church as in the ancient times. They really made us feel the spirit of this historical place.
After this exceptional visit we had a chance to dine in the restaurant at a saloon of monastery with high ceiling under historical arcs. The food and the atmosphere complemented each other harmoniously.
With their history, cuisine, vineyards and wines Somontano and Campo de Borja has a lot to offer to everyone. If you’re in Aragon, make sure you continue your visit with other two wine regions of Cariñena and Calatayud.
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