The SOMM Journal

April / May 2018

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Page 57 of 108

{ } 57 nature of the noblest grape varieties can often mimic human characteristics. Some varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier, are egocentric: Their varietal character will typically supersede their sense of place. Other varieties, meanwhile, are ethnocentric: They're brilliant at home but can perform poorly when planted on foreign soil. Nebbiolo is the raw material for some of the best wines in the world, but outside Italy's northwestern corner, it struggles to impart distinctive qualities. Garnacha is a benchmark for a different personality profile: the altruistic, meaning it can be a very giving grape variety under the right conditions. As a variety that communicates the image of its landscape, the Spanish grape is a chame - leon that can skillfully adapt to the varying locations in which it grows around the world. By showing a sensitivity to soil differences, Garnacha has proven itself as a celebrated team player that tends to enhance blends. This, however, is where the "right conditions" come into play, as Garnacha demands certain stipulations be met for it to truly perform at its best (the sidebar on pages 58–59 delves more deeply into these restrictions). First and foremost, Garnacha thrives within a very particular type of climate similar to its birthplace of Aragón (near present-day Cariñena, Calatayud, and Campo de Borja), where the climate is harsh with cold winters, hot, dry summers, and temperate autumns. Quality Garnacha also grows within a relatively-narrow range of latitudes. In Europe, it cannot ripen properly north of the 45th parallel, and it does not produce balanced grapes south of the 39th parallel unless cultivated at high altitude. (Thanks to the Pacific's cooling influence, those latitudes are about five degrees lower in California.) It also bears mentioning that Garnacha is not a great prospect for short-term investors. Because of its viticultural sensitivity, the grape is not designed for mass production and best performs under the care of winemakers with a long-term vision and unrelenting enthusiasm for quality. These well-trained professionals must be equipped to handle the paradox Garnacha—with its tough vines and delicate juice—poses. But with advances in winemaking techniques and equipment, including refrigeration and temperature control, gentle pressure, controlled oxygenation, and careful maceration, constraints that seemed unyielding in the past can be easily circumvented today with the proper resources. The The PHOTO: LYN FARMER

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