The SOMM Journal

April / May 2018

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Page 58 of 108

58 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2018 Deciphering the Dexterity of Garnacha From its cradle in Aragón, Garnacha has traversed well beyond its home country's borders and has been widely viewed as a top-quality variety for most of its long history. Wine-centric events like the Global Garnacha Summit—set for April 24, 2018 in Napa, California—make the grape the fulcrum of their education and exploration, and due to its presence in modern wine markets around the world, the variety pro - vides industry professonals and consumers alike with an accessible yet unconventional tasting experience. By inviting people to envision many terroirs through the prism of Garnacha-based expressions, it's as if the grape was encrypting a message from the landscapes and producers behind its wines, inspiring the taster to decipher it. While few features are common to all Garnacha wines, their most relevant shared trait is probably the discreet nature of their tannic structure: suavely textured rather than harsh, with some exceptions due to over- extraction, clumsy oak aging, or poor stem management. The fruit expression is varied, but red berry fruits are most frequently a key component of the wines' aromatics. The rest of Garnacha's characteristics, however, definitively rely upon origin. Most vines in Cariñena, Calatayud, Campo de Borja, and other areas in Aragón are very old—often a century in the making—and sparsely planted in bushes. Having adapted perfectly to their dry, harsh environment, the vines explore their soils at consider - able depth, enabling them to survive the region's intense summer heat and extreme drought. In this case, the wines clearly convey their landscape's message: Their intensely- fruity character derives from the vines concentrating their energy in ripening those phenols, and they have a low pH due to the bush vines' age and low yield. They are warmly alcoholic (they received a lot of light!) and their aging capacity serves as a testimony of their balance. . Laying Claim to Spain When Garnacha moved east to Catalonia, where it became known as Garnatxa or Lladoner, it gained the suave influence of the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, the wines produced there are softer and less powerful, but they can be exceptionally refined in areas like Montsant, Terra Alta, and Ampordà. In Priorat, however, the liquorella soil of the region's slopes counteract the Medi - terranean influence, lending great power and depth. Here—as in the Cariñena region—Garnacha can excel on its own or act as brothers in arms with Carignan; in this impressive, complementary exercise, Garnacha provides the flesh, and Carignan, the bones. Further east on the island of Sardinia, Garnacha is known as Cannonau. It's the most important variety in the island, mainly within the province of Nuoro, where the granite sandy soils provide lovely floral aromas and a unique nuttiness. And as it ventures northward, the exhilarating Gar - nacha of central Aragón becomes more restrained but equally deep in Somontano, a cooler, higher-altitude region, and distinc - tively subtle and velvety in Navarra—par- ticularly around San Martin de Unx, whose limestone terraces give wines a raspberry- and-herb character with distinct minerality. The proximity of the Atlantic Ocean and its rains prevents Garnacha from going further north on this route; instead, it traverses inland through the Roussillon, where the rocky soil and steep slopes result in some of the more concentrated Garnacha wines. In the Languedoc, the grape shows its generosity as the major component of blends with the spicy Syrah, the structured Carignan, and the capri - cious Mourvèdre. Continuing northward, we arrive at the region that has long upheld Grenache's glory: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As one of 13 grape varieties permitted in the appella - tion, Garnacha flourishes in Châteauneuf- du-Pape thanks to its pebbly soils, legacy of careful winemaking, and historical access to high-end markets. Gigondas and Vacquey- ras mark, in a formidable way, the northern Garnacha can thrive in locales around the globe, but presents its own challenges—some shared, some unique—in each new terri- tory it pervades. Producers seeking to conquer this hearty grape should take heed of these three major challenges: Breaking Down Garnacha's Altruism

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