While most people know of Rioja, and Cava, fewer people know of the secret delights of DOP Cariñena. Cariñena is not only just a town, it’s a varital grape, an appellation, and a region. Located in Aragón (yes, that Aragón), it sits just about halfway between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain’s northeast tip. It’s one of the oldest DOPs in Spain, earning that distinction in 1932. Of particular note, there is no other region that is named for it’s primary grape. There is no Merlot, no Cabernet, and no Chardonnay region. There isn’t even a Garnacha region, though much of Cariñena is planted with Grenache. That is part of what makes Cariñena so special. Another reason why wines from Cariñena are so district is the ancient vines – most averaging 40-100 years old. 2014 Corona D Aragon Special Selection – a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena, these 40 year old vines are planted between 500-700 meters. The intensity of flavor from both the age and elevation is evident, and this rich red shows baking spice, prune, ripe blackberry, and campfire smoke. Black cherries and dark raspberries peek through cinnamon sticks and a surprising acidity brightens the whole game. For those of you looking for a great red wine at a fantastic price, pick up some Cariñena! Most bottle are between $10-15, and are a fantastic value that will let you travel to Spain in your wine glass. At once bold but bright, these wines are to be savored and go well with red meat, rich sauces, or a cool fall evening. Enjoy! Thank you Gregory White PR for this eye opening bottle of yum!
Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines. These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather. This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel. Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard. Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect. Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines. His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land. Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region. Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his Clements Hills Viognier. This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas. It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day. After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ. Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines. Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc. One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully. McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin. Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years. Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business. The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces. But don’t take my word for it! Stop by and visit when you’re in town. McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5. The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars! If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.
Ranchero Cellars is a small winery, based in Paso Robles. When visiting for Hospice du Rhone this year, I made it a point to visit with Amy Butler, owner and winemaker for Ranchero on the recommendation of some local friends.