From carinena varietal wines, expect un-whimpy, brightly acidic, high-alcohol, deep dark wines with substantial body. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Michael Tercha/TNS
Photo: Michael Tercha/TNS

Carinena, a budget-friendly Spanish wine region to explore

A not-so-well-known, budget-friendly wine region in northeastern Spain has had me thinking a lot lately about the 1970s rock bands Black Sabbath and Bad Company.

Surely there must be other groups besides those two that could serve as the answer to that old rock ‘n’ roll trivia question: “Which band shares its name with one of its albums and a song title on that album.” There are scads of bands that have named albums after themselves and even some who have penned self-referential songs. But the trifecta — “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath on the “Black Sabbath” album — is rare. I’m going to forgo typing out the Bad Company example because I think you get the picture. 

Run with it, and see which other three-peats you can recall. Or if you’re really into internet trivia research, go that route. While you’re on your quest, think about also acquainting yourself with Carinena, which is the name of a Spanish town, the appellation around it and the grape variety that goes into making a fair amount of its wine. This is the grape known as carignan in France, and carignane in California (and carignano in Italy, as long as we’re talking). 

But Spain is where the grape was born and named. Ironically, it is also known as mazuelo in its native country, depending on where it is being grown and blended, as it so often is. Which brings us to our next irony. While the carinena grape variety is used in both 100 percent varietals and blends in Carinena — and it shares its name with the region itself — it can no longer lay claim to being the most-widely planted grape variety in the region. That distinction belongs to fellow native Spanish grape variety garnacha. (The region also grows and makes wine from other red wine grapes, including tempranillo, syrah and cabernet sauvignon; and whites from viura and chardonnay.) 

From carinena varietal bottlings, expect un-whimpy, brightly acidic, high-alcohol, deep dark wines with substantial body. At one time, local regulations called for red wines from Carinena to contain a minimum of 14 percent alcohol. Today 12 percent is the minimum, but Carinena reds still often approach or exceed 14 percent. Many of the carinena varietals I tried were earthy and herbal, with notes of dark red fruits, prominent acidity and a range of silky to velvety mouthfeel. These wines would be good partners for meats, stews and hearty pastas. When garnacha is in the picture, expect an abundance of the grape’s signature fruit and silky texture, making it a good red wine match for foods that pack a little spice. 

The Carinena D.O.P. (Denominacion de Origen Protegida) sits about halfway between Madrid and Barcelona, in the Ebro Valley of Aragon. While Carinena is not as well known or prestigious as many of the regions around it (Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Penedes, to name a few) and not as prevalent in retail stores and on restaurant wine lists, it is worth repeating that Carinena does offer good wines at bargain prices. 

Like many wine regions in that part of the world, Carinena can trace its roots to the Romans. In more modern times — 1932 to be exact — the region was named an official appellation, making it one of Spain’s — and Europe’s — oldest designated wine regions. Indeed, it is not unusual to find 40-year-old vines in Carinena, and some are more than twice that age. 

The area is also home to high-altitude vineyards, from elevations of about 1,300 feet above sea level up to 2,600 feet. Much of the region is flat, but some vineyard real estate inches up the foothills of the Pyrenees. Hot summers, large daily temperature shifts and generally dry weather produce good growing conditions for carinena and its fellow native grape variety garnacha, both of which ripen late. On their own or blended, these wines travel mostly under the radar, which, as usual, is reflected in bottle prices. That alone makes them worth seeking out. Plus you’ll always have that trivia in your back pocket for parties. 

Below is a small sampling of Carinena garnacha and carinena varietals. They are listed in ascending order, according to price and style. 


2014 Grandes Vinos y Vinedos Corona de Aragon Old Vine Garnacha. Made entirely of garnacha from vineyards near the region’s highest elevation, this wine was aged for four months in French oak barrels. Silky and jammy, it offered up raspberry, smoke and the sweet tinge of tobacco leaf. $10 

2012 Bodegas Paniza Vinas Viejas de Paniza Garnacha. This 100 percent garnacha varietal, aged in American and French oak for six months, was filled with aromas and flavors of earth, smoke, black cherry, other dark ripe fruits, roasted meats, herbs, incense, orange zest, vanilla and cedar, with 14 percent alcohol. $15 


2015 Grandes Vinos y Vinedos 3C Carinena. Soft and velvety tannins accompanied notes of bright plum, cherry and raspberry, along with cedar, tobacco and cocoa in this 100 percent carinena varietal wine. Clocking in at 13.5 percent alcohol, this wine had a clean, fresh finish. $10 

2014 Bodegas San Valero Particular Carinena. Herbal and full of forest floor, plum, cedar and a hint of spice and minerality, this 100 percent carinena had slightly grippy tannins and 14 percent alcohol, making it a good candidate to accompany a variety of heartier fare, including anything from the grill. $15

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