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Spain’s Cariñena resurgence plus the top 20 buys

Characterful wines with true local identity – Sarah Jane Evans MW relished the task of picking 20 of her favourites made with this lesser-known but now resurgent Spanish variety.

Cariñena appears in a number of guises in Spain, among them traditionally as a minor blending variety in Rioja (where it is known as Mazuelo), and in Catalonia (as Samsó).

What has driven it to top rankings in recent times is the appearance of single-varietal bottlings of the Cariñenas of Priorat DOCa.

These are from dry-farmed bush vines grown on remarkable slate soils, and some of the vines are more than a century old. Neighbouring Montsant, and Aragón, are also producing spectacular examples.

Scroll down for tasting notes and scores for Sarah Jane Evans MW’s top 20 Spanish Cariñenas

My enthusiasm for the variety and its transformation in Spain has prompted this tasting, which is Decanter’s first focused exclusively on Spanish Cariñena.

Contino has a terrific new red Cariñena from a small parcel called San Gregorio, due for bottling early this year; I have tasted it pre-launch. Winemaker Jorge Navascués, who makes the Contino wine in Rioja and also works in Aragón and Navarra, is emphatic: ‘There’s no doubt to me that this grape is going to be one of the best Spanish varieties in the future. Cariñena is getting ready and stronger to face up to oidium and global warming.’

Cariñena, as Carignan, is now being taken seriously elsewhere in the world, as well.

Particularly in Chile, where the Vigno project – an association of producers of the variety with low-yielding old vines – includes Miguel Torres. In Lebanon, too, Domaine des Tourelles has a particularly fine example. Nevertheless, the verdict must be that Spain has the best selection.

This tasting was my most pleasurable in some time. The wines taste of their terroir, and all of them are individual (blends were also tasted, as long as there was a minimum of 75% Cariñena).

They are made by expert winemakers, who have to be committed when working with such a disregarded grape.

Sadly, not all of the wines recommended here are easy to buy – it’s always the case with a wine style or category that is on the cusp of becoming fashionable. The Wine Society is currently waiting on the new vintage of El Escocés Volante’s Mazuelo; however, a good alternative is Beronia’s Reserva Mazuelo 2015, available from The Oxford Wine Co (£23.99).

They may be complicated to find, but these wines are very well worth the search.

Sarah Jane Evans MW’s top 20 Spanish Cariñenas

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