The Map to Great Garnacha, Part Three


Happy Garnacha Day! This day celebrates Garnacha and honors its freedom from the blending grape stereotype. We have its birthplace -- Eastern Spain -- to thank for this renaissance. New generations of winemakers in the five key Denominación de Origen (DO) are maximizing the potential of old vines, carefully controlling yields, and uniting tradition with modern practice. The result is varietal Garnacha wines of unbridled quality. Although Garnacha is notoriously easy to grow, it is a highly sensitive and empathic grape. It’s also highly adaptable. The slightest differences in terroir and climate have a big impact on the wines. This is precisely why each one of the five key native Garnacha DOs showcases something different. Each unique Garnacha interpretation carries a through-line of velveteen richness, balanced acidity, and scrumptious fruit flavors. Over the past few weeks we’ve examined DO Cariñena, DO Campo de Borja, and DO Calatayud. In this final installment, we will examine DO Terra Alta and DO Somontano.
DO Terra Alta

Recognized as DO in 1972, Terra Alta (which means “high land”) is known for white Garnacha (Garnacha Blanca) although red Garnacha is produced here a well. It is located in Catalonia’s southern-most inland area, the only one of the five key Garnacha regions not officially in Aragón. Roughly eight thousand hectares are under vine in DO Terra Alta. The region was a favorite of Pablo Picasso. He summered in the mountains of DO Terra Alta, perfecting his cubist painting techniques amid the wines and vines.  

Plains, plateaus, slopes and valleys dot the landscape that Picasso grew to intimately understand. In addition to the climactic influence, DO Terra Alta’s proximity to the Mediterranean Sea delivers limestone soils, river beds, oak and pine woods. It’s not uncommon to see groves of almond and olive trees. Altitude is up to five hundred and fifty feet. Cool and humid winds from the nearby Mediterranean help create wines with a mineral-over-fruit focus. Located close to Barcelona and the Mediterranean, the climate is characterized by cool winds from the north and humid winds off of the sea. While sunshine is plentiful and rain is scarce, the climate is a hybrid of both a Mediterranean and continental climate.

While you will find other grape varieties in DO Terra Alta, Garnacha Blanca, or Garnatxa blanca, is the region’s specialty. You can find Garnacha Blanca as a blending grape in the Rhone, and as a component of sweet wines in Roussillon. Terra Alta is renowned for its varietal interpretation. In fact, “Amber Blanc”, an oxidized white wine, was Terra Alta’s claim to fame in the 19th century. The vines used to make those wines were lost to Phylloxera and replanted in the early to mid-20th century. The average white Garnacha vine is twenty-five years old, and over the last century DO Terra Alta has been dedicated to revivifying the grape and perfecting varietal dry wines made from white Garnacha. Each bottle of DO Terra Alta Garnatxa blanca is numbered on the back label. These bottles are one hundred percent Garnatxa blanca of superior quality – not only in terms of the grape, but the winemaking as well. They are rich, full bodied, and rare to find in any other part of the world.

Click here to learn more about DO Terra Alta.

DO Somontano

The Pyrenees can be considered a naturally-occurring border between Spain and France. DO Somontano’s four-thousand hectares fall among the snow-capped Pyrenees at the edge of the Ebro River valley. Somontano is Latin for “beneath the mountain”. Extreme diurnal temperature shifts at high altitudes (300 to 1000 meters above sea level) combine with rich soils to create age-worthy Garnacha masterpieces. The soils contain a fair amount of gypsum, a deposit which dates back to the Archean Eon (4000–2500 million years ago.) A large amount of lime is also present.

A DO since 1984, Somontano has been hailed for its Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. That definition is evolving as the region commits to increase plantings of its native Garnacha over the next few years. This does not mean that all DO Somontano Garnacha is young. The region is known for old-vine Garnacha from its Valle de Secastilla, where the vines are one hundred years old or more. These wines offer layers of complexity unique to old vines.

The Ruta del Vino Somontano (wine route) is an enotourist’s paradise. You will experience the region’s rich heritage as punctuated by centuries of winemaking. Along the route you’ll also find the Sierra y Cañones de Guara Natural Reserve located in the Sierra de Guara mountain range. The medieval town of Alquézar is another one of DO Somontano’s must-sees. Experience prehistoric drawings inside the limestone caves; it is the same limestone that gives your wine a distinct DO Somontano minerality.

Click here to learn more about DO Somontano.

Celebrate Garnacha Day the right way! Click here for details about our exclusive virtual tasting.

Photo credit: Wines of Garnacha

Mentioned in this article


  • What an incredibly incomplete trek of garnacha country in Spain! You're missing four crucial areas:

    - Navarra

    - Rioja

    - the Gredos mountains of central Spain

    - Southeastern Spain (Manchuela, Alicante, Jumilla)

    Sep 16, 2016 at 11:14 AM

  • Snooth User: zenSolo
    80681 47

    Gredos has the treasure of old vines...just starting to discover it. ¡Salud!

    Sep 17, 2016 at 6:42 AM

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