Wine: Reign in Spain?

Half an hour from Zaragoza, the Campo de Carineña has been producing wine for two millennia
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Indy Lifestyle Online

As the high-speed AVE train scythes a path through from Madrid to Zaragoza, Don Quixote's windmills of yesteryear have been replaced by today's wind turbine farms.

They're not as beautiful, of course, but they're not ugly, either and it's hard to begrudge their presence when they're such a valuable source of much-needed alternative energy. Here among the wine turbines in the undulating rural plains surrounding Zaragoza, lie three of Spain's least-known wine regions.

Across the flat plateau north of Zaragoza, Campo de Borja sits in the shadow of the 2,300m Moncayo mountain. Protected from Atlantic rains, drenched in bright sunlight and dried by the Cierzo, the north wind, this is classic garnacha grape country.

At Bodegas Borsão here, garnacha comes into its own as one of Spain's best-value reds in wines like the strawberryish, peppery 2010 Gran Vega Privado, Garnacha, £3.78, Asda, and the vivid, blackberryish, spice-tinged 2010 Gran Tesoro Garnacha, £4.29, Tesco.

Half an hour from Zaragoza in the valley of the Ebro enclosed by the Iberian Range, the Campo de Cariñena has been producing wine for two millennia. And 2,500 families live off the production of the region, which claims the oldest co-op in Spain, San Valero dating from 1946, along with 35 independent bodegas. With its freezing winters and hot summers, rainfall is low and pebbley soils make up three-quarters of the terrain. It's an arid winescape with a source of more good-value reds such as the 2010 Alegria Old Vines Cariñena from the Cooperativa San José de Aguarón, £6.99, Laithwaites, a gluggy, mulberryish blend of cariñena and syrah that's made for grills and sausages.

An hour to the south-west of the city, the high, rocky vineyards of Calatayud lie between the Vicort and Pelada mountain ranges. Nine in 10 wines are red, garnacha the main component with tempranillo in a minor key. Dating from the second century, Calatayud is another ancient wine region, but the economics of making wine in such inhospitable terrain have taken their toll. So much so that although the region expanded massively in the 19th century, following the discovery of phylloxera in France, it's shrunk to less than one-tenth of its former glory.

Facing north to preserve the wine from the heat, numerous tiny bodegas vie for space in the Calatayud hills, all owned by individual villagers, mostly as ancient as their vines. The vineyards lie on slopes at 550m to 1,040m, so high in fact that they're only halfway through harvest here when Cariñena has picked its crop. The rocky, chalky soils are poor, and so low-yielding that the children of growers show little interest in taking over from their parents.

There is some outside investment in the area but it hardly amounts, as yet, to a renaissance. Norrel Robertson MW, aka 'The Flying Scotsman', is one outsider making powerful, concentrated reds such as the smoky, blackberryish 2009 Papa Luna, £9.99, buy 2 = £7.99, Majestic and the richly concentrated, tarry, spicy 2009 Dos Dedos de Frente, El Escocés Volante, Calatayud, around £22.99, Planet of the Grapes (020-7405 4912), Imbibros, Surrey (01483 861164), a Spanish take on Côte Rôtie. There's good value to be found here as well as high quality, a typical example being the 2010 Cruz de Piedra Garnacha, £5.50, The Wine Society, an enjoyably rustic cherryish garnacha with herby undertones.

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