The next great Spanish red grape


While the most widely planted red wine varietal in Spain is Tempranillo - the star for the renowned wines of La Rioja and Ribera del Duero - the battle for the number two spot is heating up.  With a focus on the recuperation of native grapes, over the past two decades, grapes from up-and-coming regions such as Bierzo, Ribeira Sacra, Catalonia, and the Canary Islands have been taking turns in the spotlight.

The dark horse in this race is Garnacha (or Garnatxa), a grape that originated in Aragón, Spain centuries ago (with some debate).  One of the most widely planted grapes in the world, Garnacha is versatile, and until recently mostly used in blends.

The factors sparking the success of the Garnacha movement follow a familiar script - old vines, abandoned plots, and youthful winemakers - dedicated towards the recuperation of native varieties and preserving tradition through innovation.

Once most commonly used for blending, Garnacha is now being featured as the principal grape. Much success is owed to the work being done in the Sierra de Gredos mountains, where pioneers first crafted the style of Garnachas we have come to know today.

The defining characteristic of these Garnachas is freshness, due to the high-altitude orientation of the vines, with some plots well over 1000m. High altitude means less humidity, providing cooler conditions and a longer growing season for the vines to flourish with low stress. Depending on the location of the plots, the winds are Continental (ex. Gredos), Atlantic (ex. La Rioja), and/or Mediterranean (ex. Priorat).

The vines are well adapted to organic and biodynamic farming practices and thrive in biodiversity and a combination of soils (slate, granite, limestone, calcareous clay, and sand).

While the gold rush to cultivate old bush vine high-altitude Garnacha in Priorat and Gredos has been well underway, Aragón, La Rioja, and other parts of Catalonia form the new frontier.  Other lesser-known appellations have followed suit (Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Calatayud, Somontano, Navarra, Jumilla, etc.).

A small percentage of wines are made from the Garnacha Blanca varietal, alpine whites that taste of crushed rocks and minerals, flinty, serious blancos (whites). While the range of flavor profiles for the tintos (reds) vary stylistically depending on the microclimates,

Expect to encounter wines of great energy and tension with bright acidity and delicate fruit flavors, floral, mineral-driven, ethereal weight, and above all – freshness.

Here are a few great bottles at the shop with altitudes listed:

Frontonio Microcósmico 2022, Aragón 700m

Gil-Berzal Glorya Finca Valcavada 2020, Rioja 600m

Comando G Rozas 2022, Gredos 900m

Comando G El Reventón 2021, Gredos 900m

Comando G Navatalgordo 2022, Gredos 1100m

Comando G Villanueva 2022, Gredos 1000m

Comando G Las Iruelas 2021, Gredos 1000m

Daniel Landi El Reventón 2018, Gredos 900m

Daniel Ramos El Altar Tinto 2018, Gredos 850m

Mas Alta Black Slate La Vilella Alta 2019, Priorat 450m

El Grillo y La Luna Hop Hop 2019, Somontano 310m

Familia Torres Cos Perpetual Priorat 2017, Priorat 500m

Prieto Pariente Los Confines 2021, Gredos 1000m

Peña El Gato Garnacha Natural 2020, Rioja 700m

Piñol Portal Tinto 2019, Terra Alta 350m

Rico Nuevo Barbera De Sol 2020, Gredos 1000m

Alvaro Palacios L'Ermita 2015, Priorat 600m