The history and legendary Camino de Santiago to Navarra, with the resulting French and Central European cultural influence in the area, influenced in the Middle Ages the tradition of unique wines, centred on the use of the Garnacha Tinta grape variety. The modernisation of wineries, the careful choice of the vineyards, the incorporation of noble varieties, and the commitment of winemakers seeking more flavour instead of alcohol, has led to a new generation of Calatayud wines, which are fine, elegant and very personal.
The cultivation of vines in the area dates all the way back to the second century, confirmed by the finding of a winery in the village of Segeda. Situated between the municipalities of Belmonte de Gracían and Mara, the area was of great significance during the Numantine War. The first reference to wine however was back in the first century by author Marco Valerio Marcial, a historian who was born in the Roman city of Augusta Bílbilis, nearby to where the arabs founded the city of Calatayud.
In the late twelfth century Cistercian monks promoted the cultivation of vines in this area and founded the Monasterio de Piedra, spreading the importance of the vine in the lands of their environment. During the outbreak of phylloxera in France's vineyards, Calatayud saw its vineyards expand to over 44,000 hectares as a result, with its bulk wine exported to France and elsewhere thanks to good railway communications. At that time, many of the oldest wine cellars were dug by hand and oriented north to keep the temperature and humidity, where each winemaker produced their wines using artisan methods, with the grapes being trodden, and fermentation carried out with the stems still intact. It was in the early 1960`s when vintners began to come together to form and create the first cooperatives in the region, while other wineries gradually modernized and started to produce more drinkable and balanced wines. This lead to the creation of the DO Calatayud in 1989.
DO Calatayud is situated in the southwest of the province of Zaragoza, nestled in Aragon. It is spread across 43 different municipalities in the Ebro Valley and borders the provinces of Soria, Guadalajara and Teruel. The region is framed by the mountain formations that emerge from the ever impressive Moncayo Massif, where the vineyards are seated around a complex hydrographic network of the Tug, Jiloca, Manubles, Ribota, Stone, Perejiles, Mesa, Grío rivers and other tributaries of the Ebro. Today, DO Calatayud is home to around 3,200 hectares of vineyards cultivated between 550 and 1,040 metres above sea level in the Sierra de Vicort.
Climate, Soils and Varieties
Like the neighbouring regions, the DO Calatayud is home to a semiarid climate, characterised by its extreme continental character, with hot summers and very cold winters. This abruptness in climate has a strong influence on the vineyards and fruit, which have a remarkable acidity and alcohol balance, resulting the unique character of Aragonese wine. The average annual temperature in the region is around 12°C and average annual rainfall is around 400mm/year.
It is an area of difficult terrain. It is located in the foothills of Moncayo and Most of the vines are planted in soils that are stoney, loose, very poor in nutrients and with a high lime content. The permeability is good so the roots are able to obtain the water and nutrients they require.
It is fair to say that it is red wine that really dominates Calatayud wines, with red grape varieties accounting for over 92% of the vineyards. Grenache is the most widely cultivated grape variety, accounting for over 54% of production, followed by Tempranillo at 21% and Syrah at 7%. Other reds grown include Mazuela, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bobal and Monastrell. Regarding white varieties, which account for only 8% of cultivation, Viura is the most prominent, followed by Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Grenache plantations in the region over are over 50 years old. The variety is suited perfectly to the conditions of the region, since it’s a long cycle variety and needs plenty of sun to complete the vegetative cycle, hence its prominence in the region. However this variety is prone to Coulure, a potential viticultural hazard that causes a failure of grapes to develop after flowering. In the vineyard, care can be taken, the practice of ´desnietado’ is carried out by winemakers, which includes trimming the tips of developing shoots near the end of the flowering period can lessen the competition for sugar resources between berries and new shoot development.Most of the vineyards is located in offshore areas, on slopes that favours high aeration vineyard avoiding botrytis, very difficult to machine, performing most of the tasks manually culture.
DO Calatayud wines and wineries
DO Calatayud is home to 15 registered wineries of different sizes, small, medium and large, as well as cooperatives that bring together many partners and hectares of vineyards. The high, hard and rough lands that run along the spien of the Moncayo, buffeted by rigorous winds and subjected to pitiless sunstroke, along with the quality of the soils really bring out the best quality in the Grenache grapes. This is one of the main reasons that many international renowed winemakers decide to work in the region. This is the case for Jorge Ordóñez, who founded and has since led the Pandora Winery in 2005. Located in Munébrega, it spans over 265 hectares of vineyards, which produces wines using Grenache grapes which are grown on the highest hills between the Sierra de Pardos and the Sierra de Solorios at altitudes between 950 and 1,000 metres. The vines used were planted between 1925 and 1968 on clay soils with decomposed slate. The winery produces two reds, with , both of which come from very old vines.
Another winery in the DO Calatayud is Bodegas Ateca with Juan Gil Group Family Wineries (Grupo Juan Gil Bodegas Familiares), which centres is operations in Ateca, located 14 kilometres from Calatayud. The winery is home to small plot vineyards of old Garnacha grapes, situated around the hillsides of the Ateca Mountains and the surrounding villages. The winery produces and markets three different reds; Honoro Vera, which briefly rests for 2 months in French oak barrels; the Atteca, which is aged for 10 months; and Atteca Armas, which is aged for a total of 18 months in French oak barrels.
Bodegas San Alejandro, founded in 1962, has around 1,000 hectares of vineyards located in Miedes, 88 km southeast of Zaragoza. The vineyards are home to very old vines and are situated at some of the highest, grown on with rocky and shaley soils high, very poor in nutrients and with little access to water. The vineyards are some of the latest in Europe in terms of their cycles. The winery is led by a young and dynamic team, which exports over 95% of its products to 25 different countries worldwide. The winery produces many different wines under labels including: Baltasar Gracian, Las Rocas, Vinas de Miedes and Euodias.
Proyecto Garnachas de España is the personal project of riojan Raúl Acha, who was in search to prove the excellence of the Grenache grape. Currently the winery produces 5 different wines, two of which come under the DO Calatayud: La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo and La Garnacha Olvidada de Aragón. The first was aged for 5 months in new French oak barrels, and expresses all of the qualities of the Grenache grapes here in the Ebro Valley.Valley. A fruity, fresh and sweet tannin wine able to satisfy lovers of a variety that are gradually growing in prominence.The wine La Garnacha Olvidada de Aragón is made with grapes from old Grenache vines planted in 1940 in an east-facing slope, on a ferrous clay soil with boulders in the valley of the river Ribota. It has been aged 10 months in French oak barrels, but shows a nice and ripe tannins that denote the underperformance of this old vineyard.
El Escocés Volante is another example of what the Garnacha Tinta grape and this zone has to offer. Norrel Robertson is the Escocés Volante (the flying Scotsman), who after working in the business of buying and selling wine in 1997, found his passion in the development of wine, and among other regions and countries, decided to set up camp in the DO Calatayud, where he would go on to produce wines under the El Escocés Volante flag. The winery works with Grenache and uses plots of old vines in the area of Campillo, on the slope of Mount Armantes, on the slopes of the mountains Ribota river valley. It does not have its own winery but produces two wines, La Multa y El Puño, using the facilities at the wineries San Gregorio and San Isidro.