Campo de Borja: Spanish Wine’s New Frontier

Some months ago, I wrote about the food and wine of Calabria and how the Italian Trade Commission has been trying to get Americans more interested in those products from Italy’s more obscure regions, especially in the South. The Spanish are following suit, at least with wine. This is the first of three posts on Spanish wine regions you won’t see listed in most wine books and whose wines aren’t yet widely distributed, though that’s changing.

Campo de Borja is located in Zaragoza province in northeastern Spain between the Pyrenees Mountains to the north and the Ebro River Valley to the south. The wine regions of Rioja and Penedes are its western and eastern neighbors, respectively.

Winemakers in Campo de Borja refer to their region as The Empire of Garnacha because that grape is so dominant there with just over 4,800,000 hectares planted compared to 900,000 hectares for Tempranillo. Garnacha is also indigenous to Spain, a fact that can cause some pique among Spaniards when most of the world refers to this varietal as Grenache, the French word for Garnacha. Often used as a blending grape in the past, Garnacha has become more evident as a stand alone varietal as more and more consumers realize how good a wine it makes.

About the only downside of Garnacha is that it can reach fairly high levels of alcohol. But the wines I’ve had were generally well balanced enough to negate that. Garnachas are also more food friendly than many big New World reds of similar alcoholic content.

Grapes have been grown in Campo de Borja since at least the 12th century. Some vines in current use date back to the latter part of the 1800s. in 1980, the region received its Denomination of Origin or DO (the Spanish equivalent of the French appellation system, designated as AOC). The variety of soil types (stony, slate, chalky) and microclimates (with altitudes ranging from 350 to 700 meters) provide wines with an array of characteristics from subtle and elegant to powerful and highly aromatic.

Five wineries produce about 98 percent of all the Garnacha in Campo de Borja and those wineries put on their first American tasting earlier this year in New York. In addition to a separate walk-around tasting, several of the wines accompanied an excellent lunch at the W Union Square Hotel.

campo de borja winesMy favorite of the group was the 2006 Aquilon from Bodegas Alto Moncayo ($138), an intense and meaty wine with smoky and chocolate notes. Despite 16 percent alcohol and 17 months in new oak barrels, this wine was well-balanced and very fresh tasting.

All the wines are not that pricey, though. In fact, most are good values, such as the juicy and peppery 2008 Vina Borgia Garnacha ($9) and 2008 Borsao Red ($8) from Bodegas Borsao. I also recommend:

  • Bodegas Borsao 2007 Borsao Tres Picos and 2008 Rose
  • the youthful 2006 Bodegas Bordeje Garnacha Lesles de Bordeje with its fresh raspberry flavor
  • The nonvintage Don Ramon, blend of 75 percent Garnacha and 25 percent Tempranillo and a good value ($9) from Bodegas Aragonesas.

Finally, if you thought cooperatives only made ordinary wine, try the 2006 Terrazas del Moncayo from crianzas y viñedos santo cristo, a cooperative that encompasses vine growers from four towns. It’s got loads of sweet cherry and berry fruit, balanced by good acidity and framed in a tannic structure that will allow it to age another five years or so, though it can be enjoyed right now.

For more information on the wines and the wine region of Campo de Borja, go to www.campodeborja.com.

Next post: Vinos de Madrid

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