In the spring and summer, the waves of dry red earth that make up D.O.P. Cariñena are filled in with thickets of small green bushes, Gall oak trees, Aleppo and Stone pines.
Cool air descends from those mountains and especially in the vineyards closest to them. During the ripening season, the difference in temperatures between night and day is notable—dropping around 30 degrees Fahrenheit/15 Celsius at nighttime—helping grapes hold their acidity levels high as they build sugars and phenolic ripeness in daytime. This results in flavor intensity and structure particularly in the appellation’s Garnacha and Cariñena/Mazuelo vines. One extreme of D.O.P. Cariñena’s dry continental climate arrives in July and August. When humidity is around 50 percent, the temperature climbs beyond 90 degrees Fahrenheit/30 degrees Celsius, and average sunshine hours hit between 300 and 350. Between harvest and budding, there’s a slow and steady temperature shift to and from December and January, the area’s coldest months. Winter temperatures can fall below freezing throughout the area.
Altitude varies throughout the denomination. Vines are planted from 400 meters above sea level to more than 800 meters, from the softly undulating plains to the steeper sites toward the mountain range. Precipitation, including rain, snow, and hail, is low overall falling far less in July and August—which count about 3 days and one inch/16mm—and a little less in January and February with some concentration from March to June when rain nears 40mm/2 inches over 10 days. November through January are the least dry months, at around 78% humidity.
The dominant soil type is Miocene clay, which makes up about 80 percent of the denomination and comes in four main types. Brownish-red limestone Cascajo is found in most of Cariñena, with slate-based and iron-rich reddish-brown Royale the second-most present. The last two are the brown Tierra fuerte arcillosa, a mix of stone, clay limestone; and marl-and-sandstone-based Calar. In Almonacid de la Sierra, Alfamén, Muel, Mezalocha, and Villanueva de Huerva there are also some alluvial soils, deposited by the Jalón and Huerva rivers, which are tributaries to the Ebro.
Throughout the Ebro Valley, the cold, dry Cierzo wind arrives regularly from the north when an anticyclone in England’s Bay of Biscay meets a low-pressure area in the Mediterranean Sea to the immediate east. Blowing in at more than 60 miles per hour, the Cierzo helps moderate the hot summer weather and helps reduces the risk of mildew and rot in the vineyards.
Red wine grapes are a centuries-old part of Cariñena’s culture. Traditionally, the region’s wines are blends based on the historically dominant Garnacha and the namesake Cariñena grapes (both native to the area) and differentiated by age. The fresh Joven (“young”) and the more robust Crianza (which spends at least one year in barrel) are meant for drinking upon release. Then there’s the Reserva, drinkable when it’s first sold after three years of winery aging or capable of developing for years after, and Gran Reserva, meant as this land’s most serious expression. After spending at least five years at the winery, it is released ready to drink or to cellar for many more years.