Wines from the empire

By Celia Strong

Imagine: Wines from the empire here for us. But these aren’t royally expensive — just good, everyday wines, which, truly, is what we’re all looking for, empire or not.

So, off we go to Spain again. On this trip we are going to a new area right outside of Aragon, a DO (Denominación de Origen) called Campo de Borja. It is just northwest of Aragon (known as Zaragoza in Spain), and has 16 municipalities. A bit smaller than our visit last week to the Madrid area. Geographically, the Moncayo Mountains are the area’s dominant feature. They are responsible for creating the micro-climate that gives the wines from here their special characteristics.

Historically, it is assumed that the Roman Empire introduced and developed grape growing and winemaking in the area. The first written records are found in the archives of the Cistercian Monastery of Veruela with a reference to a donation of vineyard lands to the Church in 1203. Shortly after that, with the domination of Arabs throughout the Iberian Peninsula, wine was not supported or promoted.

Then, in the course of the 15th century, several abbots at the Monastery at Veruela acquired large quantities of land and planted most of it with vines. In 1453, according to records at the monastery, they even bought the entire town of Ainzón with all its “fields, pastures, watercourses and vineyards.”  The influence of the monastery continued up to the 19th century, including all the replanting required to save the local vineyards from the phylloxera plague. In 1980, Campo de Borja was legally established as a DO.

The vineyards here are planted on high plateaus, mostly between 350 and 700 meters above sea level. The climate of the area is continental. It gets Atlantic influences during the winter — mostly a cold, dry wind from the northeast. During the summer, the Mediterranean influences the weather. Daily temperatures vary quite a bit with warm days and cool nights all designed to enhance flavors in grapes.

The soils here are mainly dark lime-based with some rockiness, good drainage and an average amount of nutrients. Closer to the Moncayo Mountains, more clay and iron show up in the soil. There are more than 150,000 acres of vineyards. Red wine grapes, from more to less plantings, are Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Mazuelo (Carignan), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. White wine varieties are Macabeo and Moscatel. Red wines must be a minimum 12 percent alcohol and whites must be 11 percent. And, like other Spanish wines, there are legal designations for “Crianza,” Reservas,” and “Gran Reservas.”

One more bit of information about the climate that’s interesting and unique to this area: There is a special wind that blows across here, from the northwest, called “El Cierzo.” It is a cool, dry wind, most common in the winter months and early spring but it does come and go all through the year and the growing season. It is partly this wind that keeps the grapes cooler than in surrounding areas, and drier. And, this slows down their ripening and intensifies their flavors. It also helps keep vine pests away.

Our winery this week, from the Campo de Borja DO, is Borsao Bodegas. It started in 1958, the year that the co-op of Borja was founded. In the years since, more co-op members have continued to join Borsao, with talent and vineyards, helping them to grow. The name Bodegas Borsao was established in 2001. Their 620 members all became shareholders and a management team was appointed. Being located in the Campo de Borja DO, Borsao does do a lot with Garnacha grapes. After all,  this DO is considered to be the Empire of Garnacha and this variety accounts for about 60 percent of Borsoa’s total plantings. The diversity of micro-climates and soils in Campo de Borja helps them maintain the “empire.”

Most of the vineyards of Borsao are located between 350 and 800 meters above sea level. Hillsides of the Moncayo Mountains shelter the vineyards from strong effects coming from the Atlantic side. The members of Borsao believe in using indigenous varieties, and Garnacha is one of theirs. Their soils are dominant red clay with some chalk and stones for good drainage. Some of the soil is also more sandy with rolling stones. The temperatures, especially during the summer months are up and down — high during the day and low at night — which helps to enhance flavors and acidity and color and tannins in their wines.

The winemaking style at Borsao is aimed at stronger fruit flavors and roundness in your mouth.

Now, finally, what is our wine from the empire?  Borsao Tinto. The word “tinto” is used on Spanish labels to signify tinted or red colored wines. Our tinto is made from 85 percent Garnacha and 15 percent Tempranillo. The vines for its grapes average from 15 to 25 years old. The soils are stony with clay and limestone. The total maceration time is about 12 days, each grape variety done separately, in stainless steel tanks controlled temperatures. Again, fruit enhancing procedures. This wine’s tint is cherry red with hints of violet and it has aromas are dark red and black fruits with some floral notes. For a Garnacha wine this one is full bodied, a bit spicy, complex and, my favorite part, a long, lingering finish.

For our white wine this week we have Borsao Blanco, Spanish for “white.” It is made from 100 percent Macabeo. This variety is also known as Viura, especially in the Rioja region. Its wines are mildly acidic, so not too puckery, and meant to be drunk younger. These vines at Borsao average from 25 to 30 years old and grow on some of the highest parts of their plateaus. They are fermented in stainless steel tanks, also at controlled cooler temperatures. The wine is aged for about three months in barrels from Bordeaux. In our glass, it is straw yellow and has pronounced citrus and tropical fruit aromas. The flavors echo these aromas, but it is the texture is the hook. Creamy and fresh and smooth. Perfect summer sipping style!

So, there we are. Our “empire” wines, although officially just the red gets the title. But we can sit in our castles and sip them and pretend. And, get this, both wines are $7.99. So we can really sip them a lot. We are kings and queens in our own castles!  That’s all that matters. Enjoy.

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