Bodegas San Valero was founded in 1944. It started off as a relatively small cooperative providing the work and livelihood of 60 winegrowers in Cariñena. Since then San Valero has developed into an exceptionally well-structured business with some 700 grape workers and 3,500 hectares of vineyard under its wing.
However, while scaling up has sometimes led elsewhere to a drop in quality, San Valero has succeeded in going in the opposite direction: ongoing technological improvements (the first bottling plant in the region, the introduction of quality control in the field, limiting the use of phytosanitary products and strict harvest restrictions) have ensured that some true gems can be found among the approximately 30,000,000 bottles that the company produces annually.
This led us to select the Sierra de Vento line, wines produced by a determined wine master in very limited editions from grapes grown on specially selected plots and picked by hand.
The D.O. is located approximately 50 km southwest of Zaragoza. It is one of the oldest appellations of both Aragon and Spain, and enjoyed a true awakening after Spain's accession to the EEC in 1986. Modern winemaking techniques, the restructuring of the vineyards, and the planting of foreign grape varieties have set the region on the export map with good and affordable quality wines. The area is named after the Cariñena grape (Carignan in France), although nowadays it only accounts for 6% of the vines.
The vineyards are located in the middle of Aragon on a plateau, called Campo de Cariñena, at an altitude of 400 metres, to the south of the Ebro river. This plateau rises to about 800 metres as it approaches the Sierra de la Virgen mountains to the south. To the west, the vineyards abut those of D.O. Calatayud. Its soil consists of a reddish-brown limestone topsoil over a loose, rocky subsoil of chalk and carbon deposits, with a slate and alluvial soil in some places, which is good at retaining water.
Temperatures are extreme in this harsh continental climate: in the summer they rise to 38°C and in winter they drop to 8°C because of the icy 'Cierzo' wind from the north, which keeps the humidity low. As a result, winemakers have to contend with hail, storms and extreme summer heat. Drought can have a huge impact on the size of the harvest. Diurnal temperature fluctuations help the different grape varieties to develop intensity of flavour.
Despite the fact that it was the Cariñena grape which gave its name to the D.O., the most important varieties are the black Garnacha (55% of vines), used for both red and white wine, and the white Viura (20% of vines).
The percentage of Tempranillo (currently 15% of vines) is increasing, because of the growing popularity of red crianza. Experiments are also being carried out with imported grape varieties like Chardonnay and Parellada.
The majority of vineyards consist of vines planted three metres apart in a grid pattern supported by wires. Density varies from 1,500 to 3,000 vines per hectare. The harvest usually begins in September.
There is a preference for modern winemaking methods in this area. Fully stainless steel equipment with temperature control is used. Inert gas is generally used when bottling to extend shelf life. Red wines undergo full malolactic fermentation although carbonation is also used to make young red wines. Grape selection for Crianzas, Reservas and Gran Reservas begins in the vineyard and the amount of Tempranillo added to the Garnacha is related to the desired ageing period. Most white wines are made with 90% or more Viura and rosés are made from Garnacha with the addition of a few red or white grape varieties. The rosés maintain their malic acidity so as to keep the total acidity high, and these wines are soaked for a long time to give them as much colour as possible. The lighter wines are drunk young.
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