Somontano

Somontano is a wine region in Aragon, northern Spain. The name Somontano means "under the mountains" – an apt description, as the region sits in the foothills of the central Pyrenees mountains. This lush, green, hilly region lies less than 35 miles (60km) from France. After lobbying hard for a number of years, the local producers were rewarded with DO status in 1984, and Somontano has since become a significant force in the Spanish wine industry, offering a wide range of wine styles and types. It has also adopted a particularly modern approach to winemaking, reflected in its technologically advanced wineries and vineyard practices, as well as its innovative wine labels.

The Ancient Romans are credited with developing the first vineyards in the area, a practice continued by later Catholics, who considered wine an essential part of their rituals. As with so many Spanish regions, Somontano experienced a big jump in demand for its wine after the phylloxera louse devastated vineyards in France. The outbreak there gave Somontano the opportunity to showcase the quality of its wines to French consumers. The establishment in the 1960s of a large co-operative, La Cooperativa Comarcal de Somontano, which unites 200 producers, was crucial in modernising the area's wine industry.

Somontano sits in a transitional zone between the valley of the Ebro River and the Pyrenees. The overall climate is continental, but the mighty Pyrénées have a profound effect on the local weather.

Vineyards located on high altitude slopes benefit from high diurnal temperature variation (intense summer daytime heat and low night time temperatures), allowing their grapes to maintain a good balance of sugars and acids. Those planted among the foothills are cooled by winds blowing down from the mountains; summer daytime temperatures here can reach 95°F/35°C.

Unlike the rest of Aragon and much of inland Spain, the Somontano region is greener thanks to higher rainfall (20in/500mm on average each year) and an abundance of rivers and creeks. These waterways influence the soils, which are mostly made up of clay and sandstone and are reddish brown in colour.

Balanced is the word commonly used to describe Somontano's wines. The harmony of fruit, alcohol and acidity in the wines makes them extremely attractive to modern day consumers. This is largely thanks to temperature and altitude complementing each other in Somontano. Eight red wine varieties and seven white wine varieties are authorised in the region. While its reputation has been built on rustic red wines, the crisp and fresh whites are promising.

International grape varieties thrive in the conditions found in Somontano, alongside native grapes such as Moristel, Parraleta and Macabeo (known here as Alcañón) creating distinctive Somontano wines. The reds are typically made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha and Syrah, while Gewurztraminer, Macabeo and Chardonnay account for most of the whites. Bright, intensely coloured rosé (rosado) wines complete the Somontano wine portfolio, and are typically based on Garnacha.

Co-operatives are responsible for most of the region's production, combining old varieties with newly introduced ones in their state-of-the-art wineries. Somontano's wines are certainly held in high regard.
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