- Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca, Gewürztraminer, Macabeo, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc
- Hectares planted: 4,000 Ha
- Grape growers: 500
- Wineries: 32
The Denominación de Origen Somontano – from the Latin meaning "beneath the mountain" - nestles in the foothills of the central Pyrenees in the province of Huesca, and is the most northerly of the four DOs in the autonomous region of Aragon (north-east Spain).
Like many regions in Spain, historical records show that vineyards and winemaking has been an important part of the landscape for centuries. In Huesca, this started with Roman settlements around the town of Barbastrum (today Barbastro) and expanded in the Middle Ages with the spread of the monasteries. The arrival of the phylloxera pest in Bordeaux in the nineteenth century forced French winemakers south, and led to the planting of ¨international¨ grape varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and a boom in wine production in the province of Huesca.
This developed further in the twentieth century as cooperatives were set up around the town of Barbastro. The DO was established in 1984 and several large-scale wineries established themselves.
Landscape of Somontano
As you’d expect from its position under the Pyrenees, Somontano is a landscape of green, fertile-looking rolling hills, generally well-irrigated by the network of rivers and streams which flow down from the mountains.
But despite the proximity of the Pyrenees, Somontano is not an area of high-altitude viticulture in the way Chile is for example. In fact, the town of Barbastro which is home to many of the region’s vineyards is a mere 370 metres above sea level, quite low by Spanish winegrowing standards.
Climate of Somontano
The climate in Somontano is continental, with the Pyrenees acting as a buffer which protects the vineyards from excessive exposure to the cold winds from the north. That said, temperatures during the winter months can get below freezing and peaks of extreme heat in the summer are not unknown, with day-night temperature fluctuations. Average rainfall is 500 mm/year.
Grapes of Somontano
The broad selection of permitted varieties, lots of them white, sets Somontano slightly apart from the other Aragonese DOs – Cariñena, Calatayud and Campo de Borja – where wines tend to be Garnacha-based blends with a touch of Tempranillo or Carignan. The region’s two native varieties, Moristel and Parraleta, are worth exploring but currently only represent about 4% of the total vineyard area.
The continued role of international varieties, red and white, is another key factor which sets Somontano apart. While much of the origin lies in that late nineteenth century French influence mentioned above, it’s also true that the geography of Somontano is similar in some respects to places like the Vosges mountains in Alsace, which helps explain the success of white grapes like Gewürztraminer or Riesling which are more commonly found in cooler regions in northern Europe.
Whilst several Spanish winegrowing regions established themselves as Denominaciones de Origen in the 1980s – think of Ribera del Duero or Toro for example – to some extent Somontano is still finding its feet and deciding exactly what it wants to be. In many ways this is a good thing. Somontano’s broad identity - and strong wine tourism offer – makes it a comfortable entry-point for international wine lovers looking to familiarise themselves with Spanish wine, especially fans of north European grapes like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. But it’s also a region with a deep winemaking history and lots of local colour and diversity, which means it’s well-worth taking the time to explore smaller producers working with more minority local grapes and taking a more traditional approach.