Heading to Aragón’s Valdejalón with Bodegas Frontonio (#WorldWineTravel)

On a trip to Aragón a few years ago, we had the opportunity to delve into the wines of this somewhat isolated Spanish region. Basing ourselves in the historic city Zaragoza, we visited vineyards and wineries to obtain an overview of the area, the land (where rainfall is in short supply) and the varied faces of Garnacha. One in particular made by an enthusiastic trio grabbed my attention: Bodegas Frontonio.

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The #WorldWineTravel group investigates Aragón this month hosted by Wendy at A Day In The Life On The Farm. A very dry and arid area, it’s Spain’s most depopulated with just 28 inhabitants per square kilometer versus 93 for the whole of Spain. It’s also home to very old Garnacha vines, some owned by Frontonio. To read other articles related to Aragón, please find links at the end.

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So Where the Heck Are We?

The Iberian Peninsula, in Southern Europe just southwest of France. It’s surrounded  to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by the Mediterranean, upon which there are two countries: Portugal and Spain.

Digging deeper, the Aragón region is in the north-eastern part of the country, along the way from Barcelona to Rioja. It’s bisected by the Ebro River.

Much of the vineyard land along the Ebro valley depression is warm and dry during the growing season with cooling at night. Known as a cold and dry wind, the Cierzo blows through, although my experience of it was rather warm. Overall the climate is moderate continental with minimal rain, just 13 inches annually (330 millimeters) on average.

And finally in Aragón, we find Valdejalón, which was awarded Viño de la Tierra or VT rather recently: 1999. I could barely find information on this small VT let alone Aragón itself. It’s arguably the least well known area in Aragón!

Valdejalón VT Aragón Spain

Map courtesy of Wine Scholar Guild (thanks Rick Fisher!)

Meanwhile, back in Zaragoza we were so close to Valdejalón VT, located just 10 miles away along the Jalón River. We almost touched it exploring other Aragón DOs during our trip (Spain’s equivalent of an appellation): DOs Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Cariñena, and Somontano.

It took us an afternoon exploring Zaragoza until we finally touched a bottle from Valdejalón VT. A small wine shop we strolled into saw my interest in Garnacha and recommended a bottle from Bodegas Frontonio.

Bodegas Frontonio MicrocomicoThe merchant shared that a Master of Wine and a few friends were making a small amount of wine in a garage not too far from Zaragoza, some of the best he’d seen in a while and working the land naturally without chemicals. He told us the area from which it came, Valdejalón, makes white, rosé, and red wine from a variety of grapes but mostly from Garnacha Tinto. We brought that bottle home with us.

Fast-forward a few years, a few moves, and a wine rack catastrophe in which the bottle survived- we finally opened it.

Bodegas Frontonio Microcosmico ValdejalonBodegas Frontonio, The Garage Wine, Microcósmico 2015 Garnacha

So many aromas on this wine made from 50+ year old vines farmed and made with minimal intervention more synergistically: almost pronounced brambly ripe strawberries, prunes, red and black cherries, hints of barnyard mustiness and dried herbs. It’s dry with zippy acidity and smooth well-integrated tannins on a high-toned palate loaded with pomegranate and red raspberries. I do say one elegant and polished wine with surprising depth, texture and a long, lingering sensation of crushed stones.  Price: 11€ / $17

Above I mentioned Aragón is the most depopulated area in Spain. It’s a rural, barren land that saw the offspring of those who worked it move out. As the older generation either could no longer tend to their vines or passed on, many old Garnacha vineyards ended up abandoned or pulled out and replanted with different grape varieties, almonds or cherry trees. A large percentage of old Garnacha Tinta vines were lost not only in Valdejalón but Aragón.

It’s people like Fernando Mora MW and his partners at Bodegas Frontonio who are saving them now in Valdejalón.

Wine Pairing: Garbanzos con Espinacas (recipe at bottom)

Garbanzos con Espinacas recipe wine pairingCheck out these great WineWorldTravel adventures by my fellow writers. Join us on Twitter May 22 from 11-12 EDT / 17:00 CET, search for hashtag #WorldWineTravel.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Garbanzos con Espinacas
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 portions
 
This Spanish garbanzo bean (aka chick pea) dish has a depth of earthy flavors that pair well with Garnacha, especially Microcósmico from Bodegas Frontonio. If not a poached egg fan, top with a dollop of crème fraîche or thicker yogurt.
Ingredients
  • 2½ (14 oz / 400 grams) cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped into smaller pieces
  • ½ to ¾ cup carrots, chopped into smaller pieces
  • ½ cup English peas
  • 10 ounces / 300 grams fresh spinach (or Swiss chard leaves)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (2 grams) smoked Spanish paprika
  • ½ teaspoon (1 gram) cumin powder
  • ½ cup vegetable or chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • Poached eggs (we used two, one each)
  • 2 to 3 strips of Serrano ham, crisped in the oven and broken into pieces. (I used thick bacon, cut into thin strips and crisped on the stove as I didn’t have Serrano.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • handful of cilantro, freshly chopped
  • a few wedges of fresh lemon
Instructions
  1. Rinse chickpeas and pat dry.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over medium. Add the onion and carrot; cook until soft (3-5 minutes) then stir in half of the garlic.
  3. Add the chickpeas, smoked paprika, cumin powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper; stir to combine.
  4. Add the stock and English peas, stir then let cook a few minutes until the stock is reduced by about ¾s.
  5. Turn to low and cover while you cook the spinach.
  6. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. Once warm, add the garlic and spinach; stir frequently to wilt. Season with salt to taste and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  7. Assembly: Divide the spinach onto 2 plates. Top with the chickpeas and a poached egg. Sprinkle crisped Serrano (or bacon) and cilantro over the top.

 

18 thoughts on “Heading to Aragón’s Valdejalón with Bodegas Frontonio (#WorldWineTravel)

  1. Allison Wallace

    We got so close to the region on our last trip but didn’t have time to keep going…envious you got to explore this region up close! I hope Fernando’s work inspires others to do the same given the history and proven potential.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      It was up close exploring but a week is not nearly enough. We’ll definitely go back and definitely a yes to Fernando inspiring others.

      Reply
  2. Camilla M Mann

    That looks like an amazing wine. I will have to see if I can track down a bottle here. And I will certainly try your recipe with different beans soon. Sadly my younger son is really sensitive to garbanzo beans. And it’s just not worth the stomach issues and whining that ensues.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Frontonio is imported to the US, hope you can find one! Microcosmico was one of the better wines I’ve had recently. On the dish, I’ve made this with gigantes beans, the larger white ones, and it was great.

      Reply
  3. robincgc

    An MW, a garage, and a wine called Microcósmico. That’s quite the line-up!
    What an amazing trip. I love getting to see these places through your eyes and hearing of the people who are saving these old vines.
    On top of all of that, your dish has me drooling! It’s breakfast time and that egg…

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      It was a super trip, actually a bit overwhelming as we packed a ton into a week. Any rendition of this dish for breakfast would be tasty, thanks for the idea Robin!

      Reply
  4. Carol

    Curious about the soil in this area. Part of what I love about the Garnachas of Priorat is the granite-ness of them. That being said, I really do love just about every Grenache or Garnacha I have tried. But just curious.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for your comment Carol! The majority of their vineyards are located around Épila on the left bank of the Jalón river where the soil is predominantly calcareous clay. The remaining plots are further west in Jarque, where the soil is mostly red slate. I’m waiting for a reply that includes info on soil. I’ll share it when it comes if different. I know they’ve acquired more vineyards, just not certain of the exact locations.

      Reply
  5. Linda Whipple, CSW

    What a serendipitous find. And it survived the wine rack catastrophe, too! I’d jump at the chance to taste a garage wine from old vines in land worked without chemicals.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Really hoping I can visit them within the next year. They acquired additional vineyards and make several wines. Let me know if you make it this direction, meet you there!

      Reply
  6. Nicole Ruiz Hudson

    How fun to have had the chance to explore this remote area! And very lucky as well that this bottle survived so many trials and tribulations. This garbanzo dish also sounds delicious. I’m going to have to try it!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      When you go, give yourself more than a week, there’s so much to explore. This was one time I was thankful the bottle was thicker!

      Reply
  7. Jeff Burrows

    Wow, good work finding an individual grower-producer in a sea of Coop farmers! Not sure I’ll ever get here, but if I do, I’ll dig up your post and set up a visit.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Can you believe it?!? From email interactions with them, they’re doing some interesting things. Can’t wait to go, good luck to you going!

      Reply
  8. Aiyana Vilimek (KAM at Bodegas Frontonio)

    Lovely article Lynn. Fernando and I will be pleased to receive you at the winery in your next trip to Zaragoza! We will show you some of the old vines and the caves. Thank you for the post.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thank you for producing such a nice wine, I look forward to meeting you both!

      Reply
  9. Lauren

    As if I weren’t already itching for a visit to Spain! This post hits all the spots: conscientious winemakers, one of my favorite varieties, and a delicious recipe to boot. Thanks for the heads-up on this bottle: wonder if it’s available in the US . . .

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I’m feeling that itch too! You should be able to find this Lauren. Bancroft Wines is one of their new importer.

      Reply

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