The quality of Garnacha in Aragón has improved dramatically in recent years thanks to the efforts of producers like Frontonio, managed by three friends and partners, all in their 30s. Fernando Mora MW, oenologist Mario López and international business lawyer Fernando Latasa have taken it to new heights in a surprisingly short time.
Such progress can be compared to the meteoric career of Mora in the wine industry. An engineer working in the wind industry, he fell in love with wine and in his quest to become a winemaker, bought a kit to make his own wine at home with an ice-based temperature control set that he placed in his bathtub. After leaving his job in 2013 and passing the WSET Diploma, he became a Master of Wine in just two years.
The first Frontonio was produced in 2010 in Mario’s family winery in Épila, right behind the small wine shop where his mother still sells bulk wine. The winery is named after Saint Frontonio, the patron saint of the village. Legend has it that he was beheaded by the Romans and his head thrown in the river Ebro, yet it appeared upstream. Going against the current fitted in well with the three partners’ project, hence the name.
Following the discovery of a treasure trove of old vines grown in the foothills of Sierra de Algairén, at the confluence of Valdejalón and Cariñena, they transferred the production of their premium wines to the village of Alpartir in 2019.
In less than 10 years they have acquired 65 hectares of traditional, dry-farmed, goblet-trained vineyards that are set to be organically certified by 2023. Most of them are located around Alpartir and in different locations within the Valdejalón PGI at elevations ranging from 300 to 1,030 metres above sea level. Mountain vineyards are the team's favourites. "The best flavoured grapes come from old vines grown in isolated vineyards surrounded by forests," Fernando Mora MW points out.
The wines have evolved and are now fresher and lighter and the trio have found inspiration in traditional winemaking. Fermentation is carried out with stems and pressing takes place after Christmas. "The only difference from the old days is that we harvest earlier. Fresh grapes taste different and are better at reflecting a sense of place. If we wait longer, flavours start to become standardised," explains Mora.
Frontonio’s range grew very quickly but it was rebuilt on the 2018 vintage with all the wines now sold in Burgundy-shaped bottles. Some have been discontinued, their grapes destined to enhance other cuvées. Production stands at 150,000 bottles. Grapes for the entry-level Botijo Rojo range (€10 in Spain, 80,000 bottles) are sourced across Valdejalón and feature a red and a white Garnacha. The red has improved in quality now as it blends in the grapes that were formerly destined to Botijo Rojo Viñas Viejas (old vines).
Mora’s Master of Wine research paper focused on a specific classification for DO Campo de Borja that he now applies to his wines. While the brand Botijo Rojo covers regional wines, the Frontonio range includes three quality levels: wine (1V), vines (2V) and old vineyards (3V). The first stage (1V) features two village wines, a red Garnacha and a white Macabeo, under the brand Frontonio Microscópico (€12).
A step above –similar to premier cru status– is the 2V range with labels marked with an X to distinguish them from the rest. Two “Telescópicos” are no longer made. Grapes that used to go to the white are now set to improve Microscópico, while Cariñena is now blended with Garnacha Tinta and Garnacha Peluda to produce the only remaining Telescópico (€18, 14,000 bottles). The 2V range is completed with Supersónico (€18, 6,000 bottles), a high-altitude Garnacha, and the new Psicodélico (€30), a blend of indigenous grape varieties. The first Psicodélico followed the style of a vin de soif and was only available for members of the Frontonio wine club launched during the pandemic. The new release, which doesn’t bear the Valdejaón PDG seal, is more serious and was aged in oak and clay vessels. It’s a rare blend of Cribatinaja, Garnacha, Provechón and Robal -65% of the grapes are white.
The top wines (V3 or grand crus) are single-vineyard Garnachas retailing around €42 in Spain. The packaging features light cream labels and wax closures instead of capsules; the names of the vineyards are also stated on the labels. The Garnacha Blanca is particularly impressive with surprising depth and acidity for a white from Aragón. Grapes are sourced from two plots: Las Lomas and los Santos. La Cerqueta is a red, extremely pure Garnacha grown on grey and blue slate at 630 metres above sea level. Finally, Las Alas de Frontonio Paraje La Tejera is made with grapes sourced from a slate and quarzite vineyard at an elevation of 640 metres.
2019 saw the release of El Jardín de las Iguales, Frontonio’s most ambitious project. Grapes for this new range are sourced from a rugged, isolated spot in Alpartir, at 700 metres above sea level whose northeastern exposure helps to produce Garnachas with distinctive freshness.
Their jewel is a very old Macabeo vineyard planted around 1890. It stands next to some old vine Garnacha plots, next to which five hectares have been planted recently. The range El Jardín de Las Iguales includes two wines: a white Macabeo with amazing depth (900 bottles) and a perfumed, vibrant red Garnacha (1,300 bottles) sold at record prices for wines produced in Aragón —around €175 and €198 respectively. None of them come under any appellation or geographical designation.
Starting with the 2015 vintage, the three friends launched their second project in Aragón: Cuevas de Arom in DO Campo de Borja, but they moved to Calatayud in time for the 2020 vintage. They were searching freshness from high altitude mountain vineyards.