Sunday, October 18, 2020

Rioja, Part 3

 From Haro I drive east to Marques de Riscal. The Frank Gehry designed  building is perhaps the most famous winery building in the world. The colour scheme is supposed to represent a wine bottle, with the beige cork above a red wine bottle. In contrast to this modernity stands the history and tradition of this winery, founded in 1858.


During the visit, I was reminded of dining at a waterfront restaurant, where due to the great location there is no need to present excellent food. Because of its fame, Riscal may think they get away with ordinary wine - and probably they do.

The 2015 Reserva is aged in American oak for two years. Vanilla flavours dominate the fruit. This is their bread and butter wine with over 300,000 cases per year, I think. The 2013 Gran Reserva, from 80 year old vines, has more intensity and better rounded tannins. When I get to the 2015 Baron de Chirel, I find some enjoyment. This wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% other varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon the second biggest. The fruit comes from 100 year old vines, and the juice spends two years in new oak. This wine has more of a modern feel, with blueberry and black cherry fruit in an elegant frame. The silky tannins lead to a smooth finish. Only 4,000 cases are made of this wine.

Overall, the main attraction is the architecture here. The building houses an expensive hotel. I suggest you look, don't taste and move on.

Back in Haro for a visit at Lopez Heredia. This is the most astonishing traditional winery I have ever seen. Wine is matured in used American oak only, 8-15 years old. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in 100 year old vats. The argument about the old oak is that the pores are very thin by then, and there is less oxidation. What I found disconcerting was the amount of mold everywhere. There is a (dubious) argument this is good for wine, but it is definitely not good for the people working there.

The 2007 Bosconia Gran Reserva spent 10 years in oak. It is a blend of 80% Tempranillo/15% Granacha. This is quite a powerful, red fruited wine, and still fresh. The tannins are quite coarse. The 2007 Tondonia Gran Reserva spent 'only' six years in oak. It is a similar blend. This is a more elegant wine with good persistence. It is darker fruited, but a lighter wine than the Bosconia. If you want to experience the Rioja of yesteryear, this is the place to go. Overall production: 40,000 cases.

From the traditionalist to the innovator Luis Cañas. They started to bottle wines in the late 60s; now 150,000 cases. There is a strong emphasis on viticulture. The vineyards are 60-100 years old. They rescued 30 different varieties from the early 20th century. A typical Rioja scenario: they pick 450ha from 1000 tiny plots. They are committing to the new regulatory regime, which will allow them from the 2017 vintage to bottle wine from three subregions, then village wine, and single vineyard.

My tasting was still based on the old classification. The 2013 Reserva was black fruited and quite tannic. The 2014 Seleccion de la Familia includes Cabernet Sauvignon. It showed more fruit intensity. The 2017 El Palacio was by far the best wine. There is more emphasis on the fruit, less ageing and in larger 500l barrels.  

They own a second winery in Rioja, Amaren. They go back to the past as a gateway to the future. They use concrete tanks to make the wine plus French and American oak for maturation. The vineyards are located in Alavesa, as is the case for Luis Cañas. The 2009 Reserva 60 is made in a more traditional way, and is very enjoyable. The concentrated fruit is still fresh, and the structure strong. A special treat was to taste the 2014 El Regollar, a single vineyard wine. This is the name of the less than 1ha plot, planted 116 years ago with 9 varieties on rocky soil. So this is a classic field blend, dominated by Tempranillo. It is very elegant, with silky tannins and a velvety mouthfeel. A clear highlight.

In case you are confused. There can be single vineyard wines before 2017, but they are 'non-conformist' and sit outside of regulations. In the future, Luis Cañas and Amaren will introduce close to half a dozen single vineyard wines, I think.

I spent more time at Luis Cañas than I anticipated, so the last stop of the day was a short one at Finca Valpiedra, and I could not make it to one of the sister wineries. One peculiarity is that they own an 80ha vineyard, otherwise unheard of in Rioja. And doesn't the picture remind you of La Craux in Chateauneuf-du-Pape?

Unfortunately, the wines I tasted from all four related wineries do not reach the heights of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The most interesting wine was the 2016 Petra de Valpiedra, a 100% Grenache - yes, this exists in Rioja. This wine is matured for 6 months in new French oak, then 19 months in old oak. The alcohol is a surprisingly low 13.5% (for Grenache). There are raspberry flavours, but also dark fruit, cassis. There is good acidity to balance the mouthfeel, and the tannins are finely grained.

A cross section of wines from Finca Valpiedra, Finca Montepedroso, Viña Bujanda



No comments: