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Passion for Spanish wine

WINERIES

One of the lesser-known members of Rioja’n’Roll, Alegre Valgañón has made great strides in recent times. Behind it are Eva Valgañón and Óscar Alegre, two agricultural engineers who met while studying oenology in Italy. Upon their return to Rioja, they started a family -they have three children- and later set up a winery bearing their surnames.

Prior to working full-time for Alegre Valgañón, Eva worked as winemaker for Finca Los Arandinos in the south of Logroño. Óscar has extensive experience in selling wine after working for Álvaro Palacios and he is now part of the team of Cía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez. In his spare time, he looks for old Rioja bottles to sell to private customers. He is a big fan of these historic wines which have also provided inspiration for their own wines.

Alegre Valgañón has a strong focus on the northwestern end of Rioja -in fact Eva and Óscar want to capture the distinctive character of the area surrounding the Obarenes Mountains, on the boundaries of the appellation. They own three hectares of vines in Fonzaleche, Eva’s village, and in nearby Sajazarra, and work with six hectares from purveyors.

They have so far identified three main types of soils in the area. In Fonzaleche there is clay-limestone on laminated sandstone rock that preserves freshness (it acts as a sponge, according to Eva) and results in wines with condensed, round tannins. The other two are in Sajazarra. One features limestone alluvial soils with lots of pebbles which is now planted with red grape varieties, but where whites where the norm in the past; The second one has deep, clay-limestone soils that provide more vigour to plants and relatively hard tannins.

Since 2019, the couple have been making their wines in the centre of Sajazarra, a quaint picturesque village in Rioja. Current production reaches 30,000 bottles but they want to buy more vineyards to double that figure in the future.

The entry-level red Alegre Valgañón (around €12 in Spain, 20,000 bottles) which is also their most widely available wine, is inspired in classic Rioja. Partially fermented with stems, it blends around 70% Tempranillo from Rioja Alta and 30% Garnacha sourced from Cárdenas in the Najerilla Valley and Tudelilla, a high-altitude area in Rioja Oriental. This is a delightful, easy-to-drink, great value red. The white version, sold at the same price, is a somewhat rustic blend of Viura with 10% Garnacha Blanca which is aged for 10 months in 500-litre barrels.

There is also a fragrant, juicy Garnacha (€20, only 2,000 bottles). Grapes are sourced from Cárdenas. The wine is fermented in oak vats and aged in seasoned 500-litre barrels.

The single-vineyard range is still under construction, but we very much recommend La Calleja. This is a north-facing, late-ripening Tempranillo from Fonzaleche planted on carbonate-rich soils. This is a special plot for Eva -she planted La Calleja with her father over 25 years ago and Alegre Valgañón was born here.

Despite the tiny production (300 bottles), the original Blanco de Tercer Año (3rd Year White) connects well with Óscar’s fondness for old Rioja. This Viura from a vineyard in Sajazarra is aged in a barrel and bottled on its “third year” as it was done in the past. After a reductive note that adds complexity, we find toasted aromas, sunflower seeds, stone fruit, spices and fantastic acidity. 2015 is the first and sole vintage released to date as Tercer Año was neither produced in 2016 nor in 2017.

TASTING NOTES

Alegre Valgañón 2018 Tinto