Founder and wine aging pioneer Ramón Bilbao would have been delighted with the winery's excellent brand awareness nowadays, which is the result of the strategy developed by Diego Zamora Group -a heavywight in the drinks business with brands such as Licor 43- since its takeover in 1999. As well as launching a new range of modern red wines and updating its traditional bottlings, the Haro-based winery, a standardbearer for good value, has built a small winery empire which includes Mar de Frades (Rías Baixas), Cruz de Alba (Ribera del Duero), Ramón Bilbao Rueda, Palacio de la Vega (Navarra) and Volteo (VT Castilla).
The commercial muscle of Diego Zamora has undoubtedly made the brand visible in the market but the man who has orchestrated the evolution in styles, new label designs and expansion towards other Spanish wine regions is Rodolfo Bastida, managing director of the group's wine division. Selection was the starting point: high quality vineyards, fermentation in oak vats, a larger presence of French oak. The result of this action were two wines: the best grapes were destined to premium Mirto (€32, around 35,000 bottles) with the rest going to Ramón Bilbao Edición Limitada Crianza (€11, over 200,000 bottles), an affordable red harvested with quality procedures usually reserved for higher priced wines.
Reds are Tempranillo-based except for Ramón Bilbao Reserva (11€) and Gran Reserva (€17-18), which include small amounts of Mazuelo. The exception is Viñedos de Altura, a singular wine which is a 50% blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from the region's two extremes (the first comes from Villalba, on the westernmost part, and Garnacha from Tudelilla, in Rioja Baja). Vineyards are 80km apart and lie at an altitude of 700 and 650 metres respectively. The result is a fresh, light and fragrant wine which highlights the enormous potential for different styles in a region as large as Rioja.
There are two new Garnacha-based rosé wines. Grapes for the entry-level Ramón Bilbao rosé (€6 in Spain) are sourced from the Alto Najerilla Valley in Rioja Alta. Lalomba (€17) is an ultra-premium rosé sold in a luxury packaging following the style of the most sought-after Provençal rosés. Grapes come from recently acquired vineyards in Monte Yerga (Rioja Baja). With around 10% Viura in the blend, the wine stands out for to its vibrant acidity –consumers will be able to keep it longer than the average rosés.
Ramón Bilbao owns 75 hectares of vineyards and requires an extra 500 to meet its needs. Annual production stands at 4 million bottles, half of which are Crianza €7-8). Balanced and unpretentious, it shows an improved fruit character and definition over the years and it doesn't disappoint.
The winery is open daily to visitors and offers guided tastings. All the wines can be bought at the winery's online store.