“You can never obtain a great blend if you don’t know your terroir intimately”. These were the words that María José López de Heredia used to launch her intervention during the second Haro Station Wine Experience, an event aimed at drawing attention to the renowned producers based on this district. Most of them set their base at the Barrio at the end of the 19th century, when they started to set the basis for the production of fine wines in Rioja.
Last year the focus of the tasting was on old vintages to sample their excellent evolution. On this occasion, acting “train driver” Pedro Ballesteros MW led a tasting to find out the ingredients and secrets behind some of the Rioja town’s leading wines such as R. López Heredia Viña Tondonia (founded in 1877), Cvne (1879), Gómez Cruzado (1886), La Rioja Alta (1890), Bodegas Bilbaínas (1901), Muga (1952) and Roda (1987).
As Spain debates zoning and terroir classification, the seven producers in Haro’s railway district joined in a stalwart defense of the art of blending wines, sourced from various geographical areas, varieties, wood, vintages and even harvesting times.
“Singular vineyards are fashionable right now, but blended wines cannot be ignored”, said Agustín Santolaya. “Why is it better a wine from a single vineyard than one made with grapes from several unique vineyards?”. The managing director of Roda posed this question after presenting four reds from the 2015 vintage. Participants in the tasting had to guess which glasses showed more fresh red fruit notes — trademarks of Roda Reserva— and which had more structure and black notes —used in Roda I Reserva.
The 400 trade professionals who took part in the masterclass —in two morning and afternoon sessions— found on their tables glasses, spittoons and a measuring glass to make their own blends. Such “ingredients” are rarely available to taste for anyone outside the winery and the vintages are young and will take some time to reach the market.
On behalf of Bilbaínas was Alejandro López, the winery’s new technical director who succeeds Diego Pinilla following his appointment as wine director of the entire Codorníu group. He brought with him a fascinating Graciano meant to add vitality and longevity to the Tempranillo in Viña Pomal Gran Reserva 2015, a wine meant to be enjoyed “over the next couple of lives”, according to López. The percentage of Graciano in the blend remains at 10% to avoid being overpowering.
La Rioja Alta’s choice was an expressive and tasty Garnacha from La Pedriza vineyard in Tudelilla (Rioja Baja), a trademark grape in the legendary style of Viña Ardanza. Technical director Julio Sáez said he doesn’t like to refer to Garnacha as “an improving variety” in the blend —he prefers to think it complements the qualities of Tempranillo. “Rather than a formula for Viña Ardanza we have a recipe; if we cannot make it in one given year, the wine is not released”, he said.
Muga, which traditionally blends Tempranillo with other varieties, presented the perfect “deconstruction” of their Rioja reds with the four wines that will make their Selección Especial 2015: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. The tremendous quality of each individual sample explains the success of Muga’s iconic Reserva.
Winemaker María Larrea, on behalf of Cvne, revealed the complex aging work behind the legendary Imperial Gran Reserva. With examples of the 2014 vintage, which will reach the market on 2019 or 2020, she challenged participants to find the right combination between four samples: a base wine aged in new American oak, a wine showing more structured and aged in new French oak, a third wine with floral notes, lively acidity and fine tannins aged in four-year-old American oak and a fourth sample containing a ripe and opulent wine aged in a large wooden vat. Larrea described the aim of this blending exercise: “to obtain a wine that excels now and in 20 years time”.
The most surprising blend was presented by Gómez Cruzado, the Barrio’s smallest member; since their relaunch, they are working with very original wines. Winemaker David González wanted to show how different a wine from a same terroir can be depending on the treatment it undergoes in the vineyard and the winery. He demonstrated it with their new signature white Montes Obarenes, a blend of Viura and Tempranillo Blanco aged in French oak which is blended with a portion of the same wine on its lees in stainless steel vats, early harvested Viura aged in cement eggs and an almost overripe Tempranillo Blanco.
Tondonia invited participants to replicate the blend of their Reserva, which was sold as “sixth year” and without vintage indication until the 1970s. María José López de Heredia presented three different vintages (the DO rules state that the blend can include up to 15% of wine from other vintages): two samples from 2008 which made up the majority of the wine, one from 2007 which did not go into the blend given its slightly warmer profile, and around 5% of one from 2009 with Mediterranean character but good acidity.
María José López de Heredia used her intervention to make a statement of principles: “For us, the sixth year is the result of years of work and experience both in the vineyard and the winery; it undergoes a slow micro-oxygenation in the barrels and thus its aging is perfect. It is a shame to hear criticism against Rioja for having a classification based on aging times; it is in fact based on quality. All my grandfather wanted was to make supreme rioja wines”, she added.
Viña Tondonia Reserva 2001 Tinto Magnum, R. López de Heredia (Rioja). One of the stars in the welcome press cocktail party possessing all the virtues that define a classic Rioja: balance, finesse, complexity, aging character and a health of nuances. It had that extra freshness usually found on magnum bottles and a delicious evolution in the glass with aniseed and fresh notes.
Hard to find it in the market as this vintage is no longer on sale. It used to retail at around €55-60
Monopole Clásico 2014 Blanco Seco, Cvne (Rioja). What happens when sherry meets Rioja? As the Sherry Triangle is going through an explosion of creativity, Cvne has brought back its old Monopole, which contains a small percentage of manzanilla from Hidalgo. Back then, it had the express consent of Rioja’s Regulatory body.
It is revealing to see how the sherry touch enhances its volume, length and salty edge. A tremendously fun wine which is set to be a real hit among wine geeks.
Due to be released in October at around €19-20
Pancrudo 2014 Tinto, Gómez Cruzado (Rioja). This Garnacha from Badarán, in the Alto Najerilla Valley, is one of my favorite wines from this producer. It follows the style of the 2013 vintage, which we tasted again and is still fabulous. 2014 was also a cold year boosting freshness and herbal aromas (rosemary, pharmacy notes) and red fruits. An ethereal, easy to drink red. Pure fun.
Find this wine for €32 on Vinissimus
Viña Ardanza Reserva 2008 Tinto, La Rioja Alta, S.A. (Rioja). One to add to the list of future purchases as it will not be released until next year, when the brand turns 75 years old. It is also the first vintage to include Garnacha from La Pedriza vineyard in Tudelilla (Rioja Baja). Succulent and spicy aromas (cinnamon), tasty palate with good length and persistency, lively acidity and red fruit notes.
The 2007 vintage in the market is sold at around €18-19
Vinos Singulares Tempranillo Blanco Reserva 2013 Blanco, Bodegas Bilbaínas (Rioja). Although the 2014 vintage is already in the market, the degree of balance and complexity of the 2013 vintage is really special. It raises the level of quality for this mutation of red Tempranillo, a recently discovered variety and with relatively young plantings. It is aged in barrels and large wooden vats and displays wax and white fruit notes and an excellent palate: unctuous, with vibrant acidity and excellent fruit. Only 1,200 bottles were produced. It might not be the bodega’s most representative wine, but I think it is a real discovery for white wine lovers.
Find this wine for €32.80 on Vinissimus
Muga Selección Especial Reserva 2011 Tinto, Bodegas Muga (Rioja). Impeccably made and with a quality that surpasses price expectations. Clean, spicy, red and black fruit. It shows depth, good acidity and balance. The added bonus is that some 170,000 bottles were produced so it is widely available.
Find this wine for €23.90 on Ideavinos
Roda I 1994 Tinto, Bodegas Roda (Rioja). It was a real pleasure to try this vintage again, one of my favourites from this producer who generously presents its history in vertical tastings held around the world. This wine is proof that good modern Rioja wines resemble the classics with the passing of time: complex on the nose (fine leather, spicy notes, orange peel), silky tannins and all the elegance and finesse found in the best Rioja wines.
Contact the bodega to purchase old vintages