Spanish winemakers have often been criticized for failing to join forces to promote their regions, but perhaps last week’s tasting at Haro’s Barrio de la Estación, an event abut which Yolanda Ortiz de Arri has reported extensively in SWL, may serve to change a few things. Beyond the uniqueness of this hundred-year-old distinguished neighbourhood founded around a railway station, we saw strength through unity in the tastings we attended. The diversity of styles ranged form unique, long-aged reds to modern and even exotic wines.
R. López de Heredia is a unique producer in Spain. The family has obstinately stuck to traditional winemaking methods and extremely long aging times that clearly surpass those of its neighbours for both its reds and whites, and even for its rare barrel-aged rosé. The Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva 1964 —a legendary vintage that was generously poured during the dinner preceding the professional day at Haro Station Wine Experience— was amazing, showing fine tertiary aromas (vanilla, tobacco, dust) and some exotic chalky notes that set it apart; the texture was highly particular too, the result of many years of natural decantation and its trademark high acidity. María José López de Heredia confessed to me that she had doubted whether to present the wine at the dinner or at Tim Atkin’s master class the following day, but she finally decided that she wanted her wine to be enjoyed and drank rather than “analysed and tasted”. Nevertheless, the Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva 1981 that opened Atkin’s tasting worked just as well. The chalky character was replaced by sweet spices and scented notes, but the wine was equally silky, vibrant and long.
López de Heredia wines easily stand the test of time and this includes the whites too. Professional visitors had the chance to taste their current whites —Viña Gravonia Crianza 2005 and the more complex Viña Tondonia Reserva 2002, both of them displaying dried fruits and plenty of glycerin, no sign of oxidation and great cellaring potential.
After some tough years in the 1990s, the Gran Reserva category has made a strong comeback. Producers at Haro’s Barrio de la Estación are great experts when it comes to aging their best wines for long periods of time. Despite using a similar recipe, a blend of Tempranillo with variable percentages of Graciano, Mazuelo or Garnacha, each producer has its own style.
Leaving aside López de Heredia, Cvne’s Imperial Gran Reserva 1988 stood out for its high alcohol volume; although it has more weight in the palate, this style manages to maintain acidity, as was the case in this vintage that also offered delightful juiciness.
The Gran Reservas from La Rioja Alta are usually more linear and sharp. The Gran Reserva 904 1995 shone at the master class thanks to its baroque nose (brandy, chocolate, sweet spices) followed by a vibrant, well-defined, almost endless palate full of finesse. The Gran Reserva 904 2005 poured at the dinner still felt young and with a bright future ahead; just as the Gran Reserva 890 2001 released last year, which is made with the most tannic and concentrated grapes. No wonder it has a lot of everything: weight, acidity, cherry fruit and balsamic notes that speak of a great cellaring potential. All vintages poured by La Rioja Alta are considered excellent at the appellation.
The two Bodegas Bilbaínas’ Viña Pomal Gran Reserva we tried shared a mature character with kirsch and earthy notes. The 1987 had classic aging nuances (dusty, attic-like aromas, sweet spices) counterbalanced by bright acidity while the 2004 felt more modern, with higher levels of ripeness. The Gómez Cruzado Gran Reserva 2007 went even further with noticeable tannins and a modern winemaking style, yet the quality of the fruit was good and the wine reflected the fresh character of the 2007 vintage. Gómez Cruzado is somewhat atypical. Despite being established in 1886, it doesn’t store bottles from old vintages. In fact, after changing hands several times, it started a new phase in 2004 under its new Mexican owners.
The two Muga’s Prado Enea Gran Reserva were really outstanding and offered that kind of captivating complexity you always expect from the category. The 2001 served during the dinner seduced with its aromas (fine spices, coffee), texture and long finish. The 1994 tasted at the master class was in great shape, with depth and density on a well-defined, bright, long palate. Both vintages are outstanding and will benefit from further cellaring. I would define the style of these Gran Reserva as “slightly updated”.
We definitely found a more modern Rioja style than expected. Obvious examples came from Roda, the latest producer to settle around Haro’s railway station in the late 1980s. Fond of showing all its vintages –outstanding and discreet– the winery has lately organized many vertical tastings both in Spain and abroad. Two Roda I Reserva were provided to taste: 2005 at the dinner and 1994 at Atkin’s master class. Full ripeness and marked black fruit notes were their most prominent features, in tune with the style of this brand. There was a jammy, caramel fruit character in the still powerful 2005 and more spices and brighter acidity in the 1994 vintage, which offered lovely juiciness. The latter, although drinking beautifully, was as firm as the Prado Enea 1994, definitely a vintage that should still be laid down. Both Roda I vintages showed complexity, although the style was completely different from traditional Rioja: more fruit-driven and mouth-filling.
The master class featured two wines from each producer dating from the 20th and 21st centuries, so no wonder modernity and the outstanding 2010 vintage come into action. Muga’s Torre Muga 2010 successfully proved that power and finesse can go hand in hand in the same glass. It provided an outstanding, high quality mix of liquorice, bags of red and black fruit, concentration and tightness.
Other modern styles came from fine, creamy Cvne’s Real de Asúa 2010 which is highly drinkable right now; the tight Alto La Caseta 2010 from Bodegas Bilbaínas offering pencil lead aromas, with highly concentrated fruit, powerful tannins and acidity (better to lay down for a few years). Far more refined and medium-bodied, Imperial Reserva 2010 seemed to fit better within a modern Rioja style given its well-defined, fruit-driven style.
Who would expect to find a fresh, vibrant blanc de noirs Cava made with 100% Garnacha at the welcome aperitif of an event promoted by centuries-old wineries? Bodegas Bilbaínas surprised everyone. Over the last few years, this winery has been reinventing itself and making the most of its over 200 hectares of vineyards located in the village of Haro.
Its “singular wines” project delves into lesser grown local grapes and has resulted in new single-varietal Garnacha and Graciano reds. It is now going to expand with the upcoming release of a Maturana Blanca white and a far more interesting Tempranillo Blanco Reserva which goes further in terms of depth, weight, balance and complexity than Bilbaínas’ previous attempt to work this variety in stainless steel. With Diego Pinilla leading the winery and the support of Arthur O’Connor, Codorníu’s winemaking director, things are starting to brighten up at one of the signature ventures in Haro’s Barrio de la Estación. Bilbaínas probably has the most glorious past but also endured the toughest ride into the 21st century.
Gómez Cruzado is another major player in this field. It lacks vineyards and historical records and the brand is far from being established both in Spain and foreign markets except for Mexico. The result of the work carried out by new young directors David Gonzalez and Juan Antonio Leza can already be seen in the lively, light Gómez Cruzado Vendimia Seleccionada, a rare blend of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha and its new range of single-vineyard wines coming from very specific locations and with names inspired in the region’s mountain ranges. Pancrudo 2013, the last wine tasted at Atkin’s master class was not only the youngest vintage, but also the most casual in style thanks to the vibrant, floral, juicy expression of this Garnacha sourced from Badarán, in the Alto Najerilla valley. Two new, limited edition wines will soon follow: Montes Obarenes white, which has been partially aged in concrete eggs and Cerro Las Cuevas, a 100% Tempranillo from Leza in Rioja Alavesa. Who would have forecast at the end of the 20th century that such rare, confident, single-varietal and single-vineyard wines would ever come from hundred-year-old producers based in such a posh, traditional neighbourhood?