Last year almost 1,000 people visited Paternina’s old cellars in Ollauri (Rioja Alta). Known now as Conde de los Andes, they were painstakingly restored by the Murúa family, owners of Bodegas Muriel in Elciego, after the purchase of these historic buildings from the Eguizábal family in 2014.
According to Javier Murúa, 450,000 bottles rest in the cellars, of which 40,000 date back to vintages prior to the 1970s. Despite the fact that Paternina was officially created by Federico Paternina y Josué in 1896, the oldest wine in the cellar dates from 1892.
One of the most remarkable and relatively untouched old Rioja collections, it comes to light at a time of growing demand for historic vintages, just when other producers holding similar stocks like López de Heredia, Cvne, Marqués de Riscal or Marqués de Murrieta are increasingly reluctant to show these beauties.
The new owners have released a limited edition of Conde de los Andes 2001 comprising 3,000 bottles; 1,500 more will reach the market next month. More appealing for wine lovers is the announcement of future allocations of older vintages, notably 1970 and a 1983 white in more limited quantities: 200 and 500 bottles respectively.
Aside for these two wines, we also had the chance to taste a 1983 white, two Paternina reds from 1964 and 1970 and a 1948 semi-sweet white. Sommelier and Rioja wine expert Carlos Echapresto (Venta Moncalvillo, 1-Michelin star) joined Julián Murúa and his son Javier to conduct the tasting. He brought some fascinating devices suited for the occasion (see photo above) including the Durand corkscrew with both a spindle and a set of blades to insert down the side of the cork; a pair of tongs commonly used in wineries and particularly in Champagne that he employs to remove sealing waxes and to cut the metallic net that covers many traditional Rioja bottles; and a couple of “cork-hunters”, a set of wires to trap rogue stopper falling inside the bottle. Despite this equipment, there were barely any problems to uncork the wines.
One of the most tantalizing virtues in the Paternina collection is that the wines have been laying on the same place for decades in optimal storage conditions –always at constant temperatures and high humidity. We were also surprised by the relatively large number of 37.5 cl bottles stored in the cellars. In fact, both 1948 red and semi-sweet wines we tasted were poured from these small-size bottles —it seems they can also stand the test of time.
The Paternina 1948 didn’t fascinate tasters but proved that some Riojas are perfectly able to stand the test of time. A light, smooth, understated red, it beautifully retained finesse and balance. On the nose we had the chance to compare two different bottles: the first one displayed a marked earthy, mushroom-like character, whereas the second was more gracious with dusty, toasted almonds and spicy (nutmeg) notes. Either way, the wine seemed to have reached a standstill point in terms of its evolution; who knows how long it will be able to stay like that!
The legendary 1964 vintage was presented in a standard bottle. A Tempranillo-based blend (75%) with 72 months of barrel aging, this Paternina bottling was more structured and intense displaying a broad palate with bright acidity and persistent, well-defined flavours like raspberries, leather and spices. It was my favourite among the reds.
Julián Murúa preferred the 1970 vintage, the equivalent of a so called sixth-year Rioja at the time. A blend of Tempranillo (70%), Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, it spent 18 months in oak vats and 48 months in barrels before being bottled in 1977. With smoky, spicy aromas, the style felt closer to a modern Rioja wine. The palate was firm, mouth-watering, with slightly earthy tannins, yet youthful and with lot of life ahead.
White wines not only managed to keep up with the reds; one of them, the 1948 semi-sweet, even outstripped the reds.
Despite being stored in Rhein bottles, the two dry whites showed different styles. The 1983 Gran Reserva was richer on the nose with quince, nutty and toasted aromas; the palate bright and markedly mineral (dry stones). Carlos Echapresto suggested that there might have been some residual sugar in it. The 1964 dry white displayed an older, dusty character on the nose with some wax aromas but the palate was serious, with no traces of oak creaminess and some exotic herbal notes. The 1948 semi-sweet, probably made from 100% Viura, was pretty delicate with talcum, pumice stone, citrus (lemon zest) and spicy (ginger) aromas. A moderately sweet white, it wasn’t so much intense but smooth and refined, just like the 1948 red. According to Carlos Echapresto, semi-sweet wines where pretty common in the past as white grapes were picked last, after the rest of the crops.
Probably, the most extraordinary part of our tasting was the chance to taste in the cellar, a factor that explains the purity and stability of the wines.
That very night at Venta Moncalvillo restaurant, Carlos Echapresto uncorked a 1933 Paternina “Cepa Sauternes”. Back in those days, most Rioja wines were labelled after the French style they resembled –Cepa Médoc or Cepa Borgoña were others. He chose a bottle with considerable ullage and what we ended up with was an oxidative evolution not unlike fortified wines but with a much thinner palate. The colour was dark brown but surprisingly enough, the wine was quite drinkable thanks to the trademark high acidity found in old Riojas which acts a true spinal column. Although it showed certain complexity, it was almost impossible to establish a connection with the original, intended style of the wine.
The Paterninas in Ollauri owned their cellars in the village’s Barrio Alto since at least the first part of the 18th century, according to historical documents. There are countless records of land purchases and commercial dealings carried out by the family in Ollauri and other nearby villages. Most of Paternina wines, as was the case with most of the historic estates in Haro, were sourced from Rioja Alta vineyards.
Thanks to the tradition of majorat —the right of succession which belongs to the first-born child of a family— the estate was kept in its entirety and even grew in extension with further buildings destined for winemaking. Federico Paternina y Josué followed his family tradition and joined three cellars to establish his estate. Nowadays, the property includes 1.5km of cellars.
The brand Paternina starts to achieve prominence in Rioja in the early 20th century, but it reaches its splendour after 1920 when Logroño banker and businessman Joaquín Herrero de la Riva hires Frenchman Étienne Labtut, winemaker at Bordeaux’s Calvet, and purchases the premises of Haro’s Sindicatos Agrícolas Católicos (Catholic Farming Association).
In his book about Rioja, German writer Hubrecht Duijker refers to the purchase of the winery by a group of Basque businessmen in 1940. The injection of capital that followed accelerated the growth of the company. Four decades later, in 1972, Paternina changed hands again. The new owner, José María Ruiz-Mateos, had created a conglomerate of companies focused in different sectors including wine —particularly Sherry, Rioja and Cava– called Rumasa, all of which were expropiated by the Spanish government in 1983, then privatized. The following year Paternina was acquired by Riojan entrepreneur Marcos Eguizábal. But in the past few years, his descendants have split up the company: García Carrión, one of Spain’s largest wine corporations, bought the winery building in Haro, the brand Paternina was sold to United Wineries (Berberana) and the ancient cellars in Ollauri to Bodegas Muriel.
The brand Condes de los Andes, which appeared over the last period, was used for the Gran Reserva wines including old vintages resting in the bodega in Ollauri -known now as Conde de los Andes cellars. Carlos Echapresto kindly sent us a photo (see slider above) of a 1968 Conde de los Andes from his private collection bearing Marcos Eguizábal’s seal on the left side of the label, just above the seal of Rioja’s Regulatory Board. The picture showing the gradual evolution of the Paternina Reserva and Reserva Especial labels to Conde de los Andes Gran Reserva was also taken by him.
Under the name Bodegas Ollauri, the Murúa family has revamped an old building next to the old cellars to convert it into a modern winery where two new Conde de los Andes wines —a white and a red— are being produced. The 2015 vintage has already been made there; undoubtedly, this is the brand to develop in the future.