The first Viñedos Singulares wines from Rioja are six reds and two whites from the 2017 (the first to be traced) and 2018 vintages. All of them have been approved by a tasting panel set by the Rioja Board and have the go-ahead to be released.
“A Viñedo Singular has to set your pulse racing and make you shout olé!,” said Pablo Franco, the Regulatory Board’s control manager at a recent presentation of the new Rioja single vineyard wines in Madrid. Technically they are described as “minor geographical units that can comprise a single or several cadastral plots.”
The main requirements for a wine to be Viñedo Singular are: yields at least 20% lower than the usual DOCa level (up to 5,000 kg per hectare for reds and 6,922 for whites), a maximum 65% grape-to-wine ratio compared to the standard 70%, vines must be at least 35 years old and proof by means of a legal title that the vineyard is owned or rented on a long-term basis for at least 10 years.
Producers are asked to present a technical report proving the distinctive character of the site. The name of the vineyard must be registered as a trademark and be exclusively used under the seal of the DOCa. Rioja. If the report is approved, the Viñedo Singular status will be recognised by means of a Ministry Order published in the BOE (Spain’s Official Gazette). So far, 84 vineyards from 50 producers have been approved. See here the first official list published on July 30th. Below is a list we have compiled identifying the producers behind each vineyard. Note the large number of vineyards registered by Valdelana (10), Bodegas Sonsierra (9), Luis Cañas (8) and Ysios (4).
As expected, very few single vineyard Rioja wines already enjoying wide market recognition have applied to join this new category. There are several reasons for this: producers may not meet the requirements (new vines planted to renew a plot are not allowed as vineyards must be at least 35 years old), they dislike red tape and excessive regulations, or they simply do not believe in the category or don’t need it to add prestige to their wines.
Risks are also taken given that any Viñedo Singular must pass two tastings at two different stages: the first after fermentation and a second one prior to market release. In order to achieve the category, wines must score a minimum of 93 points at the second stage according to the OIV sheet used by Rioja’s board. That is why Pablo Franco highlighted how important it is “to choose the right moment to present the wine for the second assessment.” In fact three out of 11 candidates were rejected in the first tasting of this kind held the week before the presentation.
A committee composed of six Rioja-based technicians “has been specifically trained to carry out these tastings,” Franco explained. Other external tasters could join the committee in the future.
Rioja’s new Viñedo Singular wines are a bit of a mixed bag. There are two long-established estates (Marqués de Riscal and Palacios), two tiny, almost unknown producers (Sínodo and Bodegas Larraz), a terroir-driven, staunch advocate of the new geographical indications (Juan Carlos Sancha), a young producer (Javier San Pedro) and a winery from Rioja Oriental (Viñedos de Alfaro). Keep reading for more details about each of them.
The fact that a well-known producer like Marqués de Riscal has its own Viñedo Singular adds undeniable value to the new category. But consumers will have to wait to taste it as release dates have not been decided yet. What we know so far is that it will be a Reserva (hence the extended ageing period) and that it will stand above Barón de Chirel within the winery’s portfolio. 4,934 bottles were produced in the 2017 vintage.
Las Tapias is a relatively large vineyard with 15 hectares under vine. It is considered to be one of Riscal’s best vineyards and its grapes were usually destined to the blend of Barón de Chirel. For winemaker Francisco Hurtado de Amézaga, Las Tapias is one of the top sites in Elciego: terraces overlooking the Ebro river with light, clay-free soils over a limestone bedrock lying 70cm underground. Grapes for this new Viñedo Singular were sourced from a specific area covering 2.85 hectares.
The wine, which combines tension with finesse and freshness, has good structure and is intended to be cellared. The nose features well-defined blackcurrant and cherry aromas over a minty background and elegant smoked notes. This is a serious red in line with the track record of this historic producer.
Another hundred-year-old winery that enters the category, in this case with their top white which they have been producing for some time now. Grapes for Cosme Palacio 1894 are sourced from a plot planted in 1920 at 600 metres above sea level in Laguardia, just five minutes away from the winery. The Viura and Malvasia vines are grown on south-east facing terraces benefiting from sun exposure at dawn and midday, but are conveniently shaded in the afternoon by a hill. A distinctive feature of the vineyard, according to winemaker Roberto Rodríguez, is that the soil is three times richer in limestone than the standard in the area.
The wine, which is sold for around €44, is fermented and aged in 500-litre barrels for seven months. As 2015 is the vintage on sale now, the 2017 won’t be released until the end of 2020. The sample we tasted had been in bottle for one year. 1,800 were produced in the 2017 vintage.
The soil leaves its mark on a mineral, sapid palate with notable depth as expected from old vines. This is a round, mouthwatering white displaying fine, aniseed aromas. It was interesting to taste it at a young stage.
This is a partnership of three friends sharing a passion for wine. Winemakers Roberto Monforte (Bodega San Miguel de Ausejo), Gorka Etxebarria (Burgo Viejo in Alfaro) and viticulture consultant Juan Antonio Blanco are committed to rescue unique vineyards in different areas of Rioja. Their two current releases are Los Tollos and Raposeras. Grapes for Los Tollos are sourced from a small plot on limestone, well-drained soils in Villamediana de Iregua, six kilometres south of Logroño; Raposeras comes from a vineyard located in Uruñuela, in the Najerilla Valley. Both have been recognized as Viñedo Singular, but only Los Tollos has passed the pre-release tasting and is set to reach the market.
With barely 0,2433 hectares and 854 bottles in the 2017 vintage, Los Tollos is one of the smallest vineyards in this category. In fact, Etxebarria finds that “Viñedos Singulares is a great starting point to show a new Rioja which is miles away from the large productions and hyper competitive prices.”
Planted in 1982, Los Tollos was “almost abandoned and on the brink of being grubbed-up" when they acquired it in 2014. The vines stand on top of a breezy south-facing hill. The location, according to Etxebarria, “provides excellent ripeness and healthy grapes” and helps to reduce treatments. This was probably the fleshiest red on the flight, showing rich, ripe, spicy fruit notes that filled the whole palate and ripe, firm tannins.
Already retailing at €25, there are no plans to increase prices following the recognition as Viñedo Singular. “From the very start, we decided to market the wine where we thought it ought to be,” Etxebarria says, although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of increasing prices on very low yielding vintages.
Sínodo wines can be found in Lavinia in Madrid and through online retailer Bodeboca as well as in the Netherlands and Australia and will be soon available in the US and Canada.
Larraz is a property of 70 hectares, 17 of which are under vine. It is located on the right bank of the Ebro, between the villages of Cenicero and Huércanos. The grandparents of the current owners bought it in the 1940s -Larraz was their grandmother’s surname.
The Piserra family has traditionally sold their grapes to well-known producers in the appellation, but in the 2007 vintage they decided to use their top plot to make their own wine. This is a goblet-pruned vineyard covering 1.5 hectares on a sand-clay, north-facing slope which is being converted to organic farming. The excellent balance of the vines with natural low yields usually produced superb quality fruit. The Viñedo Singular is an early birthday present for Carlos Piserra Sr., who planted the vineyard in the early 1970s and will turn 91 in December.
Carlos Piserra Jr, who works as a doctor, says theirs is “a toy winery”. They use three 2,000-litre stainless steel tanks and a few medium-toast Radoux barrels where the wine is aged for 12 months prior to be bottled unfiltered. The sample we tasted was a bit marked by the oak, yet the wine was rich and spicy with enough fruit on the background and structure to cope with it.
Caudum 2017 (3,744 bottles) will be released as soon as its label gets the Regulatory Board’s approval. For the time being, the wine can only be found in La Rioja via its distributor Exclusivas Valgañón; a few bottles are also sent to the US and Canada.
A terroir-driven producer who has notably contributed to the recognition of Garnacha from the Alto Najerilla valley, Juan Carlos Sancha is positive that the Viñedo Singular category will help to preserve Rioja’s old vine heritage. Sancha has no qualms to accept that none of the many vineyards that he has planted over his long career come close to the quality of those inherited from his ancestors in his hometown of Baños del Río Tobía.
He is the only producer to have two wines (a red and a white) set to be released on this new category. Grapes for both of them are sourced from the same plot. Cerro La Isa is a hundred-year old vineyard that has been looked after by five generations of growers. Vines are on a steep hill with a 35% gradient and cover 1.35 hectares on clay-limestone soils with high ferrous content. Red Garnacha is the dominant grape variety but there is also an interesting mix of white grapes: Viura. Malvasía, Garnacha Blanca, Turruntés and Calagraño.
Only one barrel of each wine (660 bottles) is made. The white wine is fascinating and shows great depth; it combines weight and volume with vibrant acidity leading to a long finish. The nose is complex with ripe citrus fruit, beeswax, white flowers and smoke aromas. The red is an extreme expression of high altitude Garnacha that toys with herbal and green notes. Both wines are expected to cost around €40 and will be released as soon as the Regulatory Board provides the official labels. No doubt the bar for Viñedo Singular whites has been set pretty high.
Part of a saga of grape growers and winemakers in Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa (his father runs Vallobera and his uncle Pujanza), Javier San Pedro has managed in just eight years to build his own winery where he produces up to 300,000 bottles. “I have to produce a fair amount of bottles in order to have good equipment to make the wines I like and to be surrounded by competent professionals,” Javier explains.
He has not changed the way he works his most special vineyard in order to obtain the Viñedo Singular recognition. La Taconera is an elongated, narrow plot with 0.4 hectares planted in 1920 in Laguardia producing just under 1,000 bottles; all the work is done by hand. The vines are guided by posts and surrounded by a wall. They are planted on clay-limestone soils, but at the top of the slope, vines emerge directly from the stone resulting in particularly low yields. Having water flowing nearby helps plants to suffer less, San Pedro adds.
The wine was first released in the 2012 vintage. Usually sold en primeur in September, its allocations are delivered on December 1st so the 2017 vintage should reach the market in time for Christmas. Retail price in Spain stands around €36. La Taconera reflects the vibrant red fruit character of fresh sites in Laguardia and the chalky character of its tannins. Expressive and long, there is good tension on the palate and has cellaring potential.
The origin of this producer is a big estate located between Alfaro and Aldeanueva de Ebro in Rioja Oriental. A joint venture between Cvne and the Mora-Figueroa family, it was set up in 1974 as a reliable source of grapes. After Cvne sold its stake to cider producer El Gaitero in 2005, wine production began and eventually El Gaitero took control of the whole estate.
Currently Viñedos de Alfaro grow 100 hectares of vines, sell 50% of their grapes and produce 400,0000 bottles. The Viñedo Singular recognition has coincided with sweeping changes in the company’s portfolio, now divided into two separate ranges. The first one includes young wines, a Crianza, a Reserva and the modern red Va! The second is limited to their existing single-vineyard wines. It includes La Lobera, a blend of four grape varieties; the former Rodiles Gran Reserva Blanco which has been renamed Las Planas after the plot it comes from, and Rodiles Graciano named after the site. The novelty is Canterabuey Viñedo Singular, set to be released at around €25.
Grapes for Canterabuey are sourced from a 3.5 hectare plot with head pruned Garnacha vines planted in 1975 on alluvial soils in Alfaro’s flat lands. Destemmed grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in French and American 225-litre oak barrels for 15 months. The oak goes fairly unnoticed and lets the ripe notes (blackberry, sweets) of this fragrant Garnacha stand out. Herbal aromas offset the alcohol. The lush, rich texture reveal a Mediterranean-style Garnacha. 7,496 bottles were produced in the 2017 vintage.
In 2020, Viñedos de Alfaro will release a new Viñedo Singular called Eralena, which is already included in the Official Gazette’s list. The plot is located in a completely different area in Rioja Oriental. According to sales manager Antonio Salinas, “since the start Viñedos de Alfaro was focused on the vineyard, working our own plots, so Viñedos Singulares was the perfect way for us to highlight how important vineyards are to us.”