New Rioja Tasting

Martin Hudson MW

Avowed hispanophile Tim Atkin MW moderated this insight into the current direction of travel of Spain’s most famous wine region. What became clear from his introduction and the subsequent tasting was that within Rioja there is an increasing focus on terroir and site specific wines from vineyard owning winemakers, as a foil to the more traditional intra-regional blends of fruit from a myriad of contracted growers. These wines, almost without exception, eschewed the traditional age related quality hierarchy, instead using an aging regime designed to express the quality of the site and fruit, rather than put it in a prescriptive oak strait jacket. All the wines exhibited a freshness and clarity of fruit expression that was in contrast to many of Rioja’s offerings.

The producers on the panel included Sandra Bravo, one of the leading lights of Rioja Roll, whose Nahi 2016 had remarkable texture for a non skin contact white, complimented by her two single vineyard and savoury reds, the 2015 Rivas de Tereso tempranillo and the 2016 la Dula garnacha. David Sampredo showcased his blended 2013 Phincas red, his remarkably spicy and profound 2013 Phinca Lali single vineyard tempranillo with a traditional smattering of white viura, and a magnificent, unashamedly oxidative white, the 2011 Phinca la Revilla. Luis C. Valentin González of Valenciso, accountant turned winemaker, shared with us his 70% viura, 30% garnacha blanca white, and two expressions of tempranillo, the 2010 reserva and the 2005 “10 añ0s después”. His wines demonstrated a deft hand with oak. Miguel Merino Navajas, now working with his father at the family winery, gave us a lovely floral 2016 white blend of viura and garnacha blanca, a modern take on a reserva from 2010 and an intriguing 2014 Mazuelo that delighted on the evening, but would be interesting to re-taste in a few years. The formal part of the evening concluded with iconic winemaker and wine academic Juan Carlos Sancha whose enthusiasm for Rioja, garnacha and the region’s more esoteric and forgotten grapes shone through both in his presentation and in the glass, the 2016 Maturana Blanca being a new grape to most in the room, and the two 2015 Peña El Gato garnachas (Terroirs Manolo López and Juan Carlos Sanchez respectively) having all the savoury spiciness and heft one would wish for, but with a lovely balancing acidity. Their contrasting characters was a well-chosen lesson in site specifics.

This enlightening evening concluded with a walkaround tasting that enabled those present to taste a further twelve wines from the panellists.

Martin Hudson MW
29 November 2017