The Rioja Renaissance – The Exciting New Breed breathing Life into One Europe’s Most Revered Wine Regions
Rioja is going through a moment, an epoch, a (re)defining shift in its identity. As Josh Raynolds wrote earlier this year, it is a: seismic shift that has opened the way for a new breed of ambitious and talented producers to rediscover the true identity of the Rioja region/s: an identity that has long been subsumed by the industrial wine complex that saw more commercial gain in dumbing down the world’s understanding of the wines of this multi-layered region rather than emphasise the beauty of it’s diversity. Of course, this paradigm was conveniently enshrined by the wine laws which were, of course, controlled by those making this kind of wine.
That’s all changing! The new breed are making wines that emphasise the vibrancy and efficacy of the fruit and the ground in which its grown. If oak is being used then it’s being kept in balance and extraction and alcohols are being controlled. Many are naming the village or the vineyard (or both) on the labels from whence the grapes are harvested in recognition of the pre-industrial wines when regional typicity meant something. On top of all that, there are significant rule changes that recognise this new way of thinking. The producer can now label the wine under the Municipio or village designation and, even more surprising is the new designation within the law whereby a producer can state the name of an approved single site or Vinedo Singular.
This small tasting and offer highlights two of the better producers, Artuke and Tentenublo, who are slap bang in the middle of the new putsch and they are making remarkable wines. MICHAEL MCNAMARA
Trying this wine from Escondite del Ardacho for the first time it was a bit of revelation. These are relatively new to the scene here in Melbourne are just fantastic. They are rich and juicy with plush red and black fruits and lifted sweet spices. There is a lovely wild thyme accent to both the palate and the nose. The Garnacha dominant palate and the touch of Malvasia gift a lovely soft and pliant texture that is so appealing. Fermentation with natural yeasts in open vats, 80% of grapes are destemmed, gentle batonnage and aging in second-use oak barrels for nine months without racking. The vineyards are worked with minimal intervention and sustainable viticulture with vines ranging from between 91 and 106 years old. PWS
Produced with grapes from vineyards in the village of Ábalos close to the Sierra Cantabria, the 2017 Pies Negros is mostly Tempranillo with some 12% Graciano. The destemmed but uncrushed grapes fermented with indigenous yeasts, and the wine matured in 500-liter oak barrels for one year, except for almost 25% of the volume, which was kept in concrete. This wine starts showing how the 2017s here transcend the year. In Ábalos, they didn’t have much frost, and the early harvest resulted in fresher wines even if the tannins are a little sharper. This wine has good ripeness and doesn’t show any oak whatsoever. The wines from this year are quite pure and fresh for the conditions of the year. It’s drinking very well now, but the balance and stuffing hint at a good evolution in bottle. 65,000 bottles produced. It was bottled in December 2018. LUIS GUTIERREZ
The first of the single-vineyards is the 2017 Finca de Los Locos, from a plot planted in 1981 in a terrace of Baños de Ebro at 120 meters above the level of the river, on gravel and sandy soils rich in limestone. It’s mostly Tempranillo with 20% Graciano and a 2% pinch of white Viura fermented uncrushed with indigenous yeasts and matured in 500- and 600-liter barrels and two 3,500-liter oak foudre for 12 months. This wine has evolved tremendously since they moved away from the 225-liter barrels; and the priority now is to use large vats, and the remaining wine goes to large barrels. This represents a new level in this wine, which feels lively and vibrant, with great texture and nicely integrated oak. The nose is expressive and floral, with great elegance, the wine has a chiseled palate with very fine tannins and freshness. Plain great and with great finesse. I’d love to be able to time travel to see what this wine looks like in a decade from now. 11,500 bottles produced. It was bottled in January 2019. LUIS GUTIERREZ
A new single-vineyard red, the 2017 Paso Las Mañas is from a plot in the village of Samaniego on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria at 700 meters in altitude. It’s planted in a wild and quite isolated way, going up the slope. The Tempranillo vines were planted in 1990 but mostly in 2013 on limestone and fragmented mother rock soils. It fermented with indigenous yeasts and matured in a 3,500-liter oak foudre for 12 months. It has a different profile and is the wildest of the wines here; it has a slightly reductive hint and is a bit herbal, with a touch that somewhat makes me think of a Syrah from the Northern Rhône in its meaty personality. There are notes of thyme and rosemary. The tannins are very fine, and it has tasty flavors and a dry, supple finish. This is the one wine that is different here. And I like it a lot. 4,000 bottles were filled in January 2019. They used to make Cerro de Mulas from this plot before. LUIS GUTIERREZ
|New Age Rioja Nov 2019||Reg. Price||Special||Order||Total|
|Tentenublo Xerico Vinaspre Rioja 2017||$40.00||$35.00|
|Tentenublo Escondite Del Ardacho El Abundillano Rioja 2017||$76.00||$64.00|
|Tentenublo Escondite Del Ardacho Veriquete Rioja 2017||$76.00||$64.00|
|Artuke Pies Negros Tempranillo Rioja 2017||$36.00||$30.00|
|Artuke Finca de los Locos Rioja 2017||$60.00||$51.00|
|Artuke Paso las Manas Rioja 2017||$60.00||$51.00|
|Name on Card|