New Wave Rioja!


In August 2011, whilst serving on my first Spanish Wine Judging Panel (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas Cata/Concurso), I was fortunate to meet and chat with one of the legends in this country’s winemaking fraternity, Antonio Palacios, no less, and his daughter Bárbera, herself a bourgeoning winemaker.

A few days later, I also met Merlot!

My article, following this meeting, archived here ( may make useful reading as background to today’s missive. You see, in a manner of speaking, Merlot has spawned a Puppi!

When I met her nearly eight years ago, Bárbara Palacios Lopez-Montenegro, had just made her first, personal, commercial wine. As you’ll read above (go on, it’s one of my favourite articles!) that wine, still being crafted today, is called Barbarot – a combination of Bárbera’s name and that of her gorgeous Golden Retriever, Merlot.

Barbarot, then as now, goes under the auspices of DOCa Rioja. Termed simply, a Cosecha wine, Bárbara wasn’t keen on following the Rioja recipe and making a Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva wine, where minimum lengths of time in oak are prescribed according to the style required. Eschewing the use of such handcuffs, Bárbara’s illustrious, yet charming and down to earth father, Antonio, described her wine as being a Vino d’Autor. In other words a wine, made according to how the enologo (winemaker), wants to make it.

Recently my esteemed colleague, Tim Atkin MW, visited Rioja to make an assessment of the famous area’s wines as they are right now. He made sure that he spent some time with Bárbara and, as can be seen on her Facebook page, she’s delighted with Tim’s marks and comments – for both her established wine Barbarot, and for Puppi Barbarot, the new puppy on the block!

In 1994 Bárbara’s famous father applied to the Rioja Consejo Regulador for permission to plant some experimental Merlot – a variety not normally permitted in DOCa Rioja. They’d hardly turn down a request from such a famous family, so Merlot was indeed planted. The site of the planting was crucial. Antonio Palacio had studied the soils of two vineyards that he owned and on analysis had determined that they were similar to those in Bordeaux – home, of course, to Merlot.

In an interesting French/Spanish alliance he determined to produce a wine made from one of France’s most famous varieties, and one of  Spain’s, Tempranillo. Meanwhile, his daughter, Bárbara, was learning the trade. Working the harvests and making wine in Bordeaux, Italy, California, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina Bárbara was honing her skills whilst developing her passion for making high quality wine.

On her return she was given the reigns of the new vineyards, now maturing nicely. The result, was the introduction of Barbarot, the latest vintage of which, Tim has just been given a whopping 95 points!

Recently, the vineyard has been extended, with new plantings and Bárbara has decided to therefore extend her portfolio, to two wines – not a huge number, but when the wines are this good, you don’t need more!

A bottle of Puppi Barbarot 2016 recently arrived at my door and after a resting period I had the pleasure of tasting the newcomer (wine needs a rest after travelling, it’s a little like ‘bottle shock’ where the wine which is perfectly good in barrel or tank, takes a slight step backwards on bottling, and needs a little rest before returning to its best).

Made again with Tempranillo and Merlot it’s enjoyed six months in two years old French oak. Such a time in oak would enable the wine to be described as a ‘roble’ wine, or semi-crianza (it couldn’t officially be a crianza in Rioja as, although the legal minimum time in Spain is indeed six months, Rioja insists on 12 months). However, sticking to her Vino d’Autor game plan, the wine has Cosecho only on the back label.

Here you’ll also see a description from Bábara telling consumers that this wine is inspired by her loyal dog and companion and represents the youth and joy of a puppy! And if that’s not enough charm, take a look at the front label, where you’ll see a ‘Merlot’ puppy running amongst the vines – it’s lovely!

So is the wine! The used oak adds depth without contributing greatly to the overall flavour – it’s a fruit first wine, as it’s meant to be. Some damson on the nose with a little ripe strawberry and a trug-full of red currant too, with some added herby notes for good measure!

Fresh, lively, vivacious – rather like a puppy! Oh, and Tim’s score – a very impressive 91 points! (

Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook Colin Harkness    

First Published in Costa News SL September 2011




Barbara and Antonio Palacio showing me around the Barbarot vineyards

 Last week’s article ( click Cork Talk) dealt with Señor Antonio Palacios, my good fortune in befriending such a warm family and first class wine educators, plus of course his excellent MdeT La Rioja wine. I also alluded to the wine made by the next generation of this, the most famous wine-making family of Spain.

 Was it destiny that shaped Bárbara Palacios’ life? A typically modest shrug of the shoulders accompanied by her charming smile and the statement that she simply loves making wine, was all the answer I needed. With a wealth of family tradition, knowledge and experience behind her, Bárbara went willingly to Bordeaux to study oenology (including working at Chateau Margaux, et al) and thence to Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Chile, Argentina and California seeking out even more wine-making understanding and methodology. The result is almost an encyclopaedic cognition of wine-crafting!


Barbara & Merlot - BARBAROT!

Not that there is anything nurdy about Bárbara – look for example at the name of her super first wine, Barbarot. Then look at the back label (you must also visit – there’s a charming hand-drawn picture of a little girl holding onto a lovely dog, Golden Retriever actually, with whom we walked the vineyards, and whose name is Merlot. Yes, you guessed it – Barbarot is a combination of her name and that of her adoring dog!

 Barbarot is a limited production wine, the small quantities mean that at present it is only sold in the La Rioja region. However, with the acclaim it is receiving it surely cannot be long before distributors are forming an orderly queue (oh no, that’s a British thing!) outside her door asking for pallets of the wine to sell on. Watch this space and then watch your local wine shop!

 The vineyards that supply the grapes for Barbarot are located just about as far north that you can go in the DOCa La Rioja. Behind them the Cantabrian mountains (also drawn on the label) rise to touch the sky and in August the sun beats down (mercilessly, even at 6pm when we visited, causing Merlot to seek the shade of the neatly trimmed vines, uncharacteristically ignoring any possibility of a rabbit chase!). About an hour later, almost every night, relief from the grape-ripening sunshine arrives in the form of cooling breezes, covertly adding a touch of acidity to the finished wine.

 The limestone soil, similar to that of St. Emilion, plays host mostly to Tempranillo, Prince of La Rioja, but also to, you guessed it again, Merlot. Special dispensation has been given to the Palacios family to use a little of this, Consejo Regulador unapproved, variety in their wines. It’s addition is crucial.

 Merlot brings colour, aroma, freshness and finesse but also, from these specific vineyards, it arrives with a lower Ph. and this is significant. Sulphur, used in all wine-making, acts much more powerfully when used with a lower Ph. Therefore, using Merlot in the blend also means that less sulphur is needed, hence an altogether different flavour and nose.

 On the back label you will see (you can order via the website above by the way) that the wine is a DOCa La Rioja Cosecha wine. It’s a touch confusing – this is the prosaic, generic term that indicates that the wine is simply a young Rioja wine. As yet the Consejo Regulador hasn’t approved a more pragmatic and informative suggestion that wines such as Barbarot should be called, for example Cosecha Vino D’Autor.

 For that’s what Barbarot is – a wine containing the oenologist’s fingerprint as well as the terroir in and under which the Barbarot’s vines grow. It is an expression of all that’s good in La Rioja, all the Palacios know-how plus all the passion of its creator.

 12 months in American, Spanish and French oak and a further time in bottle have enabled this intense ruby coloured, well structured and balanced wine to mature into a sensual, silky, fruit driven Rioja with plum and damson jam notes and fresh acidity. It’s drinking perfectly now!