GRUPO VINTAE’S INSURGENT WHITE GEURILLAS CONSOLIDATE IN THE
HALLOWED VINEYARDS OF RIOJA
Readers with long memories might recall two articles I wrote after my biennial visit to Spain’s greatest wine and food fair, Alimentaria 2010 (I’ll be there again in 2012 – watch this space!). They talked of ‘guerrilla warfare’ in La Rioja where Grupo Vintae prefers to use ‘foreign’ white wine grape varieties that they feel are perfectly suited to such vineyards, but which are not permitted by the ruling DOCa La Rioja Consejo Regulador.
In recent months of horrific, rebellious unrest in several different parts of the world it would be tastelessly facile to continue the analogy – revolution and rebellion in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan et al is an altogether different matter, of course.
Nevertheless there is change happening in La Rioja, that bastion of conservative tradition, where the old-guard is having to make way for revolutionary new-wave wines. The Vintae stand at Alimentaria 2010 was crowded to capacity for the launch of the so dubbed ‘Spanish White Geurrilla Wines’, a dramatic contrast to the Peñin presented traditional white Rioja tasting held at the same time, but feebly supported!
It was the principal that first impressed me. With no axe to grind, just a genuine desire to tell it like it is, I have been something of a detractor of white Rioja over the years. Viura, the main grape variety used, has little or no character when grown in the hills of Rioja, in my view. It can be helped, to a degree, by barrel fermentation and/or some oak ageing. But not enough to make it a serious challenger to white wines from other areas – I never buy white Rioja!
One or two years before the last Alimentaria there were signs that the old guard had finally turned a slightly sympathetic ear to those critics and, more pertinently, some Rioja producers who had been lobbying for change. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo were added to the list of permitted grapes, though it was declared that Viura must still make up over 50% of any blend, lest the ‘true Rioja character’ be lost!
I was placated and looked forward to the results. Of course it takes time to develop a vineyard with new plantings so we couldn’t expect a sudden rush of new white Riojas. It takes time to change mind-sets too!
In March 2010 there was only one Rioja bodega with whom I talked which was considering using, in this case Sauvignon Blanc, in its blend. It took plenty of time for Mrs. Thatcher’s Government to be defeated!
It seems that Vintae, firstly wasn’t prepared to wait and, secondly, they required more anyway. Give them a small vineyard and they want a hectare! Varieties such as Riesling and Viognier were planted on sites whose soils and micro-climates had been strictly analysed (terroir, or terreno, the Spanish version of this all-singing-all-dancing French word that so perfectly describes a wines ‘place’!).
Was I to be impressed by the wines as well as the idea? Well yes I was, in that at last there was some taste, some depth of flavour, some aroma, and plenty of potential coming from white wine from the Rioja area. The vineyards were yet young and would need time to develop, to consolidate, and I expected more next time I tried them.
Nearly two years on it’s clear that Vintae’s research is paying off. The samples I recently received were all super, fragrant and flavoursome wines, exhibiting stronger varietal character notes as the vines become older. At the moment I can only imagine how good these wines will be in 10 and 20 more years when the new varieties will have adapted further to the site-specific terroir!
Whetted your appetite? Well, next week I’ll tell you my tasting notes about these White Geurrillas plus a hint or two about another Vintae project, this time for red wines!