First Published in Costa News Group, March 2010



Señor Peñin with the White Wines of Rioja Alavesa

 Once again the Costa News sent me packing for my biennial trip to Barcelona for the excellent Alimentaria wine and food fair towards the end of March, proving our commitment to keeping our readers informed about the Spanish wine scene. Although smaller than previous years owing to the financial crisis and some dreadful planning on somebody’s part as there was a clash with ProWein, the major German wine fair, Alimentaria was still huge!

 For a wine anorak/investigative journalist like myself it was really fascinating – the more so when I managed to fit into my itinerary a tutored tasting led by Señor Peñin, of the internationally famous Spanish wine guide, the Peñin Guide, which is often referred to in Cork Talk.

 The title of Señor Peñin’s talk was The White Wines of Rioja Alavesa – at first the idea quite surprised me. In truth, although it’s not admitted up in the hallowed pastures of La Rioja, white wine is really an after-thought. The autonomous region of La Rioja is red wine country, some of it the finest that Spain can produce.

 White wine is mostly made for cash flow. Yes there are some whites that deserve recognition and are more enjoyable than just the ordinary, but it’s no surprise to see, in fact in the Peñin Guide, that there are only two white wines mentioned in the top 30 from the region.

 So why a tasting specifically about white wines from one of the three areas of La Rioja? Well, readers of last week’s article will know that in my opinion this was probably a deliberate attempt to fight the corner for traditional white Rioja in the face of attack by some upstarts who insist on making white wine only in the same area, and on using unapproved varieties!

 However I entered the tasting with a clear and open mind. Señor Peñin can teach me a thing or two, I know. His presentation was erudite and articulate; he was very professional, and he’d done his homework, although I’m sure many of the facts are stored in his wine brain anyway. I listened and learned, anxious to try the wines he had lined up for us.

 The first was Polus Blanco 2009, Bodegas Loli Casado. Made from 100% Viura, the favoured grape variety of the region, but not by me as in the past I’ve found is lacking in character. The vineyards are 70 years old so if they can’t make a wine with personality then I doubt Viura can. Señor Peñin found a touch of pineapple, of tropical fruit with a citrus element too. Me? Well search as I did, and open-mindedly too, I could stretch a point and say that there may just have been a touch of grapefruit. Sorry Señor, I’m not convinced.

 Next Ostatu Blanco 2009, Bodega Ostatu, 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. This had a touch more acidity and citrus on the nose and palate and was slightly paler in colour (in other words like water!). For me the Malvasia helped the wine, giving it a little more flavour that the former, but I couldn’t find any tropical fruit again and not the ‘dry river bed minerality’ referred to by our host.

 The Erre Punto Blanco 2008, Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza, less Viura, 60% and the rest Malvasia with 6 months in oak. On first hit there was a pleasing Crême Fraîche flavour. The oak has benefited the wine but I don’t go along with the 5 years longevity Señor Peñin suggests and would ask why keep it anyway? I couldn’t find the herbs he was talking about either.

 Valserrano Blanco FB 2008, from Bodegas y Viñedoa de la Marquesa has only 5% Malvasia but was fermented in oak and left for 6 months. The more golden colour promised better things and on first taste there was a touch of honey, but this was immediately swept away by fresh slightly citrus acidity. Again it didn’t work for me.

 The final wine was one of which I expected great things – there was no Viura in it! In fact it’s an eclectic blend of actually unauthorised grape varieties – Moscatel, Garnacha Blanca, Viognier, Chardonnay, Roussane, Marsanne and Petit Courbout (about which I, and Señor Peñin, are totallyignorant).

Also this brew has had 16 months in oak, for me a little too long. There’s so much fruit and herb flavour in there it’s a shame to mask it with wood. It was the best wine of the bunch, and if it had been representative of the wines of the area, I’d be buying Rioja whites often – but it isn’t, and I don’t!

A surprisingly poorly attended Rioja White Wine tasting with Señor Peñin. At the same time the White Wine Geurrillas from the same area were being tasted with a capacity audience!