Just before I left for Spain, I had this crazy idea of searching out the best white Rioja I could find. To be honest, I found loads of white wine but its very difficult to choose a single wine as the best, so I’ve gone with three. These are three very different wines, and everything about them is different: the way they are made, the grape varieties used, how they are aged, and when they are drunk. I knew that two of these would be high on my list, but the third was a real surprise.
Making up just 5% of the harvest, you couldn’t say that white wine is a priority for the region. There is some decidedly dodgy white Rioja around, but there some great stuff if you look for it.
First up is R.Lopez de Heredia’s Vina Tondonia Reserva and Gran Reserva Blancos. These wines are just plain crazy, aged for 6 (Reserva) years and 10 years (Gran Reserva) in barrel, then another 10 or more years in bottle. The current release here in Australia is 1989 for the Reserva and 1981 for the Gran Reserva. Made from mostly Viura with a splash of Malvasía (10%), these wines speak of old nobility and hamfisted adherence to the tradition for long barrel aging. The nose on these things is amazingly complex, they have layers of flavour and constantly evolve in the glass, even hours later. Acid is the key here, and this is what drives these wines. They demand to be served with excellent fish or white meat, but excel with wild mushrooms. I am not so much a fan of the red wines here, but the blancos and rosados are amazing.
Next up is at the completely opposite end of the scale. Remelleri Blanco. There is not a lot of this made, we happened upon a couple of bottles in a wine shop Laguardia and jumped at the opportunity to enjoy this wine back at the hotel. The only native grape in the mix is Garnarcha Blanca, which is very rare in Rioja anyway. The rest is made up of Vigonier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscatel, Marsanne and Roussane. Again, it’s a fairly crazy wine that has layers of flavours that start of kind of vegetative, moves on to floral then on to fruit. This is one very out there wine.
And finally the surprise wine of the trip. In the little village that we stay at in Rioja Alta, Abalos, there are just 3 bars. They are usually filled with the blokes who tend the vineyards and cellars of the village’s bodegas, a few kids, a dog or two and loads of cigarette and cigar smoke. I would usually drop in for a quick glass before dinner, mostly ordering vino blanco as I’d been tasting young, extracted red wines all day and wanted something fresh. This cheap (65 Euro cents is the cost for a small glass) white wine was amazingly fresh, with just a hint of lemony fruit but excellent acidity and minerality that revived my tasted buds and burnt off the post siesta fog swirling around in my brain. Amazing stuff, and I’m sure not much of it makes it out of the region. It was so good, I bought a bottle back with me.
Like most things in Rioja, I find there is room for both the traditional and modern. But there is so much in between those two extreames that when I’m asked to describe white Rioja it tends to be a very long conversation….