The wines of Finca Allende, Rioja, Spain
Part 1 of a series based on a visit to Rioja

It was harvest time, and I was visiting Rioja for just the second time (actually, my first visit had just been for a single day, so it doesn't really count!).

It's a region that I've had mixed feelings about in the past, because the bulk of its production is dull, commercial red wine with coconut and vanilla notes from spending too long in oak.


Looking over the rooftop of the Allende winery to the vineyards

But if you look at the vineyards, with their treasure trove of old vines and interesting-looking terroirs, the potential here is enormous. I just wish that more Rioja producers took a more quality-minded approach, and made the most of the superb vineyards. Anyway, here I was, with an interesting list of appointments, and the chance to learn more about this celebrated region.


The Allende winery

The first visit of our itinerary was one I was looking forward to Finca Allende, located in the village of Briones, is highly regarded as one of the more modern, high-end Rioja producers. Founded as recently as 1995, Allende produce 300 000 bottles annually.

Six wines are made. The first to be released was the Allende red, launched in 1995. In 1996, a second  wine joined the portfolio: Aurus. This was joined in 1999 by Calvario and also the Allende white. In 2004 a small amount of a varietal Graciano was made, and the most recent addition is the Martillas.

We were hosted by Nathalie Lebouef, export director. Allende take a very much terroir-driven approach, that’s quite refreshing in Rioja, which is dominated by large wineries without a lot of connection to the vineyards. Allende have 56 hectares of vines, split among 92 different plots. These cover 14 different terroirs. ‘In the wine business you only harvest once a year, so it has taken a long time to work out the terroirs,’ says Nathalie.

‘The history of Rioja is very much in connection to the history of Bordeaux,’ she says. When phylloxera hit Bordeaux, the negociants came here to the other side of the Pyrenees in search of wines that bore some resemblance to Bordeaux. They brought with them the barrels that are now such a feature of Rioja and also winemaking expertise.

But Allende aren’t very Bordeaux like. ‘In our opinion, Briones is a little tiny Burgundy,’ explains Nathalie. ‘There’s all the terroir and the mystery around the terroir.’

Miguel Angel de Gregorio, the man behind Allende, along with his sister Mercedes, has a new project: Finca Nueva. It’s a label based on 20 hectares of vines in Briones that are not used for Allende. The Allende vineyards are predominantly red clay, with a high iron content, resulting in more serious, tannic wines. Nueva uses mainly calcareous soils, resulting in more fruity, more accessible wines.

THE WINES

Finca Nueva Barrel-Fermented White 2009 Rioja
Made from Viura, this is aromatic and toasty with fine fruit and notes of vanilla. The palate is fresh with some grapefruit notes as well as pineapple richness. Subtle oak. 88/100

Finca Allende Branco 2007 Rioja
13.5% alcohol. 80% Viura, 20% Malvasia. Very complex toasty, spicy nose with peach and pear richness, as well as a crystalline fruit quality. The palate is dense, rich and toasty with complex spicy notes and nice freshness. Real potential here, with good complexity. 32 000 bottles produced. 92/100

Finca Nueva Crianza 2006 Rioja
Open, inviting nose with bright, sweet cherry fruit. Quite open with lovely fruity quality. The palate is supple and vibrant with fresh cherry fruit, some berry fruit and a savoury, mineral twist. A lovely wine with a hint of seriousness. 91/100

Finca Nueva Reserva 2004 Rioja
This spends 24 months in old French oak. Sweet, open cherry fruit nose with a creamy vanilla sweetness and hints of caramel. The palate is sweet, open and berryish with some grip. Lacks the vibrancy and purity of fruit of the Crianza. 88/100

Finca Allende 2005 Rioja
100% Tempranillo aged for 14 months in mainly new French oak. Lovely sweet ripe black cherry and blackberry nose with a slight roast coffee/tar edge. The palate is vibrant with dark fruits and a spicy, slightly funky animal note. Nicely savoury and tightwound, with good structure. Is there some Brettanomyces here? Still, it’s tasty. 92/100 (300 000 bottles made)   

Finca Allende Calvario 2005
A vineyard planted in 1945, with 90% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha and 2% Graciano. Gravel/stone soils. 18 months in new French oak. Very fine and elegant: rich, dense and sweet but well balanced with plum and cherry fruit, refined minerality and some spiciness. Firm yet fine-grained tannins. Great concentration but superb balance too. 95/100

Finca Allende Aurus 2005
95% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano. 24 months new French oak. Ripe, sweet, open nose of dark cherries, blackberries and sweet spicy oak. The palate has some creamy oak but also nice depth of fine ripe fruit. Smooth and silky, but the oak is prominent now. Should age well. 93/100

 

RIOJA SERIES
Part 1, Finca Allende
Part 2, La Rioja Alta
Part 3, Valdemar
Part 4, Bodegas Riojanas
Part 5, Remirez de Ganuza
Part 6, Ontañón

Published 03/11
Wines tasted 10/10  

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An older report from May 2005:

Finca Allende represents the new face of Spanish wine. You thought Rioja was all about ‘traditional’ wines that were under-macerated and aged for a long time in old American oak? Think again: the way things are developing (and for the better) is that winegrowers are going back to the vineyard. They are producing wines with good concentration, phenolic ripeness, and are tending towards shorter stays in mostly French oak.

Allende is based in the up-coming Rioja village of Briones in the Rioja Alta. As well as a base for Allende, it’s now also home to Dinastía Vivanco’s Museum of the Culture of Wine, which has been described as ‘sensational’ in the press, and another top ‘new wave’ producer, Miguel Merino. ‘The wine village of Briones is the undiscovered jewel of Rioja’, says Charles Metcalfe in a piece in Wine International last year. Praise indeed.

Wines were first produced under the Allende label in 1986, although it wasn’t until 1995 that their winery was built. Then, in 1999 Allende bought an eighteenth century, which is the current company’s head office. Miguel Angel de Gregorio is the guy responsible for winemaking, and owns the estate together with his sister Mercedes. His day job used to be with Bodegas Bretón, from 1989 until 1997.

As well as using grapes from their own 22 hectares, they also buy in some from local growers. In all, they use grapes from 92 different parcels, and the way they are going is to try to understand the characteristics of the vineyards, respecting the origins of the wine. Finca Allende comes from vines averaging 35 years old while Calvario is a single vineyard that’s 60 years old. Top wine is Aurus, which I didn’t try here.

Finca Allende Blanco 2002 Rioja
This is quite an unusual white wine, but I like it. The open herby nose leads to a palate that’s soft, nutty and open with a creamy texture. Very good+ 88/100
(£13.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Finca Allende 2000 Rioja Spain
There’s a slightly minerally edge to the fresh, crushed red fruits nose which is really appealing. The palate is savoury with lots of fresh, bright fruit. Nice density. It’s very pure, fruity and expressive. A delicious modern-styled Rioja. Very good/excellent 92/100
(£13.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Finca Allende Calvario 2002 Rioja, Spain
Very dark coloured. There are vivid, intense bright fruits on the nose which is delightfully pure. The palate is concentrated and full, dense and savoury, with great depth of fruit. It’s red rather than black fruits that dominate, with a deliciously smooth structure. A fantastic wine. Very good/excellent 94/100 (£49.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

See also: the wines of Spain
Wines tasted 05/05
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