New varieties in Rioja

valdemar inspiracion wines

I’m currently in the process of writing up a series based on a visit to Rioja. The latest instalment involves Valdemar, who are doing some interesting work with new varieties in Rioja.

One that is completely new is Tempranillo Blanco, which is a white variety that was discovered in the middle of a vineyard a decade ago. It was a genetic mutation that caused the bunches on one of the vines to be white rather than red. Valdemar quickly planted 1.5 hectares of this variant in Alta Cantabria, and have been farming it for six years now. Initially it was an experimental variety; now it has been approved for use in Rioja.

The first year they tried making wine with it, and the winemakers said it was a disaster. The second year it was used for blending, the third year’s wine was drinkable and then in the fourth year everything was lost through hail. The 2009, though, is a very smart wine. fermented in barrels, it shows rich notes of peach, melon and apricot, and it’s delicious in a forward style. Tempranillo Blanco is the earliest grape variety to be harvested, and it’s almost opposite in character to the fresh, high acid Viura.

A red variety they have been working with also shows a lot of promise. It is Maturana Tinto (not the be confused with Maturano, or Maturana Parda as it is sometimes called). This is an ancient variety that was thought to be extinct, but was identified from a pre-phylloxera 130 year old vineyard block. There were just 35 vines, and no one knew what it was. Once its identity had been established, Valdemar planted 2 hectares and began familiarizing themselves with the variety. It’s very early ripening with high colour and low acidity. It was approved as a Rioja variety in 2009.

Valdemar’s 100% Maturano tastes like a Carmenere. It’s dense, rich, smooth and ripe with a gravelly, chalky edge to the lushly fruited palate. I think it’s interesting, but my favourite Valdemar wine is their Graciano: a variety that’s hard to cultivate, but in a warm year gives lovely intense wines lovely tannic grip under the sweet fruit. Graciano is a brilliant variety and should be more widely planted than it is.

NOTE ADDED LATER: Just checked my notes, and found that Baron de Ley have a single variety Maturana. The 2009 vintage is available at Tesco now for £8.99, and it’s really good – part of their new range titled ‘varietales’.

4 comments to New varieties in Rioja

  • Andrew Halliwell

    Interesting stuff. It’s funny how people have these ideas of old classic regions of never really changing or innovating, yet the reality is that there’s plenty going on. Hat’s off to Valdemar for persevering in the name of diversity.

  • Agree with everything above and one of the finest Riojas I’ve tasted lately was Tierra Fidel – 50% Graciano 50% Garnacha.

  • Dinastia Vivanco is also working on a range of wines from these varieties, as well as the other permitted grapes such as Verdejo, Maturana Blanca and more. They added the Tempranillo Blanco to their young white wine (blended to 10% to add more roundness and tropical fruit to the joven blanco) and they are about to release a 100% Maturana Tinta in the Coleccion Vivanco range as well reviving an ancient (largely forgotten style) sweet, red wine made from very late harvest grapes from all four main red grape varieties.

    I agree with Andrew, there is a lot going on in Rioja at the moment that is often missed or glossed over because of the success of the main styles.

  • Miz

    We have just started working with a Rioja producer of exactly the same wines that you mention, however a different vineyard. I found the Graciano amazing however they won’t have the next vintage ready until November 2013! We will, be bringing in the Temranillo Blanco and Maturana Tinto and should be in the UK by November and I look forward to seeing the reaction of the UK market to the new wines.

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