IF THE term “whizz-kid” can be applied to a single wine-maker in Spain, that person is Telmo Rodríguez. From the family that owns the Remelluri Bodega in Rioja, his training includes three years working at Château Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux. Aside from his own vineyards, he now rents winery space, buys grapes, and makes wine in up to ten or more regions of Spain. The prices for these wines reflect their quality, and ranges of them are available at fine-wine merchants.
Now, however, he has embarked on a new project: a reform of the wine laws of Rioja, regarding the naming of the region’s wines. While there have been vineyards in the region since Roman times, the real history of the wines of Rioja dates back to the latter half of the 19th century, when the vine louse Phylloxera vastatrix arrived in Bordeaux.
This destroyed the vineyards there, and many of the merchants moved to northern Spain. Their business, in the past, had largely been carried out with branded wines, rather than wines sold with the name of the individual vineyard. They carried on this tradition, with the addition of a mention of how long the wine had spent in cask.
This latter definition now comes down in terms such as crianza, reserve, and gran reserva. Mr Rodríguez has now persuaded the authorities to grant permission for the individualisation of wines by permitting single vineyard names.
It is somewhat confusing that some wineries and wines in the region have long borne the prefix Viña, which suggests a single vineyard as the origin. Thus we have the winery Viña Salceda, and wines such as Viña Ardanza, and Viña Arana, from La Rioja Alta; Viña del Olivo from Contino, and Viña Tondonia and Viña Bosconia from Bodegas López de Heredia. These generally represent the upper levels within the portfolio of the company rather than specified sources.
While the Viña Arana is composed 95 per cent of Tempranillo and five per cent of Mazuelo, the Ardanza is 20 per cent Garnacha. Waitrose is currently offering the Arana Reserva 2008 for £20.49, besides the López de Heredia Bosconia Reserva 2004 for £22.29.
Although the legislation has, until now, forbidden the selling of Riojas bearing the name of a single vineyard, it has been possible to buy unspecified wines. For example, Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres has sold some of its iconic MC wines, coming from a single source of very old wines; and, at a more reasonable price, Majestic has on sale Ramón Bilbao “Single Vineyard” for £9.99.
It may not be long before we see more detailed labels for Rioja. They might, for example, say that the wine comes solely from a particular sub-zone, such as the Rioja Baja, or a single village, such as Cenicero. This will mean more information for the consumer, but this will come at a price.
As the Burgundians discovered a long time ago, the more you fragment your appellations, the rarer each one becomes, and so can justify a higher price.