We’ve said it before and we stand by the statement that the best travel experiences are never the ones that are planned. There’s no question iconic sites are important for a reason, but usually the most memorable moments are the ones that are unexpected. Case in point, we recently travelled from Bordeaux to Rioja with Iberian Wine Tours, and despite incredible visits that included Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Pichon Baron, San Sebastian, and Roda, we still reminisce about our most unique wine tasting to date: our visit with Javier Guzmán Aldazabal.
If you’re scratching your head wondering why you’ve never heard of him, you’re probably not alone. There’s very little information on him on the internet other than a simple website offering a basic description of the winery and winemaking philosophy. What we can tell you is that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his wines or better yet, taste with the man himself.
Javier’s winery is located in Navaridas, which is a small town in the heart of the La Rioja Alavesa region. To give you some indication of how enchanting and off-the-beaten-track the town is, its population consists of just 207 people! On this particular morning, we opted to walk from our hotel in Villabuena as it was a perfect spring day. What should have taken us less than 30 minutes took us almost twice as long as we snapped numerous photos and just stood staring at the the spectacular views. In the time it took us to walk over, we passed just one person working in a vineyard otherwise it was just miles of old gnarly bush vines and rolling hills.
As we got closer to Navaridas, we started to make out the buildings of the town which were mostly stone houses with terra cotta rooves that surrounded the tallest and most prominent structure, the local church. As we walked the cobblestone streets, our first encounter with Javier was as he was driving his van down the hill we were headed up in the opposite direction. He had forgotten to bring with him a particular wine that he wanted us to try and was making a quick run to his winery before we arrived. A friendly honk, a big smile, and a wave pointing us in the direction we were to meet him, and we already had an inkling this experience was going to special.
If the walk itself past miles of old vineyards wasn’t enough to make every wine lover swoon, the tasting venue he had arranged was as perfect as we could have ever imagined. And by tasting venue, we mean a stone slab that was found in the vineyard many years ago that is now perched on two smaller stone pieces acting as legs, surrounded with tree stumps as chairs on a ridge overlooking the town. While it may sound rustic, it was pure magic and without question the most stunning tasting view we have yet to experience.
As we have found with the vast majority of winemakers we meet, Javier is beyond humble. Warm and unassuming, he was as excited to introduce us to his wine and village as we were to be there. He personified what we have come to recognize as the true Spanish way of life: informal, passionate, friendly, and welcoming, particularly over a glass of wine.
We tasted through a lineup of Guzmán wines which included the Blanco, Crianza, Graciano, Tempranillo, and his winery’s highly acclaimed “Exaltación”. The latter of which has the distinction of receiving a 93 point score from Robert Parker for the 2001 vintage. The “Exaltación” is a blend of fruit from the oldest vines on the estate and according to Javier, “It’s a wine aged in new wood from French and Eastern oak, which owes its quality to selecting only the best fruit from our oldest vineyards.” He adds that for all of their wines, “lower yields mean higher quality. Our work in the vineyard is mainly centred around removing grapes from the vines when the yields are high and carrying out good control of the ripening before harvest.” As our tasting notes below will attest, his philosophy certainly seems to be working.
Having never heard of this winery or winemaker prior to our visit, we definitely count Bodegas Guzmán Aldazabal among one of our most surprising and enjoyable discoveries to date. It’s possible the ambiance could have influenced us, but we’ll happily forego a winery with a far more prominent reputation to share in an experience this authentic.
This white wine is a blend of Viura and Malvasia, two commonly used grapes in Rioja white wines. This wine was very fresh, with high acid underpinning the flavours of grapefruit and citrus. There was a nice minerally streak that added complexity. Medium/light in body this a great drink to refresh your palate on a hot summer’s day.
This is an interesting and unusual blend. Though deep red in colour, it is actually a blend of 85% red grapes (Tempranillo and Graciano) and 15% white grapes (Viura and Malvasia). The wine is made using carbonic maceration, a fermentation technique, most commonly used in Beaujolais, that sees whole grape clusters immersed in an environment of carbon dioxide which yields fruity wines. In Guzman’s hands the technique resulted in a fresh, pleasant, fruit-forward, pleasure driven wine showing notes of red cherry accompanied by a mineral streak.
2015 Rioja Tempranillo
This wine is made from 50 year old Tempranillo vines and spends 11 months in a blend of East European, French and American oak. We got intense raspberry flavours that were joined by savoury notes akin to tobacco leaf. The medium+ tannins showed this wine has an ability to age. Already complex, this wine showed class and power together.
Medium to dark red in colour, this wine gave up lots of dark cherry flavours that were joined with notes of cedar and fennel to create a complex wine with medium body. There were strong tannins that told us this was a wine worthy of the cellar.
Cropped at very low yields from 100 year old vineyards, this is a wine that Javier only makes in top vintages (the last one was 2011). Very dark red in colour this wine showed lots of complexity with its dark raspberry, leather, forest floor and mineral notes. On the palate there was definite texture that gave a sensation of richness. Powerful but balanced, this was the wine of the tasting and will no doubt further develop over the next 15 or more years.
01309 – Navaridas – Alava