Spain’s Rioja region is almost exclusively Tempranillo country and is also the area most generally associated with quality Spanish wine. The Tempranillo grape is indigenous to the area and has been harvested there for thousands of years. The wines produced in Rioja are structured but elegant, generally more finessed than those from Ribera del Duero, and will easily stand the test of time in a cellar. Our first stop in Rioja on our trip to Northern Spain with Fine Vintage was Remelluri Winery and we couldn’t have enjoyed a more auspicious introduction to this storied region.
In a word, the estate at Remelluri is stunning. Surrounded by vineyards with sweeping views as far as the eye can see, the use of the land itself has a long history dating back to the 15th Century when Monks had settled it for farming. Even before the Monks there are signs of an ancient village well before their arrival as evidenced by the Necropolis in the centre of the winery estate. Today the property is 154 hectares of which 105 hectares contain the vineyards that produce Remelluri’s wines.
Jaime Rodriguez Salis and his sister Amaya Hernandorena have been the proprietors since 1967 and the winery is considered one of the best in Rioja. Their son Telmo Rodriguez, is one of the most renowned winemakers from Spain and is a key figure in the country’s resurgence as a wine producing powerhouse. In addition to Remelluri, Telmo is producing wine in several other regions throughout Spain including Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Toro, which has earned him the nickname “the flying winemaker”. But it’s a nickname that diminishes the fact that the most important component of his winemaking style is his connection to the ground from which the grapes are grown. He is a big proponent of growing grapes native to the region he is working in and aims for his wines to remain an authentic reflection of their particular terroir.
Amaya greeted us and took us for a tour of the grounds which included walking through some of their terraced vineyards, past the 500 year old stone buildings still in use and la Fuente de la Calabaza (a fountain whose water is sourced from Monte Toloño), eventually ending up at the family chapel. As she took us through the fascinating history of the area, Amaya also explained that the land at Remelluri benefits from a unique microclimate perfect for farming because the crops are protected from the wind and frost by the nearby Sierra de Toloño mountain range. The soil is largely made up of clay and the property’s high elevation provides cool nights to offset the hot days of the growing season; ideal conditions for growing grapes.
Just outside of the small church under a vine covered gazebo, we were treated to a tasting of their 1982 Labastida Rioja Alavesa and 1998 Reserva. The wines were nothing short of excellent, revealing an elegance and complexity that Remelluri has become famous for, and proof that wines from La Rioja are definitely age-worthy.
That memorable tasting in itself was just the warm-up to the main event. Waiting for us in a private room in the main building were two beautifully set tables with a terrific view the vineyards. We sat down and spent the next few hours dining on traditional lamb chops paired with a fantastic lineup of their wines: the 2013 Mountain Blanco, the 2009 Gran Reserva, and the 2001 Reserva.
Being provided this exclusive opportunity to taste their Rioja from as far back as 1982 through to 2009, it is clear that Remelluri wines have a reputation for a reason. The consistency in quality reaffirmed our belief that the top wines produced in Spain can stand alongside even the most esteemed wines made by its European peers—without the high prices that a Classified Growth Bordeaux, a Premier or Grand Cru Burgundy, or a Super Tuscan would command. But don’t expect Spanish wine to remain undervalued. The consistently exceptional quality wine that Telmo and many of his colleagues are producing are definitely making the wine world take notice. And, if history provides any indication to what the future holds in Spain, we’ll be buying wine from Remelluri for many years to come.