We had the privilege of touring and tasting at Remirez De Ganuza in the Spanish Denominacion de Origen (the Spanish term for viticultural region) of Rioja while we were a part of the Fine Vintage Tour of Northern Spain. Over the last 3 decades Remirez de Ganuza has experimented and come up with new techniques both in the vineyard and in the winery which have elevated their wines to the top echelons of Rioja and even earned a 100 point score.
We have written how an essential feature of Rioja is how it combines tradition and modernity. Perhaps this fusion of past and future is exemplified nowhere more than at Remirez de Ganuza. As we pull up to the winery compound, we are first struck with the traditional elements. Or so we thought…Remirez de Ganuza is located in the centre of the small town of Samaniego, a charming town full of old stone buildings. The winery’s stone façade fits right in. But in fact the winery was built in 1989 and is a collection of concrete buildings that are covered with original old brickwork, bricks that are two to three centuries old. Inside one of the buildings is a tasting room with 100 year old oak beams on its ceiling as well as floor to ceiling solid oak doors. These buildings surround a courtyard which has a small stream running through its centre. As tastings are by appointment only, it is a quiet and serene space.
The interior of the other buildings we saw, the winery and barrel room, are as modern as they come. Fernando Remirez de Ganuza combines the best of tradition with ground breaking innovation in the winery, all in an effort to produce the highest quality wines that he can. It was only natural that Fernando would end up making wine. His parents owned vineyards in Rioja and before founding the winery, Fernando was one of the top brokers of vineyards in the region. Through this, Fernando got to know where all of the best plots were and as he started his own operations, he purchased grapes from these top vineyards. While doing that, he let it be known that he would be a reliable buyer of any of these vineyards at a time the owners wanted to sell. Today Remirez de Ganuza has 190 acres of estate vineyards, a sizeable amount by Rioja terms.
Once inside the winery we were taken upstairs to observe the winery in action. Grapes had just been harvested and were carried in from the vineyards in small plastic totes of Fernando’s own design, to a specially cooled room to keep the grapes fresh and free from oxidization as they awaited sorting. Once the bunches hit the sorting table the imperfect bunches are de-selected. The remaining bunches are then cut roughly 2/3 to 1/3 with the top 2/3, the shoulders, going into the top wines and the bottom 1/3, the tips, going into their lower end wines. This innovation is, to our knowledge, unique to Remiriez de Ganuza. Fernando thinks the shoulders produce superior grapes for winemaking relative to the tips. The shoulders, he reasons, get greater exposure to sunlight creating more evenly ripened grapes. The stem is also thicker at the shoulder, transmitting more energy and savoury quality to the resulting wine.
He has been employing this practice since 1997 and it would appear to be an innovation that is turning into a tradition. The Reserva, Gran Reserva and Transnocho are his serious wines, made to be capable of ageing for 30 years or more. These wines will see anywhere from 22 months to 27 months in small oak barrels, mostly from France, and 85% new. The other wines he makes for more immediate gratification and emphasizes the fruit characteristic of these wines. He puts these wines through carbonic maceration, a technique perhaps most associated with Beaujolais where whole grapes are kept in an environment of CO2 that allows some of the sugars in the grapes to be converted to ethanol without the inclusion of yeasts to induce the fermentation. The result is fruitier, fresher wines that are geared to drinking young.
All of Remirez de Ganuza’s vineyards are in the Rioja Alavesa, one of the three sub-regions of Rioja. A team of mostly Portuguese workers tends the vineyards and harvests the grapes. Unlike many vineyard owners who pay workers by the pounds they harvest, Fernando pays his workers by the hour. He is focused on quality, not on quantity and wants his workers to bring in the best bunches. Many of his workers have been with him for 18 years. His vineyards are planted mostly to Tempranillo with some Graciano and bits of the white grapes Malvasia and Viura. Vines range from 40 to almost 100 years of age, with the average being 60 years.
Remirez de Ganuza’s innovations have resulted in top quality wines, and they are some of our personal favourites from this excellent winegrowing region. The wines are bigger and darker than many in Rioja, perhaps more akin to neighbouring Ribera del Duero. Fernando avoids contact with oxygen during maceration and likes his wines to be more extracted than traditional Rioja winemakers would make. The result is full and robust fruit that marries well with the longer oak aging he likes to employ. We think this is a combination that he has definitely made work. While fuller in style they retain that balance that is an essential quality for a top-quality wine. The Reservas in particular are wines that reward time in the cellar. After a decade they take on a similarity to Bordeaux, with savoury notes of cedar, earth and spice to compliment those dark fruit flavours. Fernando holds these wines, once the oak aging is complete and they have been bottled, back in his cellars at least 6 years before release. Currently his 2006 can be found in the marketplace. No wonder Robert Parker has referred to his wines as the “Latour of Spain”.
1996 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva
Simply outstanding! Deep colour, almost black. Red fruits and cigar on the wonderfully complex nose. Thick and structured on the palate. Black fruits, cedar, tobacco leaf and spices. It had an almost Bordeaux First Growth quality to it. A bigger wine than any other Rioja we have had, but in perfect balance. One of the best wines we have had this year.
2001 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva
Deep red/purple, this had the colour of a 5 year old wine! The nose is dominated by black fruits with notes of licorice and menthol playing in the background. Medium body with still quite high tannin, this wine is still on the up even after 16 years from the vintage. There was almost a Syrah-like quality to this wine with its dark fruit and colour and the spice note that appeared on the long finish. Very complex and sophisticated. Probably 5 years before peak and certainly a long life to follow.
2010 Fincas de Ganuza Reserva
Dark red colour. Bright cherry and raspberry flavours dominate the medium body palate. Secondary notes of vanilla, spice and tobacco leaf add to the complexity. The fruit is quite ripe and gives good texture to the wine. There is medium+ acid that creates a crisp finish. A bit more time should round things out even further as the components integrate a bit more.
2008 Vina Coqueta
90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano are co-fermented with the skins only from Viura and Malvasia grapes. This is powerful wine showing black cherry, coffee and hints of vanilla. Modern in style, it is complex and full. From the Coqueta Vineyard whose vines average 47 years in age.
2008 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva
This was the powerhouse of the tasting and what a beauty it was! Blackberry, black currant, raspberry combine with earth and cedar to create a rich, textured, complex and powerful wine. Still tannic, with medium+ acidity, this wine will continue to develop for another 2 decades, based upon older vintages we have tasted. The 2 years in French oak barrels are well matched by the fruit leaving an impression of terrific balance. This wine is bold and brawny, full bodied and will offer plenty to the intellect as well as to the senses as it is so complex while being forward and powerful. Can stand with the very best of the region and the country, it was a highlight of the trip!