Alegre Valgañon Rioja Blanco 2016

Traditional Rioja has become something of a rarity in the last 20 years or so with so many producers going over to the dark side; or embracing "international" winemaking styles. This trend isn't unique to Rioja though what we consider to be traditional Rioja is actually a fairly newfangled approach to winemaking brought on by the French and their small new barrels and Bordelaise winemaking techniques well over 100 years ago. This new approach also took attention away from the vineyards and farming, also much like Bordeaux, and traditional wineries were and still are pretty big operations. On a visit to La Rioja Alta a few years back I was shocked to learn that they've got 30,000(!) barrels of wine in their cellars.

Of course, Rioja existed as a prized wine region before the French arrived (why do you think they came here?) and there were great wines being made in a manner more consistent with Burgundy than Bordeaux. The Romans first planted vines here and it was a monastic culture in place over the last thousand years that shaped the farming and winemaking techniques and, very importantly, identified the best vineyard sites. Wine was made on small farms in small quantities and aged in large barrels like the botti of Piemonte. None of us have ever really tasted those wines but there are a handful of small producers reviving those traditions. Oscar Alegre and Eva Valgañón are two of them.

Both Oscar's and Eva's families owned vines in prime vineyard areas, many of them in the Rioja Alta region west of Haro near the Obarenes mountains. This is the most highly prized vineyard zone in all of Rioja. The married couple had careers in the more commercial side of the wine business, he in sales and she as a winemaker, but both had dreams of making traditional wine from the family vineyards and in 2014 produced their first small lots of wine. They'd been farming their old vine vineyards for years before that and committed to farming sustainably years before. They also revived the old techniques of stem inclusion during fermentation and aging in large old neutral wood. There are two cuvées, a red and a white, and it's the latter that most interests me as white Rioja in general is a fascinating wine. If you can find an old Lopez de Heredia Blanco with at least 25 years of age on it you'll see why.

The Alegre Valgañon 2016 Blanco is just lovely. Lemon and sea spray with ripe orchard fruit and white flowers on the nose and a bright but full mid palate with more intense mineral flavor. I'm sure this wine will age beautifully but irresistible at the moment and a relative steal at this price. Very little imported, just 30 bottles to go around.

Type: Spain

Vendor: Eno Fine Wine

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