It is an old joke but:
An old Irishman was called over by the driver of a big car that had stopped beside him, and the English visitor enquired;
“Could you tell me the way to Balbriggan, Please?”
Paddy, which by a strange coincidence was the old Irishman’s name, wiped his brow.
“Certainly, sor. If you take the first road to the left… no that wouldn’t do… drive on for about four miles then turn left at the crossroads… no that wouldn’t do either.”
Paddy scratched his head thoughtfully.
“You know, sor, if I was going to Balbriggan I wouldn’t start from here at all.”
Now, if you were in Rioja and going to set out to make a great, fresh and young wine, many would also argue that “you shouldn’t start from here at all.”
The most widely planted white grape in Rioja is called Viura, which in other parts of Spain is known as Macabeo. The best thing the Oxford Companion to Wine can say about it is:
“In early-picked form, …, it is either a fairly characterless white, a useful ingredient for Rosé, or, as in Spain, a lightener of potent reds in which it is officially sanctioned up to 10 per cent of the total blend ….
The wine produced tends to have a vaguely floral character and relatively low acidity unless the grapes are picked so early that the floral character is even more difficult to discern, but it has the advantage, unlike other, more traditional Rioja varieties, of withstanding oxidation well.”
Hardly inspiring! Oh, but what a shame if everyone stopped there.
Traditionally, the best known white wines from Rioja were aged in oak. These are still fabulous wines for those who like the style of nutty, unctuous and almost sherried white wines, but we are a small minority.
As consumer tastes have moved quite distinctly to fruity, fresh and light wines, Rioja has concentrated almost all its efforts on its red wines. However, there are still wonderful vineyards for white grapes in the region and the more dedicated and adventurous winemakers are learning to make the most of these grapes in the new styles. One of these is Rafael Vivanco of Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco.
Rafael decided to do things a little differently. First of all, although it is normal to press white grapes and immediately separate the juice from the skins, he decided to leave them in contact for a short while (around 12 hours) to keep more of those ‘floral’ aromas. He also blended in 20% of another grape, now also hardly planted in Rioja, Malvasia, which brings more acidity and even added some more tropical fruit flavours of pineapple and peach to the Viura’s citrus fruit flavours.
The Dinastia Vivanco winery and museum also includes a spectacular restaurant with panoramic views over the vineyards and the Cantabrian Mountains. Rafael’s experimental white and rosé wines were initially made available exclusively to diners in the museum’s restaurant. These proved so popular with visiting importers eating and drinking there that in 2006 he decided to start selling them around the world.
This decision has recently been amply rewarded.
The Bacchus awards, Spain’s premier wine tasting competition, has run a competition looking at Joven (young) wines for 22 years and rather than award lots of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for wines within each of its five categories, it goes for an Olympic model: only the top three wines get a medal. First, Second, Third. Gold, Silver, Bronze. Simple!
The five categories are; White: Non Aromatic Varietals, White: Aromatic (Spanish) Varietals, White: Aromatic (International) Varietals, Rosé, Red. Of course, Viura and Malvasia are considered non-aromatic, and therefore this was the key category for the Vivanco wine.
The Vivanco Viura Malvasia 2007 came third in its category (Bronze medal), the only Rioja wine to wine any medal in the competition.
Of course, the key measure of any wine’s quality is the response from customers who drink it, and in this way too it is a success. In the UK we will be shipping almost 5 times as much of this wine in 2008 as last year as it is being listed in an ever greater number of restaurants, hotels and specialist wine shops.
So, if you were looking to get a great wine “from here”, then the road might seem a little longer and more complicated, but you most certainly can achieve it.
Click here to read more about the range of wines from Dinastia Vivanco and to get stockist information for the Vivanco Viura Malvasia.