Single vineyard Rioja is coming into the international spotlight, helped in the past few years by perfect or near-perfect Parker scores. Rioja Alavesa-based Artadi and Alta-based Finca Allende are at the cutting edge of the single vineyard movement with El Pison and Calvario, Simon Field MW of Berry Bros & Rudd told the drinks business. “The single vineyard movement is a very positive thing for Rioja, but it requires experimentation and the volumes are so tiny that a lot of them stay within the domestic market,” he said.
Working on a new single vineyard project in Rioja Baja is Spanish wine pioneer Alvaro Palacios, who is back at his family’s 100-hectare estate in the town of Alfaro. Believing Baja boasts the perfect terroir for old vine Garnacha, he has steadily increased the percentage of Garnacha in his blends each year, with the ultimate goal of making a single vineyard Garnacha from his 3-hectare Valmira vineyard, which he aims to release in the next few years.
Since returning to Rioja, Palacios has noticed positive a shift towards regional thinking. “People are starting to realise that the three sub regions have very different personalities, like the Left Bank and Right Bank in Bordeaux,” he said. He sees the single vineyard trend as not only exciting, but crucial for Rioja’s future. “We need to take more of a regional approach in Rioja and start putting both the sub regions and the names of the individual villages on our labels like they do in France – it’s the only language of fine wine, but the Consejo won’t allow it."
Another spearhead of the single vineyard movement is David Sampedro, who makes a super-premium red and white from his limestone-rich, 1.3-hectare El Brozal plot dating back to Roman times in the town of El Villar, producing a mere 1,000 six-bottle cases a year, the majority of which is exported to the US. Like Palacios, he wants to see winemakers putting village names on their labels. “I’ve had problems with the Consejo for putting the single vineyard name on my labels, but Rioja desperately needs to communicate this terroir concept,” he urged.
Sampedro hope to see more single vineyard Riojas emerge in the near future. “It would lead to a better consumer understanding of Rioja’s terroir concept, but as a winemaker you need to be able to make money in other ways to stay afloat,” he admitted. El Pison, which Sampedro considers to be Spain’s top wine, is made from grapes grown in a high altitude, southeast facing, amphitheatre-shaped, 2.5-hectare old vine clos a mile from Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. The brainchild of Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacaille of Artadi, the 2004 vintage received 100 points from The Wine Advocate, and sells for £300 a bottle.