Alvaro’s precise-yet-barely-tutored wines always speak gently but unfailingly of the earth in which they grow: red-black fruits in red dirt bespeak this, the jewel vineyard of Rioja Baja. Awesome, softly gloving fruit tannin is the heart from which ever-so-pleasant fruit radiates a warm glow. Gentle, earthily-fruited, classy, delicious.
D.O. Rioja. Rioja is infamous in Australia for thin, co-op grown wines which have spent forever in daggy barrels … and this is rather unfortunate, as the entirety of Spanish Wine is often simply equated with old-fashioned Rioja. Rioja=Spain, Spain=Rioja, Rioja is daggy cheap wine, therefore Spanish wine is not for getting excited about is the syllogism which has dominated the view of Spanish wines in Australia. TSA prefer to show the lovely fresh, fruit-rich, clean and modern wines which are being made, not just in Rioja, but many previously neglected, and very exciting, regions.
Rioja is, however more than capable of subtle, gentle and remarkably characterful wine. It's a dangerous word, though, Rioja - it could mean anything: high-crop characterless Garnacha from the hot badlands of Rioja Baja, or superfine Tempranillo from a dedicated, quality-oriented estate in the cool, high parts (Rioja Alta and Alavesa). It could be American or French oak … anything is possible. Get to know individual estates is our tip. The houses represented by The Spanish Acquisition – Telmo Rodriguez, Palacios Remondo, Roda and Remelluri are as good as this region produces … and between them well represent the diversity of style possible within modern Rioja.
Garnacha. The variety which we know, through the French, as Grenache is originally Spanish. Very widely grown, it often is used to make pleasantly fruity, off-dry rose wines – sometimes at the high end of the alcohol spectrum. Being low in phenolic material (usually), it is well-suited to producing pleasant raspberry-&-herb juice with nice acidity but little fruit tannin structure – ideal for rose, and café-quaffer light reds. As elsewhere, low crop levels, dry growing and old vines can sometimes produce rather more affecting fruit, and there are a significant number of Spanish Garnachas which produce rich, dry-earthy wines with concentration, structure and length enough to handle some oak treatment and succeed as premium dry red table wines.
Tempranillo. Spain’s primary indigenous variety, and which is now being planted enthusiastically all over Australia. King Valley, Heathcote, Clare Valley, Margaret River … While these plantings grow up, however, the gems reside in the old bush vines which proliferate in the high altitude regions of Central-Northern Spain. Known by a different name in virtually every region – Tempranillo in Rioja, Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro … and Cencibel, Ulle de Llebre and many others elsewhere. Produces, when well grown, delicious pithy black cherry fruit, with ripe but usually gentle earthy tannins – has a meaty-earthy aspect, and usually some ripe dark spices. Can be wondrously perfumed in the mouth, in the same vein as Barolo and Burgundy.
Palacios Remondo, Rioja Baja. This is the family estate of Alvaro Palacios (who also has outstanding estates in Priorato and Bierzo). Alvaro, along with Telmo Rodriguez and Peter Sisseck (Pingus), is one of the rock stars of modern Spanish winemaking. Like the others, he's no super-charged sugar-&-oak freak, however. It's all about the vineyard - great old-vines, beautifully composed fruit reflecting the smells and flavours of the earth in the finished wine. Palacios Remondo is an estate given to Garnacha and Tempranillo in equal measure, plus a little white from Viura.
While Rioja Baja (the lower-lying South-Eastern half of Rioja) is often badmouthed, it's not all bad … just most of the wine is. The Palacios estate is still quite high up at about 550m in the foothills of the Yerga mountain range and as such, is actually higher than much of Rioja Alta! It's in the east, in the province of Alfaro. Soils are coarse clay/chalk, stony and poor. Rainfall low at 360mm. The project is to reflect soil minerality in the wine, avoid over-cooked fruit character and retain a sense of lively fresh elegance. Certified organic, and on the way to bio-dynamic ...