With the re-birth of Spanish winemaking in the last forty or so years, some stunning wines are now produced by this country, perfectly targeted at the modern consumer.
Gone are the heavy, tannic, unapproachable reds and thin, semi-sweet whites and in come well-balanced, fruity, structured, elegant reds, together with fresh, crisp, flavoursome whites.
Such wines are exemplified by the range produced by forward-looking company Ramón Bilbao, established in 1924 in Haro, located in the heart of the Rioja Alta region. Grapes are sourced from 450 acres of the company’s own vineyards, along with access to over 2,000 acres of vineyards, with long-term grower contracts.
Head Winemaker Rodolfo Bastida was appointed in 1999 and believes in doing things differently. He considers that the grapes selected for his wines should speak for themselves and not be hidden by over-ageing and over-oaking, as often happened in the past. Since joining Ramón Bilbao, Rodolfo has made it his mission to explore the diversity of terroir, altitude and grapes that his homeland offers.
Recently this spirit of exploration has taken him to the region of Rueda to produce some first-class white wines.
“Whether we make our wines in Rioja or Rueda, we will always look to push the boundaries and go beyond the ‘accepted’ way of doing things,” comments Rodolfo. With a new winery and 150 acres of vineyards at La Finca Las Amedias, the stage has been set for the production of fresh, elegant, appealing wines suited to current markets. Sara Bañuelos heads the winemaking team here and the Ramón Bilbao Edición Limitada Lias Verdejo 2017 is the result of her experiments with different vinification methods.
Verdejo is one of the Spanish ‘greats’ when it comes to white grape varieties and this wine, produced by a combination of old and new wine-making techniques, helped along by some modern technology, fully expresses its character.
Dry, with an intense, fruity aroma of gooseberries, lime and peach, the flavour is full on the palate, with a crisp, fresh finish and hints of almonds. £15.50 from Great Western Wines, £13.55 from Exel Wines.
Turning back to Rioja, Rodolfo has a predilection for grapes from high altitude vineyards, and the Ramón Bilbao Viñedos de Altura 2016 is produced from 50 per cent Tempranillo and 50 per cent Garnacha grapes from vineyards over 2,000 ft above sea-level. The altitude tempers the hot climate, resulting in wines which have depth, complexity and elegance. Using grapes from some of the oldest vines in the region, from carefully selected plots in different parts of the Rioja area, the resulting wine combines structure, depth of flavour and finesse. £15.50 from Great Western Wines. £14.75 from Harrisons Fine Wines or £14.10 from Exel Wines.
Clearly the approach to winemaking taken by the winemakers at Ramón Bilbao has met with considerable success, with this brand now the leader in the Spanish hotel and restaurant trade, and announced by Drinks International this year, as one of the top 50 Most Admired Wine Brands.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Follow him on Twitter @richardwje.