When is the last time you remember drinking some white Rioja? If you’re like most, it’s probably been few and far between. Continually dwarfed by a powerhouse of Tempranillo, white wines have always remained the unsung heroes of Rioja. But with the high caliber of reds scouring the region, who could really be that surprised that its whites have long gone unnoticed?
Produced primarily from the Viura grape (aka Macabeo), and sometimes allowing Malvasia and Garnacha Blanc in the blend, this overshadowing hasn’t been helped by Rioja’s tendency for uninspiring whites that are more often than not overdosed with American oak.
Well, there is some good news for us on the Spanish front. Recently, producers have realized the potential and are seizing this opportunity to produce whites of higher quality. Aiming for a more balanced and modern style, winemakers are improving the quality of grape selection, vinification, and cutting back, if not eliminating all together, the use of American oak.
I recently had a nice chat with Vicente Cebrián, president of Rioja’s Marqués de Murrieta, as we tasted through several of his wines. As I sipped on the 2008 vintage of their Capellania White Rioja Reserva, Vicente explained that this limited production wine is 100% Viura from the single vineyard Capellania and spends 18 months in new French oak. He mentioned that the idea was to create a white with refined poise that is still Spanish in style. Enchanting aromas and a superb structure, this wine is a well-executed example of Rioja’s recent efforts to transform their whites into wines that are traditional yet perfected with utter finesse.
It’s quite encouraging to see more and more of these producers investing their energy into improving their methods and creating world class whites that are worth talking about. Cheers to the folks over in Rioja – keep these new whites coming!
Later down the lineup, I also had the pleasure of tasting a magnum of the bodega’s 1983 Castillo Ygay Gran Riserva Especial. Here are my thoughts on these dreamy little wonders…
2008 Capellania White Rioja Reserva
An opulent white with the heart of a valiant red, smoky kernel and salted almond nuances accompany ripe fruit aromas of bruised apple, pear, and dried pineapple. Medium in body and upheld by acidity, its expressive structure is endorsed by delicate influences of French oak.
1983 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial
Like a timeless movie starlet, it flaunts a sexy maturity with hints of fig, prune, dry sultana, and succulent blackberry. Aging gracefully with a lingering youth, ultra smooth tannin and vibrant freshness hearten a serene palate of dry mint leaf, old leather, dried meat, and mocha on the finish.