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Valenciso Rioja Reserva 2010 Rioja Alta, SPAIN

The Valenciso story begins with Luis Valentin and Carmen Enciso. After years of experience working for some of the biggest bodegas in the region, they joined forces to pursue a clear vision - to produce one wine, the very best Rioja Reserva.

They have worked together for 35 years, 20 of those since they began their independent project and embarked upon their relationship with Boutinot.

The Rioja Alta region in pink (map courtesy of uk.riojawine.com)

The Rioja region of northern Spain runs alongside the River Ebro, and stretches approximately 80 miles from west (near the town of Haro) to east (near Alfaro). The 65,000 ha are divided into 3 zones: Rioja Alta (to the west), Rioja Baja - now Rioja 'Oriental' (to the east), and Rioja Alavesa - a smaller region to the north of Alta.

Luis and Carmen chose Rioja Alta for their project. Their winery is situated in the town of Ollauri, with vineyards nearby in the town, as well as in Briones, Haro, Rodezno and Villalba. The furthest is just 7 miles from the winery.

100 km from the ocean, the combined Atlantic influence and altitudes of up to 600 m, gives a freshness that enhances acidity, finesse, and aromatic complexity. Soils in Alta are typically red, iron and clay-rich. There is more rainfall in Alta here than in the east, and slightly cooler average temperatures (by a couple of degrees C).

Ollauri village, Rodezno vineyard, and the main estate

The Rioja market - dominated by large houses

The UK is the largest export market for Rioja. Around 1 bottle in every 9 produced is sold here in the UK. Significantly, although there are approximately 600 bodegas bottling wines in the region, more than half of all Rioja sales come from just 3% of the wineries. This shows the predominance of the large Rioja houses and brands in the region.

Valenciso - starting small...

The Valenciso team

But Carmen and Luis didn't let this stand in their way. They started in 1998 with just 100 barrels / 24,000 bottles of the '98 vintage. They have a compact team of 8, including Diego Santana (export director), and all are partners in the winery.

At a time when many large Rioja houses were focusing their energy on building showcase winery buildings, Valenciso put their time and effort into finding the best vineyard plots, to ensure their wine would be the very best - it took 10 years to complete the winery.

Valenciso have 24 parcels across 17 different plots - some use trellis, and some are bush vines. Average age of the vines is 35 years - but some plots were planted in 1915 and 1920. Although they do produce small quantities of white and rosé Rioja - their focus remains the one main wine - a Rioja Reserva. This Reserva wine is a blend of the best grapes from the most suitable plots.

As they have grown their reputation has grown with them - with recognition from Sommeliers and trade press both in Spain and beyond. Today they produce around 130,000 bottles and export to 28 countries.

It's all about Tempranillo

Their Rioja Reserva is a testament to the Tempranillo grape - and the pure expression that can be achieved with careful attention yet minimal intervention.

  • they don't irrigate
  • they employ sustainable viticulture, integrating organic and biodynamic processes in the vineyard
  • they don't break the cap, or use délestage
  • fermentation takes on average 24 days
  • they use a good quality press - if the berry opens naturally it gives more aromas and complexity (takes longer, but provides great quality juice)
  • they don't provoke malolactic fermentation, they just wait for it to happen...
  • they let the wine take its time...

Why concrete?

Just as they use minimal intervention in the vineyard, Luis and Carmen believe that using concrete allows a full and authentic expression of the Tempranillo grape.

Concrete is a very neutral and stable environment for wine, as no ionisation takes place. It is also a natural insulator, preventing sudden temperature changes. As such it is an ideal vessel for fermentation as well as storing and ageing, and it can impart great longevity on a wine.

Concrete tanks at Valenciso

When the wine is matured and ready, Valenciso put it back into concrete. It keeps the aromatic quality of the wine, and allows it to be later bottled without fining or clarification.

In the 1970's many wineries changed from concrete deposits to stainless steel, as steel was cheaper and easier to maintain. However, concrete is superior to stainless steel in that it is microscopically porous, so allows very gradual micro-oxygenation. This gives a more complex mouthfeel alongside a pure flavour profile.

Valenciso are the only Rioja winery using 100% concrete (not stainless steel) for fermentation, and following optimal maturation in oak

However, today many wineries across the world are again following their example and turning to concrete.

Maturation regime

American oak is favoured in the majority of Rioja wineries - around 80% of the barrels used are American, versus 20% French, oak.

Valenciso, however, use 100% French oak for their Reserva, as they believe it gives the wine more vibrancy, and complexity on the nose.

They only use medium toast barrels - giving spicy characters, rather than coffee / mocha notes. The wine may need a little longer to breathe, but it has greater complexity and ageing potential.

They use 4 different tonneliers (80% of their barrels are from Radoux) and replace a third of their barrels each year.

*from 2011 vintage it will be 90% French and 10% Russian - it gives a little more tannin but also preserves the fruit character.

Why Reserva?

Winemaking at Valenciso is not formulaic. They treat every vintage independently - and adapt the length of oak ageing according to the character of the wine. The wine spends at least 12 months in oak, and at least 3 years ageing in total (barrel and bottle). The 2010 vintage spent 19 months in oak.

Here Diego explains why they focus on the Reserva style...

Since the very beginning, all of Valenciso's wines have rated 90+ Parker points...

Valenciso is one of the most modern of the traditional producers, or the most traditional of the modern producers... I love their wines, which offer good typicity and drinking pleasure, and I think they deserve more attention than they get. (Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate)
2010 vintage: "A hit with our judges, this Gold winner was praised by Le Cordon Bleu London’s Matthieu Longuère MS for its ‘lovely damson fruit, mouthwatering acidity, really long palate and fresh finish’, describing it as ‘a textbook Reserva’" Judges' Comments, Sommelier Wine Awards 2018
2010 vintage: "Dried cherry, berry, tea, tobacco, vanilla and spice flavours mingle in this lean, gentle red. Modest tannins and light acidity keep this lively as the elements float across the palate and glide into a spicy finish. Graceful, in the traditional style. Drink now through 2022. 91 points." Thomas Matthews, Wine Spectator

Food Matches:

Lamb is popular in the Rioja region, and Valenciso Reserva is a good match for this meat - and also with wholesome stews and casseroles. For vegetarians it pairs well with mushroom and lentil dishes.

Boutinot's Nigel Wilkinson MS recommends enjoying Valenciso Reserva with a good piece of rib-eye steak, and served lightly chilled.

Credits:

Created with images by orangem - "roast lamb meat" • James Sutton - "Healthy Lentil Salad" • Bru-nO - "steak meat beef eat food beef steak"

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