Revisiting Rioja: Viñedos Singulares with Bodegas Ontañón #WorldWineTravel

Bodegas Ontañon Antología Edicion LimitadaThe new #WorldWineTravel group is spending the year in Spain and kicking things off in Rioja. We’re virtual right now yet I know several of us would love to get there soon. This article was written for the group’s January theme “Rioja”. Links to several other excellent articles from group members are at the bottom of this post.

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Rioja is a traditionally classic wine region in Spain. Just saying Rioja makes me think of culture, history, and deep, earthy red wine. Changes in regulations the last few years see the entire area shifting from a focus on oak aging to regional terroir differences. I had not paid much attention to the changes until now.

They give wine producers a way to emphasize the sub-regions, municipalities or villages, and vineyard plots.

We now see three geographical indications (GI) covering the whole of Rioja:

Vinos de Zona – There’s always been three areas of Rioja (Rioja Alavese, Rioja Alta, Rioja Oriental (formerly Baja)) and now when grapes come from anywhere within a zone, and vinification, aging and bottling are done within the same one, the wine is Vinos de Zona.

Vinos de Municipio – This is really a village category where grapes come from, and vinification, aging and bottling are done within the municipio or a village.

Rioja viñedos singulares

If you look at the back label on a bottle, you’ll see the Rioja seal with ‘VZ’ for Zona, ‘VM’ for Municipio or ‘Viñedos Singulares’ as with this label.

 Viñedos Singulares – This is the super exciting GI where grapes come from an approved vineyard plot(s) with aging and bottling completed at the winery releasing the wine. The vines are a minimum of 35 years of age.

 

 

For all three, a 15% allowance of grapes from neighboring municipalities is accepted and the winery must have worked with the vineyard(s) a minimum of ten years.

Viñedos Singulares, the new single vineyard wines

Mark and my introduction to viñedos singulars was via Leticia and Ruben Pérez Cuevas from Bodegas Ontañón. We strolled to their boot at a tasting in Bordeaux. This goes back to June 2017 when Rioja was anxiously awaiting completion of the regulation changes (which went into effect January 2019). Learning about Ontañón, we discovered their wine Antología.

Bodegas Ontañon Antología Rioja

Although Antología is a blend from select plots of old vine Granacha, Tempranillo and Graciano in Rioja Oriental (Eastern Rioja), this is not a certified VS wine. However it could be considered one and laid the stage for the Pérez Cuevas family project. The Granacha comes from the 100 year old small (2 acre) El Arca vineyard. Those of you who follow me know we recently had a wine rack tumble. This bottle didn’t break but the label was splattered with wine.

The change to recognize single vineyards was sought for years. It gives wineries who produce wines from vineyard plots or just single vineyards a way to promote the wines and specific terrior. It’s something Napa and Sonoma Valleys have done for years.

These wines are different from classical Rioja blends that focused on aging. Today it’s about individual vineyards in a particular area with their own micro-climate based on soil, altitude, weather, proximity to water bodies and flora. They have a particular expression.

Viñedos Singulares have fairly stringent requirements for certification. Here’s a quick breakdown of the rules:

  • Maximum yields at least 20% lower than generic DOCa level wines
  • Maximum of 65% grape-to-wine ratio (compared to the standard 70%)
  • Vines are a minimum of 35 years old and the vineyard owned by the producer or rented on a long-term basis (10 years minimum)
  • Manual harvesting of grapes
  • Two levels of quality assessment where both must receive an ‘excellent’ rating

The term Viñedos Singulares can be used in conjunction with the aging categories (Generico, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva and Gran Añada), yet it does not replace them.

The family believes the new regulations are very positive and necessary for the whole of Rioja.  

“It is about looking a little more at the vineyard and finding ourselves in front of our own territory to express each one’s sensibility as a winemaker and the interpretation of their landscape in a more personal way. For us, it allows us to express the origin of our territory and enriches us as winemakers, but at the same time, we contribute to cultivating the great diversity of Rioja.”   Familia Pérez Cuevas

Family Project Rooted in the Land – Bodega Queiron

The El Arca vineyard is the source of grapes for Queiron’s “El Arca”, 100% Graciano viñedos singulares wine. Photo courtesy of Queiron.

While the Pérez Cuevas family has been involved in Eastern Rioja viticulture for years, Leticia and Ruben’s father Gabriel Pérez always dreamed to produce exceptional wines from the vineyards he recovered in and around his roots in Quel. The Antología wine from Ontañón was one of the first wines containing grapes from their single plots. And now the family’s new winery Queiron is open and only producing viñedos singulars.

Queiron El Arco Rioja 

The El Arca vineyard in the photo above? Queiron’s first viñedos singulars wine is 100% Garnacha from that vineyard.

The winery produces just four VS wines from Garnacha, Tempranillo and Graciano grapes. Viticulture is sustainable and grapes are hand harvested.

 

 

While I hope to share these wines with you soon, today I share the wine that introduced me to the family. Note this is a media sample, no compensation was received and all comments are my own.

Bodegas Ontañón Antología Edición Limitada 2014

Bodegas Ontañon Antología Rioja

We paired the wine with tapas including lamb in filo, stuffed piquillo peppers and boquerones.

75% Tempranillo 15% Graciano 10% Garnacha

Grapes for this wine come from plots within several vineyards in and around Quel in Eastern Rioja: La Pasada (2,600 feet), La Bartola, El Pozo (2,200 feet), Los Palos de Tanis, and the oldest, El Arca (one hundred year old Granacha vines at 2,450 feet).

Purplish red in color, spicy mixed wild berry aromas and wet old forest floor have an earthy quality. The palate reveals red and black cherries, plums, fresh tobacco, and cocoa powder. It’s medium bodied with well-balanced acidity and ridiculously silky tannins and mouthfeel. It finishes medium with very satisfying black cherries and leather. 13.5% abv.

This is a laid back, everyday charmer at just $14 to $18.

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We can’t wait to travel to Spain again and visit Querion. In the meantime, we have several other articles about Rioja wines from the #WorldWineTravel group to indulge in. I hope you will too!

Links and Sources:

15 thoughts on “Revisiting Rioja: Viñedos Singulares with Bodegas Ontañón #WorldWineTravel

  1. Allison Wallace

    So insightful Lynn, I didn’t realize the shift in changes quite to this extent. The Viñedos Singulares is particularly interesting and may be the thing that finally gives those Spanish wines their due. We’re still so surprised how underrated and undervalued so many of the top Rioja wines are (though that does seem to be changing in recent years). We’ll definitely be on the lookout for VS wines!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I didn’t realize either and will also be ordering- no looking out for these Rioja in Bordeaux!

      Reply
  2. Andrea

    After so much discussion last night about how Rioja’s system gives little importance to place it so nice to read about the Viñedos Singulares! It seems like this is an emerging category but hopefully one more and more wineries will start emphasizing.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Sorry to have missed the discussion yesterday. I dug into SV for this ending up editing a lot out as my article was too long. It’s fascinating what’s happening. There still are those (Artadi for example) who will do their own thing. They’ve actually been making single vineyard wines for a while. And perhaps they were an imputus for the changes.

      Reply
  3. Nicole Ruiz-Hudson

    Thanks for sharing all of this info on the new geographical/vineyard based designations and keeping us up to date! I’ve enjoyed wine from Bodegas Ontañón before, but had not seen this one or their new project — I’ll be keeping an eye out now!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for your comment Nicole. They also make a Tempranillo Blanco under the Ontañon label that is super interesting. I can’t wait to taste the new wines too!

      Reply
  4. robincgc

    What a fascinating article on the SV designation. The wine I tasted was a proposed SV. I suppose there are just a few that have been approved, starting to hit the market now.
    I did tear up a bit at the thought of your tumbled rack, but I must say, that I think it artfully added to this wine’s label!
    Your pairings, as always look amazing!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      I found a list of VS approved wines (not sure if it was the most recent) and there were just under 100. It will be interesting to see how many producers jump on board with getting wines certified. The label… I think the wine stains on this bottle are from the Muga Prado Enea that did break.

      Reply
  5. Lauren

    I’m eager to dive deeper into the Vinos Singulares classification. Seems like a no-brainer, especially given the range of climates and soils within Rioja. As always, I learned a ton from your post and am now dreaming of a trip to Spain!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      That definitely makes two of us dreaming to get to Spain. I’ve canceled and rescheduled two trips three times so far. In the meantime, I’ll dive with you!

      Reply
  6. Linda Whipple, CSW

    I’ll be on the lookout for these single-vineyard Riojas after reading your post, Lynn. I was surprised to see snow in the El Arca vineyard, but yes, a continental climate so makes sense.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      The area of this vineyard is surprisingly high so on occasion they do get snow. In fact several of their vineyards are higher. Thanks Linda!

      Reply
  7. MARTIN D REDMOND

    At some level it’s hard to believe that a wine that sounds as good as this one, sells for <$20, then again it's Rioja and that's not unusual. The name feels familiar. Do you know if this wine is exported to the US Lynn?

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Bodegas Ontañón wines are available in the US Martin. I messaged them to see if this specific wine is available. I’ll let you know.

      Reply

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