Rioja with a Valencia connection — Bodegas Tobía in La Bodega de Alicia

One of the consequences of concentrating on wine and wine events from the Valencia region is that I tend to overlook the long-established powerhouse that is Rioja. I know that there is great wine and great tradition there, and that it is not monolithic. I’ve been reading about “new wave” riojas for years, and it seems to me that there seems to be something of a return to traditional styles.

Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja

Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I was happy to go to La Bodega de Alicia again, this time for a tasting of five wines from Bodegas Tobía. They have a new winery in Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón in La Rioja, but the eponymous founder, Óscar Tobía studied at the Universitat Politècnica de València, which is where he met the master of the evening’s cermonies, José Manuel Gallego, the winery’s Commercial Director, who is Valencian through and through and lives in the city.

Luckily, in my view, there was some mix-up over the projector, so we weren’t exposed to another winery video. It was explained that the bodega didn’t filter its wines, but used hi-tech grape-friendly methods aimed at harnessing the quality of the fruit alongside the ageing in cask associated with rioja. There was a lot of pride behind the information that eight of the bodega’s wines had been designated “Vinos Institucionales de D.O.Ca. Rioja“, that is wines presented by the DO as part of its international promotion.

The first wine offered was Daimon Fermentado en Barrica Blanco 2010 (56% malvasía and 44% viura). For a barrel-fermented white wine that spends three further months on its lies in cask,  it was elegantly pale (straw rather than gold). The nose was powerfully pineapple with other exotic hints (the fruitiness of the malvasía, with its 56%, imposing itself on the acidity of the viura). It was a well-made, enjoyable wine, falling perhaps a bit short of being lovable, but a good example of the high-class international style (in terms of that harnessing of powerful nose, good fruit and judicious acidity) white wines that Spain increasingly offers.

Though there was a rosado in the tasting, the next wine was the red Daimon Tinto 2009 (37% tempranillo, 26% garnacha, 24% graciano, 13% merlot — we were reminded that a maximum 15% of merlot is allowed in rioja wines). This was really modern in style, with its cold maceration open tank fermentation and malolactic fermentation in oak. It was inky and intense in clour and in terms of its dark fruit. The two Daimon wines (there is also a rosado) were clearly not aiming to be typically riojan, far from it. I did enjoy this wine. I’m all for old school artisan wines, but I’m also a bit of a sucker for these intense modern wines, especially when they are not all fruit and alcohol. This wine has more going on than that.

Now it was the rosado’s turn with Alma Tobía rosado 2010 (55% tempranillo, 35% graciano, 10% others) the original vintage of which (1996) was the first barrel-fermented rosado to be made in Rioja. It is a stonking, dark, rich rosé, which I’d be happy to drink on its own as a decadent statement, or to eat with plenty of dishes. from shellfish to chicken. I see it has just won a gold medal at International Wine Challenge Catavinum 2012.

I wouldn’t say that there is much likelihood of any of these first three wines being included in that list of “Vinos Institucionales de D.O.Ca. Rioja”, as they are not distinctively riojan in style, but the fourth wine, Tobía Selección 2008 (80% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 10% Garnacha) brought us firmly into this great wine region, though still on the “new wave” rioja side of things — it is worth noting that the grapes for this wineproceed from seventeen different vineyards in Rioja, highlighting the way that the bodega focuses on sourcing quality grapes from the different rioja areas, and focusing on blending and state of the art winemaking rather than concepts such as “terroir”. Despite its eighteen months in cask and nearly three years in bottle, this wine was if anything a little on the young and nervy side — it has only just been released for sale. It had plenty of structure and good fruit, but just lacked a little fullness and richness in the mouth. Maybe it could have done with being left a while on the glass to open up, the problem with tastings as opposed to bottles over a meal. La Bodega de Alicia has the 2007 in stock, and I look forward to trying that, and the 2008 again in the autumn, maybe. Still, they must be doing something right, as on the day of the tasting Decanter released the results of their Decanter World Wine Awards 2012 at which this wine was awarded a bronze medal.

Finally, we had the bodega’s flagship Tobía Reserva 2006 (90% tempranillo, 10% graciano). Despite its twenty-five months in oak, the emphasis on fruit and body and overall intensity, plus plenty of alcohol as with all the Tobía wines, marked it out as modern in conception and style. Really rather a heady and delicious wine. I see that the 2001, 2004 and 2007 vintages were selected as “Vinos Institucionales de D.O.Ca. Rioja”. This vintage was probably left out to give the rest a chance.

Though one thing did strike me as I was writing this and looking for links to Tobía wines. Namely, begging señor Gallego’s pardon, how relatively few online references and points of sale came up through searches (in the UK I found only Barwell & Jones of the Coe Group, but not much in Spain or elsewhere, either). They are not industrially massive producers, so perhaps their wines are selling through nicely as things stand.

This was an enjoyable and revealing tasting, as so often in La Bodega de Alicia — I wanted to buy a bottle of the rosado and the Selección, but there was an enthusiastic queue at checkout, so I left it for another day. Still, that rush to purchase is not inevitable after tastings, and especially given the elegant way in which Alicia and her team gracefully forebear to urge those attending to get their wallets out.

This event showed us a bodega that is doing interesting things in a personal, consistent and hi-tech style. It is, of course, rioja, and it made me want to do a lot more exploring in the region, old and new, to begin to get properly to grips with it. An enticing challenge.

 

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