Two from Ontanon

Hello friends. When we jumped into imports last August, our second offering was a very popular one, focused on library releases from Bodegas Ontanon in Rioja. Of the four wines we offered that day, two have just seen new parcels arrive in the Seattle market. The oldest and youngest are gone, but for the two middle children, we have another chance to access mature Rioja magic.

As I mentioned in that initial offering, I love library wines, and we’ll continue to offer them as frequently as we can get our hands on them. The reason they’re great: because no one is more uniquely suited to age wines for us than the wineries themselves. For those of us without cellars (or patience), it can be difficult to find chances to taste mature wines, so library offerings are unusual treats.

Ontanon, as you may recall, is a fifth-generation winery in Rioja baja that holds 620 acres of vineyards in the Sierra Yerga Mountains outside of Quel (see approximate location here). The vast majority of their grapes are Tempranillo, but they have a small amount of Graciano that they blend in for color, structure, and overall oomph.

These wines were a surprise to me. I didn’t expect to see additional parcels land in Seattle. They seem to be little mayflies, blinking in and out of existence quickly. So let’s enjoy them for their ephemeral nature; let’s enjoy them while they’re here:

2001 Ontanon Rioja Gran Reserva

In the United States, if you see “Reserve” on a bottle of wine, it means… absolutely nothing. There are no regulations around the usage of that word. That is not the case for Spanish wine. In Rioja, for a wine to get the Reserva label means it has been aged for at least one year in oak and at least three years overall (between oak and bottle). Gran Reserva means at least two years in oak, plus at least three years in bottle; so at least five years total aging.

This is a Gran Reserva, so it saw the prescribed three years in oak and two in bottle (of course now we’re looking at twelve years past vintage, so likely three in barrel and nine in bottle). The blend is 95/5 Tempranillo/Graciano, and this Gran Reserva comes entirely from La Pasada Vineyard, planted in 1979 at altitudes between 2300 and 2600ft. Here we begin to see the aging curve taking hold, as subtleties of mushroom and sweet pipe tobacco add complexity to a core of raspberry/red cherry fruit and spice. This is in the early days of peak drinking, for my palate.

1995 Ontanon Rioja Reserva

Note: this is a Reserva, not a Gran Reserva, so likely saw less time in barrel.

Now 17 years past vintage, it is a wine to show that Rioja can age in ways that seem to combine old Bordeaux and old Burgundy (at prices that are a fraction of either of those regions). Now the mushroom and tobacco leaf are out at the fore, the fruit beginning to fade to a grace note of dried raspberry and dried cherry. “Earthy” and “savory” appear multiple times in my tasting note for this one. I’d put it in the early-middle stage of its peak drinking window. It’s absolutely lovely right now.

Please limit order requests to 18 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive at the warehouse in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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