Three from Ontanon

Hello friends. Has it really been since November that we last offered anything from Rioja? Uh, my bad. We’re jumping back into Rioja today with a handful of wines from a producer that is well-loved by our list members: Bodegas Ontanon.

Ontanon 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. We’ve previously focused on their marvelous library wines, and today we’re going to focus more on accessibly-priced current releases (maybe with one little library treat).

2010 Ontanon Rioja Crianza
Seriously, is there anyplace like Rioja when it comes to value? This is a 90/10 Tempranillo/Graciano blend, and the Tempranillo all comes from a single vineyard, La Montesa, that is – wait for it – 40 years old. It spent a year in a near-equal combo of French and American oak barrels and then another year in bottle before release.Furthermore, 2010 was a strong vintage in Rioja. Their governing board rates each vintage, and as you can see, 2010 was the first Excellent-rated vintage since 2005 (as a former math major, I had to laugh at the fact that their lowest possible rating is “Average”; does not compute!).

You can taste that vintage quality in this Crianza to be sure. The fruit intensity and palate weight are noticeable right away. Those of you who have tried the Ontanon bottles from the ‘90s and early ‘00s know where these wines eventually arrive, but man, there is real joy in tasting them in all their boisterous youth. The nose is very much Rioja, both in the fruit tones (black cherry paired with leafy notes someplace between tobacco leaf and birch beer) and in the lavish barrel swaddling (woodsmoke, cocoa powder, mounds bar). In the mouth, this has rich fruit (13.5% listed alc) paired with just the right amount of citrus-peel acidity.

I think of Ontanon as a tweener; not super old-school lean/austere like Lopez de Heredia or La Rioja Alta, not super new-school gloopy oak and alc. They occupy a lovely, balanced spot right in the middle, perfect recruiters to the pleasures of honest Rioja.

2012 Ontanon Vetiver Rioja Blanco

We had a rare treat in the warehouse recently: the chance to taste two vintages of Ontanon’s white 100% Viura separated by four years. What intellectual/sensual fun! And fortunately, there’s enough of both wines to offer the same opportunity to our list members. Both wines come from the same single vineyard; both spent six months in used barrel and another six months in bottle before release. The dominant difference between them is age.

The 2012 is all freshness and light, with gorgeous floral topnotes of orange blossom floating above a core of tangerine and guava and mineral. Bone dry and nervy in the mouth, this drinks almost like a dry German Riesling, all crushed rock and fruit. There is real mineral cut here, a terrific sense of dry extract, and above all, mouthwatering citric acidity. A fine example of young Viura’s charms.

2008 Ontanon Vetiver Rioja Blanco

How about old Viura? Those of you who have had Lopez de Heredia’s long-aged whites know how haunting this grape can become with time and oxidation in barrel and bottle. When I tasted this, my first thought was “baby Lopez.” Of course those Lopez whites start at $45 and go up from there.

While I was thinking baby Lopez, Pat was thinking Chablis, and there’s something to be said for that too. With extra bottle age, this has picked up a real flintiness more common to that region. It beautifully complements the peach and honeysuckle, the oxidative notes of almond and fruitcake. In the mouth, the texture is picking up weight and a lovely waxiness, and the flavors are just-right unusual; notes like candied lemon, and dried peach, and exotic spice.

I know I said above that there’s enough of both whites to support an offer, but in the case of this library white, it’s just barely enough. I don’t expect reorder opportunities on this one.

The Crianza and 2012 Bianco are first come first served up to 12 bottles each. For the library Bianco, let’s limit order requests to 3 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. All three wines should arrive 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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