Hello friends. About four years ago (August 30, 2012 to be precise), we sent out our second-ever import offer (up until August ’12, Full Pull offered exclusively northwest wines). The winery: Bodegas Ontanon in Rioja Baja. And that was no accident. Rioja generally, and Ontanon specifically, offer some of the finest values in the world when it comes to cellared wine.
Back in August 2012, we offered Ontanon’s Rioja Reserva from the 2004 vintage. Now, four years later, can you guess what vintage we have on offer today?
[Note: the 2005 Reserva will be the main event today, but see the bottom of the offer for a lovely white and rosé from Ontanon, perfect late-summer wines, and, as usual, well-priced.]
Ontanon (located here) is a fifth-generation winery that holds 620 acres of vineyards in Rioja Baja’s Sierra Yerga Mountains (check out this beautifully-produced 2-minute video for an introduction to the family and the vineyard land). Much of Rioja’s traditional reputation has been built on Rioja Alta, with Baja juice often used as a way to plump up lean/mean Alta. But a lot of that blending juice is from the Baja flatlands. Ontanon’s holdings, on the other hand, are on the hillsides of the Sierra Yerga (“the alta of the baja,” as one astute winery rep recently told me), so they’re able to produce balanced, thrilling wines that straddle the line between old world and new.
And they’ve only been doing it since the 1980s. Before that they sold all their grapes to other producers (doubtless many of them in Rioja Alta). Thank goodness for us someone in the family saw the potential of these vineyards to go into bottle on their own. To wit, this 2005 comes almost entirely (95%) from Tempranillo grown at a single Ontanon holding – La Pasada – at 2500ft in elevation (the remaining 5% is Graciano grown at 2000ft La Montesa Vineyard).
Now 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). But Ontanon goes well beyond that here. This saw two years in a mix of used and new French and American barrels, and has now seen another eight-plus years in bottle. Only in Spain!
Better still: 2005 was an outstanding vintage. After 2005, it wasn’t until 2010 that the Rioja Consejo Regulador gave another vintage its strongest “Excellent” rating. And yeah, that excellence shows in the bottle too. This one begins with a maturing Rioja nose: cherry fruit (some fresh, some dried), earthy mushroom, leather, and loads of exotic spice (orange peel, star anise). The balanced (13% listed alc) palate possesses a wonderful earthy heart, surrounded by swirling notes of fruit, leaf, and spice. There’s plenty of structure – bright acid, toothsome medium-grained tannin – to indicate many years left in the tank for this one, and the long, chamomile-inflected finish only underscores the point. This is a marvel of a wine, offering depth, complexity, and real character, all for a $20 tag.
Wine Enthusiast (Michael Schachner): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”
Viura is the main white grape of Rioja. This is 100% Viura, and it’s single-vineyard, grown on the clay-loam soils of Ontanon’s Siete Caminos at 1200ft elevation. It spends 5 months in used American barrels before going to bottle, and it offers a compelling mix of lemon oil, white peach, and mineral. Dry, spicy, and minerally, this has just-right texture – roundness matched with bright acidity, and emerging complexity from the extra years of bottle age.
A lovely, well-priced, wackadoodle rosé, made by cofermenting Viura (75%) with Tempranillo (25%). It pours into the glass pale salmon (and more on the orange side of salmon than pink) and just pulsates across the palate with clean, rippin’ acid carrying notes of berry and mineral and spice. Ontanon makes two rosés, and this is the one that usually isn’t exported, but instead is the bistro rosé poured all over Spain for domestic consumption. For my palate, it’s the far superior of the two; I can see why the Spaniards love it so much. That serious cleaning acid, that mouthwatering finish: it makes for a wine that can complement all manner of food.
First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.