Ξ July 24th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Tasting Notes, Wine News, Wineries |
My local wine warehouse, Spanish Spirit, invited me to a tasting recently to introduce their new line of Spanish wines from Bodegas Heredad Ugarte, based in Vitoria-Logroño near Laguardia in the Rioja Alavesa region. Presenting the wines was Maier Rico-Salinas, Export Manager for the Bodegas, and during the evening I managed to ask her a few questions and get a feel for the company and what they do, as well as trying the wines and some delicious Chorizo, ham and cheese provided by Spanish Spirit’s founder, Oliver Ojikutu.
Rioja Alavesa is the smallest and most Northern of the three Rioja areas, the other two being Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja) and is culturally Basque, with the geography of the Toloño mountain range to the southern Ebro valley providing a unique micro-climate with high temperature variations between hot day and cold night, the condensation created by such variation essential to provide water in an area where irrigation is banned under DOC regulations.
Don Amancio Ugarte started wine production in 1870 and in 1957 his grandson, Anastasio Jesús Victorino Eguren Ugarte (Victorino), founded Bodegas Heredad Ugarte, building a new winery in Laguardia in 1989. Maier highlighted these 3 years in the family history and described the now 74 year old Victorino as a “character” who dug the 2km of underground caves on which the impressive winery sits (the company website has good interactive panoramic views). His two daughters, Mercedes and Asunción play an active role in the family business and the company actually has two ranges – the main one under the La Rioja DOC and a second which produces two labels (Reinares and Mercedes Eguren) under the Vino de la Tierra de Castilla classification. These VdT Castilla wines use grapes purchased from La Mancha topped up with excess grapes from the companies own 115 hectares of Tempranillo, Malvasia and Viura vines that don’t make it into the Rioja wine.
Bodegas Ugarte produces about 700,000 bottles a year (Maier said they had capacity for nearly 1 million but choose not to go so high) and export nearly 40% of its wine (although I’ve read elsewhere it may be lower than this) – mainly to Germany with the U.K. and U.S. (mostly East Coast) each getting a lesser portion. This is similar to export trends for Spanish Wines in general with Germany being the biggest export market, the U.K. taking a respectable share and, although lagging behind, the US is on the up in recent years. The winery is run under an ethos of sustainable development and “putting the law of the five Rs into practice: reduce, reuse, repair, recover and recycle”.
Onto the wines, and first up were the Reinares and Mercedes Eguren (named for Victorino’s daughter who also designed the labels). Maier confirmed that the Eguren range was aimed primarily at the U.S. market, consisting of mainly single varietals in a New World style.
First was the Reinares Vendimia 2007 Blanco, 100% Viura, half from the Rioja vineyards. This had a clear nose of pear with a light start, nice mid-palate going fast into a very dry and bitter finish. It was a touch weak and the bitterness overpowered the promising start.
This was followed by the Mercedes Eguren 2007 Verdejo, a grape more famous in the neighbouring Rueda region. This had a floral but very light nose, not as aromatic as the Viura but with a creamier taste, less dry and a hint of pear – more enjoyable than the Blanco. As we moved onto the 2007 Mercedes Eguren Sauvignon Blanc Oliver commented that this is the first non-Spanish varietal he’s ever carried! Fitting in with the modern style of the range the grapes (from Albacete in La Mancha) are unoaked producing a very typical Sauvignon Blanc nose and style, not too bad, but nothing unique and I’d rather go to New Zealand or Chile for this variety.
Next to the 2007 Mercedes Eguren Chardonnay, the 2nd non-Spanish variety for Oliver! An unoaked Chardonnay with a fruity nose and a very dry, mineral taste and a long finish. This wine was very surprising, reminiscent of a white Burgundy, having an Old World style and noticeable minerality, definitely the best white of the evening. Before we moved onto the reds we had a palate cleansing Reinares Vendimia 2007 Rosado. This 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha is made from the unpressed free-run juice and made a delicious dry drink with a strawberry cream nose, to be added to the list of excellent Rosados Spanish Spirit has on offer.
Things became more serious as we went red with Reinares Vendimia 2007 Tinto, 100% Tempranillo with half of the grapes from the Rioja vineyards and half from La Mancha. 3 months in American Oak Barriques have given it a rich, herby nose – in fact I’d have sworn there was some Garnacha in there. A medium Light wine with oak tannins at the front of the mouth, easy drinking – could have done with a touch less acidity and a little more structure, but very nice nonetheless. We finished with VdT Castilla on the Mercedes Eguren 2007 Shiraz Tempranillo, a blend that spends 6 months in American oak and has a deep rich nose, good depth of colour and richness in the mouth – another enjoyable, easy drinking wine.
The evening came to a close on the DOC Rioja trio of Tinto, Crianza and Reserva (Oliver had started slicing his Serrano Ham at this point and the other assorted cheese and meat selection made a great accompaniment for the wines). The 2006 Ugarte Tinto Cosecha is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha which has spent 6 months in American oak. A soft raspberry nose precedes a well balanced wine with moderate complexity and a light finish. This was good preparation for the Heredad Ugarte 2005 Crianza, 15 months in oak turning the 92% Tempranillo and 8% Garnacha into a very rich wine with good tannins, still slightly furry, and some mocha flavour – an extremely well made wine.
The final wine of the night was the Dominio de Ugarte 2003 Reserva, 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano. This has been in oak for at least 12 months (the website suggests 20) and then 22 months of bottle aging before release to give a full-flavoured “big” wine with good complexity and tannins. While the Reserva probably has the longest aging potential of the range I didn’t think it had as much elegance as the Crianza, which was, for me, by far the best red of the night and a guaranteed future member of my cellar!
I had an enjoyable evening tasting the range and talking to Maier, who was looking forward to some vacation time on the back of a lot of recent travelling (I know that feeling). I’m certain I’ll be visiting Oliver in the near future to top up my Spanish section of the cellar and three or four of the Heredad Ugarte range will now be added to the choices I have.