‘Fortune favors the bold’. This quote from the Latin poet Virgil in the Aeneid is the mission statement that Luis Valentín and Carmen Enciso chose when they left Bodegas Palacio in the late 1990s to found Bodegas Valenciso.
Theirs is an uncommon story. Most of the wineries founded in Rioja after 1970 have their roots in either vineyard holdings or heavy capital investment: grape farmers who decided to build a winery to vinify their production or investors interested in cashing in on Rioja’s increasing international popularity. Luis and Carmen had neither vineyards nor deep pockets, only an idea to create a brand that fulfilled their dream of what a Rioja winery should be.
Luis knew the financial and commercial side of Rioja wine from the inside out as the former finance director and later, managing director of Bodegas Palacio, while Carmen was in charge of communications. When launching Valenciso they fostered a group of private investors, disdaining bank finance, and were finally able to build a winery, but only after creating a brand name, buying wine in bulk and having it bottled by other wineries, and slowly building distribution in Spain and abroad.
Luis added to his experience by taking a year off to study winemaking at the University of Bordeaux, traveling back and forth every week from Rioja.
This to me was an example of the long-term thinking that most people in the wine business preach but sadly don’t practice.
As the new kids on the block, Valenciso knew that in a ferociously competitive marketplace they had to be different. Their strategy was to create a niche brand in three ways: first, making only one wine each vintage – a reserva to take advantage of Rioja’s popularity in the restaurant trade. This also made it easier to get distribution. If Valenciso had offered a full range of white, rosé, young wine, crianza, reserva and gran reserva, most distributors would probably have refused. The third point was to favor elegance over power in their wines, contrary to what wine writers were raving about at the time. Time has proved them right. The best Rioja wineries are beginning to dial back on intensity, returning to elegance and food friendliness. This is a good sign.
Luis gave us three vintages to taste: 2001, 2002 and 2004 (no 2003 was bottled; it was too unbalanced because of the extremely hot summer).
Here are my tasting notes:
2001: 13,5%. Medium ruby. Brilliant in the glass. Spicy, strawberries, tobacco, firm tannins, balanced acidity and a long finish.
2002: 14%. Slightly more intense ruby than the 2001, nose closed at first, dark fruit, higher acidity than 2001, firm tannin but not out of balance. Luis commented that it had been a difficult vintage.
2004: 14,5%. Medium ruby, smoky, mineral, red fruit emerging later. Fruity, smoky, good acidity on the palate.
I really liked all three wines. One thing stood out above everything else: their silky elegance. These are wines that rock with food.
In my opinion, Luis and Carmen are doing everything right. With their knowledge of the wine business as well as classical Latin poetry, Valenciso is well aware that as Virgil wrote over two thousand years ago, if you don’t get it right, ‘facilis descensus averni’ (the way to hell is easy’).
Compañía Bodeguera de Valenciso
26220 Ollauri (La Rioja)
Tel. +34 941 30 47 24; Fax +34 941 30 47 28