Finca de los Arandinos: Putting a Riojan wine village on the map

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Entrena is a small town south of Logroño.  It’s one of the most important wine villages in the Rioja DOC, with about 700 hectares (1730 acres) of vineyards but it’s never been a place that jumps out at you as far as wine is concerned.  Then along came the owners of several vineyards at the top of a hill with a spectacular view of the Ebro valley.  These guys had a dream:  to put Entrena on the map.

They’ve more than accomplished this with the creation of Finca de los Arandinos, a complex that combines a hotel, spa, restaurant and winery that has recently won a prestigious ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for Accommodation from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Winemaker Eva Valgañón and sales manager Óscar Alegre explained the project and gave a tasting of their wines at a recent event in Logroño sponsored by LA RIOJA, our local newspaper.

Eva and Óscar kicked off the event with a provocative comment: “The DOC Rioja doesn’t make it easy to develop wines from specific towns”. This is a mistake in their view because there are lots of places where good grapes are grown but so far, Rioja has based its model on blends from different parts of the region, or in some cases, wines from a specific subzone such as Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa or Rioja Baja. In Valgañón and Alegre’s opinion, grapes coming from a good place such as a village with a specific terroir are more important than a few places with old vines.  They feel that the soil composition of the Entrena vineyards, with a layer of gravel on top of sand and clay is ideal for producing great wines.

They’re also against one of the sacred principles of government intervention in viticulture:  the concentración parcelaria or vineyard concentration, in which the regional government reapportions vineyard land, so that growers’ properties are contiguous rather than spread out all over the village. This ostensibly allows for more rational farming but has been widely criticized because farmers often have to give up a good vineyard on the other side of town in exchange for a bad one next to their largest holding.

The tasting:

Viero barrel fermented white 2010. 14% abv.  100% viura from vineyards over 50 years old.

Greenish yellow. Lemon drop candy nose, later chamomile notes coming through.  Nice and full on the palate.  I enjoyed the structure and vibrant acidity.

Malacapa red 2011.  14% abv.  Tempranillo, mazuelo and garnacha.

Medium intensity garnet.  A little oak, red and black fruit, iodine.  Good level of acidity on the palate.  A nice young red to sip.

 Finca de los Arandinos crianza 2009

Black cherry.  Austere and mineral on the nose.  High acidity on the palate.  To me it needs a little more time in the bottle.

El Conjuro 2009. 85% tempranillo, 15% garnacha

Intense black cherry.  Jammy fruit, spicy and mineral notes. Good acidity on the palate.  I felt this wine also needed more time in the bottle to develop.

Viero late harvest white.  An experimental wine that isn’t on the market.

Medium straw.  Pencil lead and varnish on the nose.  Mouthfilling with dried wildflowers but again, hints of varnish.  My feeling is that this style has promise and the winery should keep trying.

I really liked the wines for their distinctive character and high acidity but felt that the vintages on display at the tasting needed more time in the bottle.

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My family visited the complex several months ago for lunch at the restaurant, Tierra (Land), that specializes in dishes made with local produce.  We ordered the Tierra Menu for 39 euros plus VAT, that offered a range of starters and main courses, each consisting of a small portion of fish and meat dishes.  We ordered a different dish and split them. Everything was washed down with Viero and Finca de los Arandinos crianza. It was delicious!

Afterwards we were given a guided tour of the hotel and the spa, designed by local architect Javier Arizcuren.   The interior design was created by the Spaniard David Delfín in a minimalist style.  Delfín also designed ten of the hotel’s 14 guest rooms, including a junior suite.  Arizcuren designed four rooms including a junior suite.

The spa, reserved exclusively for guests, features a sauna, Turkish bath, a cyclone shower, hot and cold swimming pools, an aroma shower and a foot massage bath.  Several body treatment and massage programs are available if they’re requested in advance.

Finca de los Arandinos certainly lives up to its reputation and has succeeded in making Entrena a required stop when visiting the Rioja region.

My only complaint is the fact that the website is only in Spanish, but I’m sure the owners will solve that in the near future.

Finca de los Arandinos Bodega/Hotel

Road LR-137 km. 4,6

26375 Entrena (La Rioja)

Tel: +34 941 446 126; Fax: +34 941 446 256

Email: welcome@fincadelosarandinos.com

www.fincadelosarandinos.com

 

 

 

 

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A two-speed Rioja?

adult and childMy tastes in wine have changed over the years.  While I still enjoy a delicate, complex gran reserva once in a while, I feel more and more attracted to young reds because of the undisguised aromas of the grape varieties that they’re made from.  In Rioja, I especially enjoy a good carbonic maceration red, called cosechero here. Sadly I haven’t found many other young red Riojas that I like.  It’s too bad because if I can’t find them in Rioja, those of you who live in the USA, the UK or elsewhere outside of Spain will find it next to impossible.

Rioja produces over 120 million bottles of young red a year, about 40% of the total. My feeling, and I’m sorry to admit it, is that the wineries’ priority lies mainly with crianza and reserva, for several reasons.  First, because an oak-aged Rioja is more profitable than a young wine – the added cost of aging is more than made up for by a higher price.  Second, aged wines have a longer potential shelf life and will cellar better. Third, it’s where Rioja’s competitive advantage lies – not many other Spanish reds actually improve with oak aging. It’s true that some other regions in Spain’s north (especially Ribera del Duero and Toro) make great ageworthy reds, but most reds made here are cheap and cheerful young wines.

I think that  for most Rioja wineries, young reds are positioned to sell high volumes at low prices, trading on the name ‘Rioja’ and allowing the region to sell over 300 million bottles a year.  If Rioja tried to make most of these wines into crianzas and reservas,  our 63,000 hectares (about 155,000 acres) of vineyards would be woefully insufficient.  Why?  Because aged wines are kept in the winery to mature, wineries need an average inventory of three years of sales, given the actual breakdown of sales (45% young, 37% crianza , 16% reserva and 2% gran reserva).

A second reason is that in most cases, wines in each category are slotted into a defined range of prices, much like first, second and third growth Bordeaux, so a young Rioja coming from old vines is not likely to sell successfully at a higher price point.

In addition, the cards are stacked against young reds in the rule book.  Some reds in the ‘sin crianza’ (without oak aging) category are actually aged for a few months in oak to give them more complexity and ageworthiness, but they’re not allowed to mention this on the label.  Some say that this puts them at a disadvantage against ‘semi-crianza’ wines from other regions, especially from Ribera del Duero, whose ‘roble’ (oak) designation allows it to refer to aging for less than the 12 months that crianza requires.

Some winery representatives in the Regulatory Council have expressed an interest in promoting a “two-speed” Rioja, where some wines, presumably young reds, can be produced from higher-yielding vineyards with less stringent rules, while increasing the requirements for crianzas and above.

As I’ve said many times on these pages, there’s never a dull moment here.  The new Regulatory Council and Interprofessional Committee president and committee members that will take charge in March will put on the table this and other issues such as authorizing bag-in-box wines in Rioja, demanding higher prices for grapes, and maintaining the PR budget in the face of shrinking profits for wineries and farmers alike.

My wish for 2013 is for wineries to start producing really tasty young reds.  There’s a good market for them out there.