By choosing to support native red grapes rather than internationally popular varietals, Rioja has taken the road less traveled, but it’s a strategy that’s paying off. Maturana is one of the red varieties most recently approved, and a few years after the first vines were planted, several brands have been launched. Last night I had the chance to taste two maturana wines produced by Bodegas Pedro Martínez Alesanco, a 100% maturana and a blend.
Maturana was one of the many native-to-Rioja varietals on the verge of extinction studied by professors Fernando Martínez de Toda and Juan Carlos Sancha of the University of La Rioja. Following a rigorous selection process and several years of political wrangling in the Rioja Regulatory Council and the Ministry of Agriculture, maturana was approved in 2007.
Gonzalo Ortiz, the 87 year old former winemaker at AGE and Berberana, who still owns a winemaking consultancy service with his son Gonzalo (Bodegas Valdemar) and daughter, invited several of his friends to an informal tasting last night at our local bar, the Monterrey, in Logroño. Gonzalo is proud to talk about his role in the rescue process of maturana, which began with the discovery of several vines in a vineyard in Navarrete which were first studied as an R&D project at Berberana, where, if my memory serves me, Martínez de Toda was working.
One of the Ortiz’ consulting clients is Bodegas Pedro Martínez Alesanco in Badarán (incidentally the town where Martínez de Toda was born) in Rioja Alta. Martínez took a liking to maturana and Ortiz has helped him develop it, both as a single varietal wine and as part of a blend. We tasted both.
The first wine was Nada que Ver (‘Nothing to do’ in English because the wine has nothing to do with any other Rioja). A 100% maturana, crianza 2009. 13,5% alcohol. Intense black cherry. Wild fruit character – I thought of zinfandel – with a floral touch. Great body and structure with firm tannins on the palate. I liked it A LOT!
The second wine was Pedro Martínez Alesanco reserva ‘Selección’ made with 40% maturana, 30% tempranillo and 30% garnacha. It was vinified in 500-liter wood tanks and later aged in barrique for 18 months, followed by 20 months in bottle before release.
Intense black cherry. Dark fruit and spices, more delicate than the 100% maturana. Good balance, firm tannins. I liked it too.
Several other producers have launched Riojas with maturana. As far as I know, they are Bodegas Valdemar, Viña Ijalba (where Juan Carlos Sancha was managing director and winemaker for many years) and Ad Libitum, Sancha’s own winery in Baños de Río Tobía, not far from Badarán.
In a recent interview, Juan Carlos Sancha offered his opinion about maturana: “Character (it’s unique), original (from Rioja), great structure, color and acidity, small cluster and grapes and resistance to plagues. A real current and future grape on its own and an ideal complement to tempranillo, offering in my opinion, a lot more than cabernet sauvignon to Rioja.”
So far, maturana has been promoted chiefly by its discoverers Sancha, Martínez de Toda and the Ortiz family with the help of Pedro Martínez Alesanco. But more followers are sure to come!