Spain, Rioja: Promising 2012, Challenging 2013 and 2014 

 

A new way for training vines à la Hermitage in Rioja?

 

Marcos Eguren from the Eguren family of Sierra Cantabria, San Vicente and Viñedos de Páganos wineries fame was very clear when tasting their wines: "It's easy to present wines from good vintages like 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. But when the time arrives for the 2013s and 2014s, we will see." That pretty much sums up the high level overview of the last few vintages in the huge Rioja appellation. Those vintages represent around 85% of the tasting notes that appear in this article. Of course, there are some of the more traditional houses, mostly López de Heredia but also La Rioja Alta, that release their wines much later and the current vintages are a decade (or two!) older than their peers.

From that very high-level assessment, you need to delve deep into individual zones, producers and wines, as there is too much heterogeneity in such a large and diverse region. If you stay at a high level you don't get a detailed picture and there is need to sort the wheat from the chaff. The long and cool 2013 growing season might have been good for white wines or for warmer terroirs, and there are always people who miss it completely in perfect vintages.

On the commercial side, Rioja is the most popular region for red wines in Spain, and as such is suffering from commercial pressure. You still find suboptimal wines offered at very low prices wearing the Rioja label. When the name of the game should be quality, some are still interested in quantity at lower prices. This creates tension between the low-cost and the high-quality producers. It's exactly the same in all the other popular appellations of origin.

Last year - well, 16 months ago in my first article - I wanted to give an overview of where the appellation was, how the traditional and more modern style of wines seemed to live well together, and to point out how both styles seem to be converging as the best producers look back at viticulture, their soils and their vineyards to produce better wines. The best traditional producers have brushed up and cleaned their wines, and the best modern ones have moderated the ripeness, extraction and oak influence in their wines. There is another category of in-betweens, vignerons or terroirists really taking the best of both worlds. Let's take a look at the names that grabbed my attention this time.

Some Names...

 

Do not overlook the whites from Olivier Rivière. This one matured in a Sherry cask!

 

I saw some impressive collections of 2012s, for some of them their best for years or perhaps ever. These include Benjamín Romeo, Palacios Remondo, Pujanza, Artadi or Olivier Rivière. All the changes at Palacios Remondo are finally paying off and they are back at the top under the guidance of Álvaro Palacios. But the majority of wineries present and sell a diversity of vintages, so it's not easy to see their current status. I tasted some great wines from Marqués de Murrieta (have I told you that I'm excited about their white Castillo de Ygay Gran Reserva making a comeback next year?), CVNE are steadily improving all their ranges, including the more commercial Crianzas (you'll find a heart-stopping vertical of Viña Real from 1933 to 2004 in this same issue) and Remelluri showed a very consistent, improved portfolio - and I have the feeling that the best is yet to come.

 

The higher-altitude vineyard for whites at Remelluri

 

Talking about Remelluri, I was so impressed with the first vintage of Las Beatas from Telmo Rodríguez when I tasted it last year without knowing anything about the wine, that I made a mental note to visit the vineyard. Not only is the vineyard inspirational, it made me think of the hill of Hermitage with their small terraces to manage the steep slope, the remaining old vines and new plantings with the individual pole holding each vine. Both Rodríguez and his partner in the winery, Pablo Eguzkiza, have developed a deep aversion towards trellises. Anyway, it's not only the magical vineyard, but also the fact that they bought an old cellar at Ollauri, one of the most traditional villages of Rioja, a cave dug out of the rock, an old calado. They purchased that cellar to really understand how they worked in the past and to force themselves to work that way. Seeing both vineyard and cellar, I could finally understand how they are able to produce such a magical wine. While walking the old vineyards, Telmo Rodríguez told me something that pretty much sums up their philosophy and approach to wine: "I'd have liked to be a wine producer 100 years ago."

 

The stunning beauty of Las Beatas vineyard is captured in the bottled wine

 

Going back to Las Beatas, a wine that is already a reference for Rioja, I've found the 2012 even better than the initial 2011, with more finesse, more filigree, more subtlety and elegance. Their wines are going from strength to strength, not only in Rioja, but also in the rest of the regions of Spain where they work. They are also improving the wines and the consistency at Remelluri, now that both Telmo and Pablo are back. The effect of changes in wine takes time to show in the bottle (think about the just mentioned Palacios Remondo), and although it's still a work in progress, Remelluri is already on track.

 

Simple and functional, Telmo Rodríguez winery with a twist: the building is covered in barrique staves, but the basket press is made of stainless steel!

 

Bodegas Bilbaínas, one of the classical names from Rioja, which since 1997 has belonged to the Cava giant Grupo Codorníu, seems to be making a real effort to get their range up to speed. They have launched a number of varietal and single-vineyard limited releases under the Vinos Singulares moniker. They also have a great publicity campaign (Llámame Clásico - Call me classic) taking advantage of the hipster/modern appeal for the most traditional/old-styled stuff. Sometimes the most modern is the most classical and sommeliers with tattoos and body piercings are serving the traditional wines from Jerez or Rioja to their customers. Bilbaínas seem to have captured that spirit quite well in their publicity. Kudos to them!

 

Abel Mendoza makes one of the best carbonic maceration reds

 

Abel Mendoza is somehow a special case. He works the vineyards like no other, he's one of the few true vignerons, but he's still somehow scared, and at the winery he plays it safe with the results - often overly oaky wines. I preferred his whites to his reds, but you feel like the wines could easily go one or two steps higher with a little fine-tuning in the cellar. I told him all this one night over a nice collection of bottles from around the world. The fact that he drinks wines from different places is a clear sign of a guy truly interested and deeply in love with wine.

Gómez-Cruzado, one of the old-time neighbors from the famous Barrio de la Estación in Haro, are in the middle of an important transformation and are back as part of the picture they left years ago. I also saw a change in a name that is not that well known but represents a different side of Rioja, a single estate in the province of Burgos, Hacienda El Ternero. It is an oddity in the Rioja appellation, an island in the province of Burgos belonging to the appellation that has recently changed hands and revamped its wine lineup, surprising me with a white and a red. It's a name to watch, an unusual cold terroircapable of producing wines full of character.

 

Rioja from Burgos? You bet!

 

Other names that often fly under the radar are Valenciso, Díez-Caballero, Amézola de la Mora (although with some ups and downs) and even Bodegas de la Marquesa, a winery that has steadily climbed the quality ladder and improved wines that are already very reliable and consistent.

Young Blood

There is something that kind of worries me, because if you look at the list of names above, there are not many new wineries. Most of the ones I mention have been around for decades. In any region you always need new projects, younger people who will eventually take over from the existing ones. Yes, perhaps Rioja is very much about continuity and history and the names remain the same. But still...

 

Tentenublo, the most exciting new project in Rioja

 

When you ask around what's new, most people tell you Abel Mendoza, Olivier Rivière, David Sampedro or Exopto. Those are what people consider new names in Rioja. I was looking for more, those are already established, they have all appeared here before and Abel Mendoza has been going for over 20 years! I wanted really young blood, people that have never featured at The Wine Advocate, new names that might shake Rioja with fresher ideas. I found Tentenublo, in Viñasperi (Lanciego, Álava), which is synonymous with Roberto Oliván, the most ambitious of the new projects and the greatest discovery among the new names. Pedro Balda, Abel Mendoza's neighbor in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, makes very small quantities of unsulfured wines (and quite good at that!), but it was difficult to find more. It's incredible that such a large traditional region does not have younger people, a new generation, sons and daughters of vine growers that become passionate about wine and start producing their own wine, especially if they have vineyards in the family.

 

Wines without added sulfites from Pedro Balda

 

Oscar Alegre, whose wife makes the wines at Finca de Los Arandinos, is making some wine, but he's still not happy with the results and didn't want to show them to me. I heard about a young Australian (or is it South African?) who has just landed somewhere in Rioja Baja but has not really started yet. After much digging, and out of sheer coincidence, I found Vinos Subterráneos, Vinos en Voz Baja, Sierra de Toloño, Malaspiedras from Compañon Arrieta whose winemaker is coincidentally Roberto Oliván, as they are also in the same village, and a promising varietal Mazuelo from a new tiny venture in Quel in Rioja Baja called Arizcuren. Artuke was tasted last time around, and their wines seem to be getting better; they need to fine-tune the oak a little, but they are on a good path. They showed me an impressive new wine from a vineyard they have been recovering for years, La Perdida, which includes the field blend, even the ignored white Calagraño or Cagazal. And yes, Olivier Rivière and Tom Puyaubert (Exopto) are making better wines than ever. Watch out for 2012 Ganko and 2012 Cuvée Paula, respectively, from them. I also tasted the wines by Launa, which make their debut in these pages, modern reds without excesses. So I'm afraid there are not a lot of new names in Rioja. OK, so grapes and vintages, right?

The Ugly Duckling

 

Old Garnacha vines are again valued

 

Garnacha has been, for a very long time, the ugly duckling of Rioja. Once maligned but secretly used, its recovery is now quite clear and consolidated. A variety that was said to provide over-alcoholic and overripe wines prone to oxidation has finally turned into a beautiful swan and a competitive advantage for those who have it. It has moved from hiding to a place where people brag about it. Well, both extremes are a bit silly and now everybody claims to have Garnacha, which to an extent can be true as it was more widespread in the appellation that many thought or wanted to admit. Still, it's not a magical formula. There are places well suited to Garnacha and others that are not. Some vintages are better for the Mediterranean variety. Whatever it is, it's a welcome alternative to the worrying hegemony of Tempranillo. For years Graciano was the apple of Rioja's eye but it is still more talked about than planted. And Mazuelo is largely ignored and keeps losing ground despite the potential I believe it has in the region: it's one of the main components of the blends at Marqués de Murrieta where they have identified that it adds extra dimension and freshness to their wines.

 

Stony vineyards at the Ygay estate from Marqués de Murrieta

 

When it comes to the "new" red varieties, surprisingly the pyrazines and green aromas have miraculously disappeared from most of the Maturana Tinta bottlings. It looks like most people have learned how to bring this Bordeaux grape to ripeness in Rioja and the wines show much better balance than in the past. And I haven't heard anything about Maturana Parda and Monastel for years. They aren't even featured on the Appellation of Origin's web page.

Moving to whites, there is a general concern about new plantings of Verdejo, as many fear when all those new vines come into production there will be a surplus of unwanted white grapes as they will never be more than a component of cheap blends. The poor image the wines of Rueda (where Verdejo originates) are developing in the quality wine circles does not help either. In Rioja the name of the white game is still called Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasía Riojana. I tasted very few whites that included other varieties, and to tell the truth, I didn't find anything to write home about.

Vintage, what vintage?

Young vigneron Pedro Balda provided the kind of vintage weather report I like, especially for vintages I have already written about more extensively (refer to issue 210 from December 2013 for further information):

2008: Cool, balanced

2009: Quite warm, ripe

2010: Very balanced, great potential, Atlantic

2011: Quite warm and ripe

Tasting 2012 extensively - although some top wines will take years to be released - confirmed what I suspected last year. Despite the dry, warm growing season the wines are much better than anticipated. They show better freshness than 2011, more in line with 2010. The explanation I have heard, not only there but also in other regions, goes as follows: the extreme drought and heat during the summer meant that at one point the plants got stressed and closed down their machinery to protect their lives. They stopped producing sugar, they didn't continue ripening the grapes or burning acidity, so alcohol levels are lower and freshness higher than expected. Tom Puyaubert from Exopto told me the year favored Garnacha in Rioja Baja, and the Mediterranean character of the vintage clearly suits the grape and zone. That explanation fits with what I found in my glass: some great 2012 wines from that part of Rioja. 2012 is also one of the few years when Graciano has ripened fully. Overall, I'd say I favor 2012 over 2011, but there are some notable exceptions as you can see in the wines tasted.

On paper, 2013 is truly catastrophic. "We had all the problems you can imagine in the vineyards," Jorge Muga told me. "And in some plots twice!" We're talking mildew, hail, frost, botrytis, you name it! It was a cold year, with rain, frost and a massive hailstorm on September 6 that destroyed some vineyards like Contino. A late harvest after a slow ripening is how it all ended. It is an uneven vintage to say the least. Re-read the words of Marcos Eguren in the first paragraph.

When queried about 2013, the aforementioned Balda talks about, "Freshness par excellence, the most Atlantic year I've met." He only works half a hectare of old vines in a ripe, warm zone of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, so his vineyard behaves better in a cold vintage. 2013 was a difficult year, but a vintage for those who work well in the vineyards. Even though there was a huge crop, sorting was vital and the most conscientious growers produced a lot less wine and discarded a relevant percentage of grapes. What they harvested was lower in alcohol and higher in acidity. I think in 2013 whites are better than reds, and Rioja Baja is more favored and homogeneous than Rioja Alta and Alavesa. It's not a great year for most Graciano that remained green and never really ripened. The official overall qualification of the vintage by the Consejo Regulador was Buena, merely good, a third category after Excelente and Muy Buena, so in reality it might be considered as a euphemism to say bad.

 

Patatas a la Riojana: potatoes, red pepper and chorizo. As simple as that!

 

Although some were euphoric about the quality of the young 2014 reds, it might simply be a phenomenon we've seen before. After a really difficult vintage people are very happy even if the following one is only marginally better. So there was praise for 1998 just because 1997 was so difficult, and the same happened with 1993 after 1992. And to be honest, I'd struggle to tell you which was the best vintage out of any of those pairs. Some of the most realistic and quality-conscious people I talked to, consider 2014 as even more challenging than 2013. It's still too early to say, and I only tasted a bunch or early-bottled minor wines, but they were not great.

Rioja Today

Wineries on their way up transcend vintages and make better wine each year, despite natural condition. Those that have lost it make bad wines in most vintages and sometimes they get one right. Honestly, there is still too much uninteresting wine out there wearing the appellation labels. I feel like I've tasted too many wines, and I wonder if one of these years I should focus exclusively on the top names and give them more time and more space here. Well, that's always a doubt I have.

 

Proprietor Vicente Dalmau Cebrian made amazing renovations of the historical Ygay Castle at Marqués de Murrieta

 

What are the issues then? We're not talking about the sea of thin, diluted, anonymous, bland, industrial wines here; we're only talking about quality wines. For those, oak abuse seems to be receding, although there are still too many bottles ruined by wood, bad or too much (or both!), but I think there are less and less every year. For me the main problem in the wineries today is Brett. I still find too many bottles with animal aromas reminiscent of our good old friend (well, enemy), Brett.

But the main problem lies not in the wineries, but in the vineyards: the pending issue is still viticulture. There's still so much work to do in the vineyards that it can feel overwhelming; so many mistakes are still made every day, wrong decisions often derived from the separation between winemaking and viticulture. One guy grows grapes and another one makes wine. And Jorge Muga told me something that would make for a headline with impact. "Land consolidation is the phylloxera of this century."

 

2006 Prado Enea: Riojan greatness at superb prices

 

Let's take a minute to explain what land consolidation means. Please, take a seat. You might fall flat on your back otherwise. Years of inheritance, subsistence grape-growing, small holdings and polyculture mean winegrowers often own and work a myriad of small plots of old, head-pruned, dry-farmed, low-yielding vines. As those are hard to work and the price paid for grapes is quite low - and sometimes irrespective of quality - villages are offering to consolidate all of each owner's vines in a new plot. That includes ripping out the old vines and planting new ones, all of them in one single parcel of land, often using higher yielding clones, trellises and drip irrigation: more convenient, less work for the farmer and more grapes produced, therefore much better... NOT! Well, chaps, that is what has been happening for years/decades now. Good, old, quality vines are destroyed and replaced with young mediocre ones, often subsidized (did I hear fully paid?) by the local government and/or the EU. Yep, as you read it, as if we were still in the middle of the industrial revolution: let's industrialize our vineyards. I know we're too idealistic and do not think about the 16,000 people who make a living out of growing grapes in Rioja. Yes, but they could make an even better living with a quality mindset.

The Artadi Affair

Despite the risk of sounding like a broken record (an expression that will soon not work anymore with the new all-digital generation), I have to go on again about the struggles of the appellation system in Spain. On December 28, 2014, which is the equivalent in Spain to April 1, Fools Day, the local newspaper Diario de La Rioja published an extended interview and article with Juan Carlos López de la Calle from Artadi, where the shocking headline was that Artadi was leaving Rioja's Appellation of Origin! Almost a thermonuclear bomb towards the flotation line of the appellations system as such. My initial thought was - and I was not the only one - "what a bad joke to publish on Fool's Day! They could surely have found a lighter subject to make the annual joke in the newspaper."

But when the news spread and appeared again the day after, and the day after that and in more and more media we all realized; it was not a Fool's Day joke. It was true! I've written quite extensively in the recent past about the issues with Spain's appellation system (scratch, scratch!) and Rioja, being the most popular appellation for reds in Spain, is not immune to it. On the contrary, the more popular an appellation is, the more prone to suffering the problems. The one-size-has-to-fit-all approach, the lack of hierarchy, be it plots, villages or producers and the pretension that the common brand of the appellation's name is a guarantee of quality is a complete fallacy. Denying the obvious need for differentiation, for different speeds or categories, the need for hierarchy, the need to be more precise about origin is simply the ostrich's approach of burying one's head in the sand. The old approach has had its time, but that time is over.

 

Great 2012s from Artadi. Their last release as Rioja?

 

When I met with Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle and his son Carlos from Artadi to taste the wines, he was getting off the phone with some journalists and seemed quite angry. "No, I'm not going to tell you anything, I'm fed up. You can quote whatever," was the last phrase he said. When he hung up, I looked at him enquiringly. "We will leave the Rioja appellation before 31st of January 2015." That's all he said. The issue is that they will not be able to use the word Rioja or the name of any villages for Rioja on any of their labels.

There is one delicate matter I need to touch related to this. When all of this regulation is for the quality of wine, for improvements in the perception of an appellation and for the classification and hierarchy of the best terroirs, then I'm all for it. But if you throw in political reasons and you make a mix of wine/politics/nationalism then I don't want to hear about it. I'm not saying this is the case here, but there is a clear perception from many that the fact that Rioja covers parts of different political regions is one of the reasons behind this. To make things clear, the Alavesa part of Rioja is in the province of Álava, and Álava is part of the Basque Country. If there is a minimal suspicion that there is a trace of the Basque independence movement mixed into this wine issue, then I don't want to know anything about it. Never mix politics, religion or football with anything, including wine!

So Artadi has opened Pandora's box, but that's nothing new. There's been tension for years. Large industrial wineries control the appellation of origin and the small producers don't feel represented. I was caught in the crossfire between some small producers and the appellation's president after a tasting at one of the leading wine bars at the popular Calle Laurel in Logroño, La Tavina. "Why can't we put the name of our village on our labels?" "Why can't we use the name of the vineyard when we produce a single-vineyard wine?" "Your Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva mantra is outdated." These were some of the questions and statements thrown against the poor president during what was really an amicable exchange that showed the reality of what is happening in most appellations.

 

Terraced vineyards at the Ygay estate

 

All this has forced the Consejo Regulador to make a move. José Luis Lapuente, longtime director there, told me, "all this has been under study for some time now, and we think we don't even have to change the rules, as village wines are already defined by the EU, and it will be a matter of just extending the European directives in Rioja. In practical terms it's exactly the same as we have today with the three subzones, Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, but on a much smaller scale."

The local newspaper confirmed the news on February 11 while I was there tasting extensively: the Regulatory Council is working on a proposal to develop village wines, vinos de pueblo, from 144 subzones within Rioja. I think that's good news, and even though it will not solve all the issues, at least it's a starting point.

Tasting, Tasting, Tasting...

 

2012 Contador, a great vintage that took me back to 2000. And a clear statement: 100% cork!

 

2012 produced some great wines and I was extremely happy with the collection presented by Benjamín Romeo, including a classical 2009 Gran Reserva and versions of Contador and Cueva del Contador that transported me to his early wines from the turn of the century. But there was one disturbing thing related to one of his wines that provides a good opportunity for reflection on wine tasting in general. After tasting the 2012 Contador and liking it very much, I took a second bottle for lunch at Alameda, a superb restaurant in the village of Fuenmayor some 20 kilometers away from Logroño and a recommended visit for anyone in Rioja. Even though it was not as polished as the 2009 Gran Reserva Carmen it drank beautifully; it just needs a little more time, the Gran Reserva is four years older. A couple of weeks later, I was served the 2012 Contador blind and I didn't recognize the wine at all: it was very oaky, concentrated and a bit harsh. I didn't even put it in Rioja. I thought it was a Tempranillo from Toro or Ribera del Duero, and I was not the only one. At that blind tasting there were other well-known wines that showed very differently and people who knew them well didn't recognize them. A couple of days later, someone mentioned that that blind tasting was on a root day.

 

Menestra, to-die-for vegetable stew at the Alameda restaurant in Fuenmayor

 

Nowadays, with the low wine consumption per capita in Spain, nobody wants to hear about root days, flower days and days when wines don't show well. This only gives people excuses to think they can only drink wine one day in four! I think it's the last thing we need. But obviously, different bottles tasted/drunk in different circumstances show differently. Whether it's due to the moon's cycle, the atmospheric pressure, the weather, the environment, your own personal mood and a million other things, most probably a complex combination of them all, it is clear that these things have an effect on how we perceive wines. Therefore, wine tasting is not a science, it's a subjective exercise, and what we provide are opinions, nothing scientific, that need to be taken as such. That's why it makes me laugh when I see a wine guide allotting pseudo-scientific scores ranging from 9.78 to 9.74 to its top-10 scoring wines! C'mon, scores are a hierarchy, but let's make it simpler! When I'm asked, I explain that a wine I score 93 is simply because I like it better than another one I score 92. I have certain wines I know quite well that in my mind represent a 95-point wine, another one that is an archetype for a 93 (and very few and really outstanding ones that represent 100 points) and so on and so forth. For some, this is difficult to understand but the difference between a 9.76 and a 9.75? Yes, I know, it's the same but what is the point in pretending wine tasting is so accurate we can provide such precise scores?

 

Small plots of old, head-pruned vines of mixed varieties (including whites), the tradition of Rioja

 

Anyway, that's just an excuse to say that tasting is subjective and influenced by many circumstances and that we all should take scores as what they are, the most objective opinion possible within the subjectivity of wine scoring. Having said that, I hope to have the chance to encounter the 2012 Contador many times through the years and to see how the wine evolves, as those experiences will be new data points toward the more accurate assessment of the wine, which by the way, is nothing short of extraordinary. But the ones who only tasted it blind with me on that root day might think otherwise. Such is life. And now that I'm musing about wine tasting, I need to go onto another regrettable matter.

The Annoying Issue of Doctored Samples

Unfortunately, it seems like there is another constant in my articles other than the problems with the appellation of origin system: that of doctored samples. Lying is a very shortsighted, very short-term strategy. I'm fed up with finding submitted samples with clear signs of having been manipulated and the wine not being what the label says, either vintage or place, the cork showing signs of being too recent, etc. It's nerve-wracking, makes us all waste time and it is something I don't really understand. If I have doubts, I publish nothing.

This time one winery in Rioja was caught red-handed and they had no alternative but to admit they had concocted some samples specifically for my tasting. You won't find their name in these pages and they shall never again feature in any of my articles, but don't worry, you're not missing anything; nobody other than them will realize they are not here. Conscious, serious quality producers would never do that. Some others have probably done similar stuff and I think I have realized in most if not in all cases; if they continue to send or show me doctored samples they will be excluded forever. Some might have gone past my controls and made it into the article this time, but I'll probably detect them next time. OK, you know who you are so please, stop doing that, it will get you nowhere in the mid- and long-term. Moreover, it will be counterproductive when it's all discovered, counterproductive for the producer, the appellation, the country, me. If you're not confident with your wine, don't send it to me. Who are you trying to fool, your customers or me?

2015 Snapshot

 

A snowstorm in February 2015 guaranteed plenty of snow-covered Rioja vineyard photos for years to come

 

2015 will be remembered because of one of the largest snowstorms of recent years (I don't think there has been anything like that since 1999). Luckily enough I had planned to be there the week after and the one before, and I didn't suffer the problems. The main roads were soon cleared, but in smaller villages people were trapped in their homes, not able to take their cars out of their garages and that storm created problems with frozen water pipes that burst. Even one full week of clear weather and sun later I found myself knee-deep in the snow in the higher altitude vineyards of Remelluri. There will be many photos from Rioja under snow from February 2015, when I tasted the majority of wines included in this article. Most of the wines were bottled and there are only a handful of unfinished samples that show a range of scores.

To close this article and give a picture of a moving target, I think it's now time to sort out the names of people that are working well and the ones lagging behind. It's easy to see this if you look at my tasting notes, but here is a summary of how I see the Rioja landscape today, my 2015 snapshot.

 

The original deeds for the creation of the Marqués de Murrieta winery back in 1877

 

My top 5 of the traditional names:        My top 5 of the more recent ones:

CVNE/Viña Real                                    Artadi
López de Heredia                                   Benjamín Romeo - Contador
La Rioja Alta                                          Remírez de Ganuza
Marqués de Murrieta                              Telmo Rodríguez
Muga                                                    Viñedos de Páganos/Sierra Cantabria

The young guns:                                  Up and coming:

Abel Mendoza                                       Artuke
Exopto                                                 DSG
Finca la Emperatriz                               Pedro Balda
Olivier Rivière                                      Tentenublo
Pujanza                                               Vinos Subterráneos

Still lagging behind:

Berberana
Bodegas de la Real Divisa/Marqués de Legarda
Bodegas Riojanas
Marqués de Riscal
Paternina

Honestly, I was tempted to include Finca Allende in the last list above, as I think Miguel Ángel de Gregorio is crossing the red line and taking too many risks. His wines are often too ripe, extracted and oaked and getting inconsistent. I find myself regularly liking his whites better than his reds. But there are so many of the classical names that are really lagging behind that he got excluded from the list by the skin of his teeth, but he should be more careful in forthcoming vintages.