Olivier Rivière and Germán Blanco are both outsiders, people who have neither family history in wine nor any historic link with the region where they work. Possibly because of this, both have a very different take on a well-known wine region of Spain. Olivier is a real outsider, from Cognac in France (he makes a wine called Gabacho, the slang Spanish term for a Frenchman, like our ‘frog’). He worked with two highly regarded biodynamic estates, Elian da Ros in Côtes du Marmandais and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, before moving to Spain where he spent two years with Telmo Rodriguez, one of the most influential and respected winemakers in Spain over the last two decades. ‘I stayed on because I liked the place and it was an opportunity. It was not my original dream, but I really like it here. It is a great place to make wine’, says Rivière. Unable to afford vineyards, he began by purchasing small quantities of grapes from three growers in each of the three sub regions of Rioja. In 2009 he managed to buy some vineyards in Arlanza, a little-known region north west of Rioja, where he found very old vines – from the 1930’s, he says, followed by more in 2013. As an outsider and foreigner it was not easy to buy at first, but he says, ‘notoriety helps now’.
Rivière works in a small winery in Rioja Baja. The Rayas Uva is 50% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha and 10% Graciano, all from Rioja Baja. This may sound like the typical Rioja blend but the wine is anything but. It is pale in colour, with lifted aromas, ethereal silky cherry fruits and a wonderful freshness; none of those vanilla flavours from American oak or weediness associated with so much bog standard Rioja. I found the Gabacho a little more difficult; made from 100% Garnacha from Rioja Baja and Alta, this was tight and compact, with good firm concentrated strawberry fruit and good length. Needs time but I found it hard to read. I had no such difficulty with the Covarrubias 2011 from DO Arlanda outside Rioja. This was a seriously good wine, very fine with superb red fruits and a wonderful long dry finish. I am sure it will evolve further for a few years. I was also persuaded to try his white Rioja, a style of wine that rarely impresses me. The Jequitiba 2013, made from Malvasia, was excellent, refreshing and full of delicious white fruits finishing dry. Not cheap, but a very good wine.
When I met German Blanco, he was full of enthusiasm for rugby, having been to his first ever match (Ireland vs. England) the day before. Blanco had no family history in wine. His mother was an art teacher, his father a clothes manufacturer. He comes from the Asturias in the north of Spain, a region noted for cider rather than wine. He did spend some of his childhood in Bierzo living with his grandmother, and now makes a wine in her honour in the region. He says the interest in wine came from a love of art – ‘ grapes are an art material to be moulded’ he says. His wine experience started in the Madrid branch of luxury wine shop chain Lavinia, where he worked while studying enology in the university. After working with various wineries in La Mancha, Bierzo and Ribera del Duero, he formed an unusual alliance with a local family. They owned ten hectares of 36 year-old vines in one of the best parts of Ribera del Duero, seven kilometres north of Aranda. However, they were unable to make or sell their wine. ‘Now’ says Germán, ‘we are three people, José-Luis, his dad and me. Together we grow the grapes, make the wine and sell it. We make a great team.’ Blanco tend to harvest earlier than most. ‘It is vital to pick before sugar levels start to rise too rapidly’, he says. The wines are made in a mix of open-top fermenters, stainless steel and amphorae. They do not fine or filter and add a small dose of sulphur at bottling. ‘In the boom time, people planted vines everywhere’ argues Germán. ‘It is easy to make good basic Ribera del Duero, but great wine is far more difficult.’ The Quinta Milú wines are marked by a delicious freshness and minerality, with little obvious new oak. The basic Quinta Milú is one of my favourite wines, as is another Germán Blanco wine, the Perra Gorda, made in a region in the hills above Bierzo in northwest Spain. This is on honour of his grandmother. The top Quinta Milú wines are excellent, including the La Cometa mentioned below.
Quinta Milú 2014, Ribera del Duero
The 2014 is a great follow-on from the 2013; fresh, brim-full of vibrant dark cherry fruits and virtually no tannins at all.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Ennis (SCR); Green Man Wines, Terenure; Listons, Camden Street; Red Island, Skerries; 64Wine, Glasthule; Drinkstore, Manor Street; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Blackrock Cellar; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Clontarf Wines; The Black Pig, Donnybrook.
Quinta Milú La Cometa 2012
Some new oak on the nose, but full of firm ripe dark fruits on the palate – damsons and sour cherries, with cleansing minerality and a dry tannic finish. Excellent wine.
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; 64Wine, Glasthule; Green Man Wines, Terenure; The Black Pig, Donnybrook.
Rayos Uva 2013, D.O.C. Rioja
Fabulous fragrant fresh red fruits with a real elegance; streets ahead of most Rioja at this price.
Stockists: Black Pig, Donnybrook; Blackrock Cellar; 64Wine, Galsthule; Sweeneys, Glasnevin; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Ennis (SCR); Clontarf Wines.
Viñas del Cadastro 2011, D.O. Arlanza
Concentrated with very fine linear dark fruits, structured tannins and excellent length. Impeccably made wine that would benefit from an hour’s decanting.
Stockists: 64Wine, Glasthule; Black Pig, Donnybrook; Clontarf Wines.