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A Different View of Rioja

The beautiful Rioja region of Spain is most known for heavily-oaked wines designed for long-aging, but there is another side to Rioja that takes a more terroir-focused approach. Winemakers focus on the geology of their vineyards, experiment with native varietals that are naturally suited to the conditions, and plant at higher altitudes where cooler weather can bring out more nuance and structure. Rioja has long been associated with great wines, and we think there's even more to be discovered. This week we have two great wines from Rioja that showcase what excites us about the region -- they both use indigenous varietals, sustainable practices, and have taken to heart the role of geology in creating wines that have an authentic sense of place.

Dionisio Ruiz, the now 86-year-old founder of the Ijalba Estate, is highly regarded in Rioja for having the vision to create sustainable wines often using lesser championed varietals, such as this Maturana Blanca -- in fact Ijalba is one of only two producers growing this in the entire world! His vineyards are planted in old quarry beds, and you can taste the geology in the glass -- the gravel adds structure while the clay imparts richness. It is a unique wine, which you would expect of something so rare, yet it is easy to love. Great minerals, delicate notes of white flowers, and soft stone fruits all blend so beautifully. We drank this with a pan-fried cod over white Spanish beans, and it was superb.


Our red this week is a mouthwatering blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and a small bit of Graciano for depth and spiciness. Javier Palacios (no relation to the famous Palacios winemaking family) started his career in the meat industry -- Chorizo to be exact-- and eventually shifted his focus to wine after a trip to Burgundy that opened his eyes to his love of wine. The 30-hectar Proelio estate focuses on high-altitude vineyards and indigenous varietals. He grows sustainably, using horse and plow, and tailors his approach depending on the needs of each plot. Many of the grapes come from old historic vines that are worked with great care.

This is a wonderfully lifted wine with notes of marionberry, cherry wood, and an integrated oak presence. The Proelio Estate only releases their wines when they feel they have hit a sweet-spot with age. This 2017 vintage is their current release, and it is drinking spectacularly. We would sip this with a spiced lamb stew or Moroccan-style Tagine.

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