Rioja Revelations

Rioja, internationally considered the flagship of Spain's multitude of wine regions, is like many wine regions of the world - home to several interpretations of its famous juice. There are the truly traditional producers (such as Lopez de Heredia), alongside massive juggernauts advocating the old mantra of “Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva", and fiercely independent rebels railing against what could be called “Brand Rioja”.

The latter camp are the most interesting to a (fiercely independent) retailer like Metrovino. David Sampedro Gil is one of the feisty types we enjoy and we are proud to be the only Alberta source for his wines.

Bhilar is the Basque name of the village of Elvillar and David is a strong advocate of “vino de pueblo”. These are wines of specific villages or “pueblos", reflecting the philosophy and pride of place akin to the villages of Burgundy. Elvillar in Rioja Alavesa is David’s place of birth, and in addition to celebrating the village of itself, David is proud of its affinity with the Graciano grape. This variety, often relegated to a 3rd or 4th string role in Rioja, is given a particular focus at Bodegas Bhilar. David even offers us the rare chance to taste a 100% Graciano in his “Làgrimas” bottling.

Bodegas Bhilar is pure Metrovino: family-owned, bio-dynamically and ethically farmed with wines of distinct character and superb quality. The red wines seem to embody David: well-muscled (but fit rather than brawny), lithe and energetic, hedonistic and pensively intelligent; “franc” would be a great French word for him and his wines - honest and genuine. His whites are a perfect balance of innovation and tradition (the “Finca Hapa” is a true revelation and must be experienced).

Rather than fall into the trap of simplistic ageing distinctions in this benchmark Spanish region, people like David (along with Abel Mendoza and Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri, to name a few) are innervating Rioja. Red blends of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano for reds, Viura, Garnacha Blanco for white wines, as well as other local grape varieties will also include a focus on village and vineyard much more in the future, and many growers who historically sold grapes and wines to the "Big Guys" will seek to express Rioja and its diversity rather than obsess over the ageing requirements of the old guard.

It is truly a beautiful thing when one is reminded (speaking of myself especially) that discovery, by definition, is never-ending.

Wines from Bodegas Bhilar:

Bhilar Rioja Tinto 2016 $28
Bhilar Rioja Blanco 2017 $28
Phinca Encanto Rufete 2014 $42
Lágrimas de Graciano Rioja 2017 $24
Phinca Hapa Rioja Blanco 2016 $46