Liz Sagues
High, cool and remote: the Cuzcurrita vineyard for Límite Norte white rioja – Credit: Ramón Bilbao.
Everyone knows rioja – or do they? There have certainly been major changes to Britons’ favourite Spanish wine over recent decades. Many of the old, oak-heavy, fruit-limited examples have been replaced by fresher, more modern wines. But much more than that is happening now.
I’ve just taken part in a fascinating tasting of new wines from the furthest extremes of rioja territory, thanks to the innovative approach of Rudolfo Bastida, winemaker at big-brand Ramón Bilbao.
Big in this case certainly is beautiful, giving Bastida the opportunity to experiment in creating wines from grapes little-used in the region, grown in high and remote places with immense potential for offering wines rich in finesse and complexity.
Límite Norte is a 50-50 blend of tempranillo blanco, rare white variant of the familiar red, and maturana blanca, a native planted on only 0.06% of Spain’s vineyard land. Red Límite Sud champions garnacha, long used in rioja but now less than one per cent of the region’s plantings (tempranillo, in contrast, totals more than 96%).
Each is made in the same way, fermented in neutral concrete tanks, before the young wine is split three ways to age for six months in concrete, terracotta amphoras or large French oak barrels. Then the three components are blended and left to marry happily in smaller barrels (six months for the white, 10 for the red) before bottling and further time to develop.
Rudolfo Bastida – Credit: Ramón Bilbao.
What made the tasting so fascinating was that we had the components as well as the final result in our glasses. It was a brilliant way to demonstrate how, even in minimal intervention winemaking, the choice of ageing material has a significant effect – and that the blending of different nascent wines creates something much more than a sum of the parts.
Sadly, you can’t share this experience. But the finished Límite wines – currently 2017 vintage, wonderfully fresh, fragrant, stylish and a true pleasure to drink – are available at the remarkably reasonable price of £20 (greatwine.co.uk, 10% multibuy discount). Production is small still, so buy soon.
Such innovation isn’t limited only to rioja or Ramón Bilbao. At this year’s Wines from Spain tasting I went on a fascinating, enjoyable journey focusing on some lesser-seen grape varieties.
A star discovery was AmbPells Brisat (£17, buycatalanwines.co.uk), aromatic, with stony and stone-fruit flavours and none of the oddness often associated with “orange” wine: this is one, the white grapes fermented on their skins in red-wine style.
It’s one of several tempting garnacha blanca wines made by British winemakers-in-Spain Andy and Ali McLeod, a prime example of the enthusiasts who bring special, unusual wines to UK drinkers. Their full range is available on the buycatalan site. In these hard times the likes of the McLeods and the small businesses that sell theirs and similar wines deserve lots of support.
The first of these ideas to put an unusual sparkle into late summer neatly continues the theme of innovative rioja. Champagne-method wines have been made in the region for ages, but until recently they’ve had to carry the label cava. Now they proudly promote their origin – and Azabache Sparkling Rioja (£20, thenakedgrape.co.uk), made from tempranillo blanco, is a delicate delight. It’s aromatic with flowers, citrus and tropical fruit alongside some yeasty development, and the bottle is so pretty.
Azabache sparkling rioja – Credit: Courtesy of the winemaker

A widely available and deserved challenger in the non-champagne stakes is French crémant, from many classic still-wine regions. One recent pleasure has been Dopff Au Moulin Crémant d’Alsace NV Cuvée Julien (£14, thewinesociety.com), where auxerrois and pinot blanc bring tempting scents, persistent bubbles and mouthfuls of flavour. Julien Dopff created Alsace crémant – this is a fine tribute.
J Laurens Les Graimenous Crémant de Limoux – Credit: Courtesy of the winemaker

Another splendid celebratory wine is J Laurens Les Graimenous Crémant de Limoux 2019 (£17.90, theatreofwine.com), which shows just how good chardonnay-dominated fizz can be from this cool area of Languedoc – it’s super classy with elegant mousse, ripe yet fresh fruit, biscuity elements and long-lingering taste.
Head way down past the Equator, and South Africa’s offering is Cap Classique, again traditional second-fermentation-in-bottle method. Journey’s End Brut Reserve (£22.50, noblegreenwines.co.uk) has a refreshingly tangy and crisp effervescence alongside softer flavours.
Journey's End brut reserve – Credit: Courtesy of the winemaker
There’s great fizz from many other places, too – think New Zealand, Tasmania and northern Italy, for example. But do remember England, whose many excellent sparkling wines are often very fairly priced, given the vagaries of grape yield in our uncertain climate. One I’ve much enjoyed this summer is Oxney Estate Rosé (£28, oxneyestate.com). Appealing red fruit and apple flavours bubble out from a wine that’s an attractive deep pink – and it’s organic.
Oxney Estate Rose – Credit: Courtesy of the winemaker

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