Vina Ijalba-The Quintessential Rioja wine.

The Ijalba Family

Readers of my blog may be familiar with the wines of this emblematic Riojano producer. I had a chance to taste many of their wines since the creation of this blog. So today’s post is like a visit to and old friend.If you are new to my page, you are about to discover some pretty darn unique wines. If you are a regular, my post will be like a review

My first encounter with Viña Ijalba was about 15 years ago. Back in 2002, I was a wine rookie living in Madrid looking for a top quality Rioja producer with a price range to fit in my student allowance. In an obscure tasting of countless Rioja wines at the UEC ( Union Espanola de Catadores), the Ijalba wines really stood out for their clarity of fruit, elegance, freshness and discrete use of oak.

The winery was founded in 1975 and currently has 80 hectares under their wing, farmed organically. Ijalba has indeed, gained much acclaim both within Spain and internationally for their incredible result with organic viticulture, as well as their expertise of obscure varietals. These wines, almost in extinction are amongst the few modern Riojas that contineue to impress me with their balance and style, without sacrificing Rioja “personality”. The winery was the first Rioja winery to convert to organics, and a peculiarity  for the region, is that all grapes used for the wines are 100% estate-grown.

Ijalba contiues to  set the tone for environmental awareness in the region, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and environmental certification for the winery.  Originally, the vineyards were all planted in abandoned  quarries, which justify the remarkable minerality they are endowed with, especially their bolder reds and, in particular, after some bottle age. The estate’s other distinction is the championing of the less-known varieties of Rioja such as the two Maturanas  and Graciano.

Wines available at the SAQ:

Viña Ijalba 2014 Graciano. SAQ # 10360261. $21.95.

Ijalba’s mission statement is to resurrect the traditional grapes of Rioja, and this wine  from their  20 hectare Graciano vineyard (the largest in the world) has been the flagship since they premiered the varietal bottling in 1995. Growers renounced  from Graciano because of its problematic low yields, but the freshness  and mindblowing perfume of the grape are an important part of what makes Rioja blends distinctive. 2011 brought to this wine an unexpectedly lush texture and seductive blackberry flavour.  Compared to the 2012, the 2014 is heftier with well endowed woody aromas.  In the mouth, it has that trademark clarity of fruit with a dark seduction on the palate.

 

This wine was outstanding with a dish of homemade smoked ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce. The bold structure of the wine was molding the acidity of the sauce in the palate while the minerality of the Graciano was a dandy complement smoothing out the pungent flavours of the ravioli.

Ijalba Reserva 2012. SAQ # 00478743. $21.35

As always a careful blend of the oldest tempranillo and Graciano from Ijalba. Very spicy nose bringint to mind balsamic notes with a mix of red and black morello cherries. In the palate, powerful  but with  a firm structure, good acidity to keep in checks the wine.

 

Simply, a match made in heaven. You may think that a glass of white will work best. But I find that the spices and bold flavors of the seafood in the paella go hand to hand with the aromatic notes of the wine. In addition, the crispy texture of the rice, subtle the rough edges of the wine.

Graciano, giving good grace to the wines of Rioja

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In my mind, Rioja is to Spain as Chianti is to Italy. If you asked most people to quickly name one wine from Spain and one from Italy, I would bet that a large majority would instantly name those iconic regions, and for good reason. Both areas have a well established wine making history and are not very available in almost every worldwide shop that sells wine, but good bottles can be had for reasonable prices as well. They both also feature what might be considered each country’s “signature grape:” Tempranillo in Spain and Sangiovese in Italy.

Of course, the analogy isn’t perfect. Chianti has much stricter regulations regarding what grapes in what proportions can go into its wines and still be eligible for the Chianti classification (there is also no white Chianti while Rioja allows for white wine production). There are regulations in Rioja also, but only for the allowed grape varieties, not the proportions (and even then I believe that wineries can apply for special permission to include grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon). What this means is that it is possible to end up with a 100% varietal bottling from any of the approved red wine grapes within Rioja: Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache in France), Mazuelo and Graciano. Those first two grapes are familiar enough, and Mazeulo is the local term for Carignan, a grape grown in many regions all over the world, which brings us to Graciano.

Graciano is a late budding grape variety with natural low yields and ripens much later than Tempranillo. It is very rare to see it bottled as a 100% varietal. It is originary from Rioja and Navarra. In Rioja, there are 395 ha which constitutes 0.7% of the vineyard planted in Rioja.

Although a minor player in Rioja blends, Graciano is used to provide colour and aroma to blended Rioja red wines. Graciano was once very widely grown in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France, where it was known as Monastel ( which can lead to confusion since it is a spanish synonym for Mourvedre).

Perhaps why this grape is not planted more widely, it is because it is so so economically viable. Graciano is famous for low-yielding and susceptible to downy mildew, which means it needs more attention in the vineyards. It’s a very sound economic decision with on a large-scale. If two vines take up the same amount of space in the vineyard but one produces considerably more fruit and doesn’t require as much maintenance, then why would you bother with the one you have to spend more money maintaining and get fewer bottles of wine from?

Fortunately, the fine wine boom of the past twenty years has encouraged more producers to devote more time and resources to cultivating Graciano. Many producers are letting Graciano be the sole star of their wines, producing 100% varietal Graciano wines. Recently, I was able to review the  Graciano from Ijalba.

Ijalba is one of the most important producers in Rioja. They are one of the few producers that I know that specialize in the bottling of 100% Graciano varietal. They have also have been pioneers in  the standard for environmental awareness in and around Rioja, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and philosophy for the winery. Ijalba has also been actively engaged in the resurrection of minor grape varieties indigenous to Rioja in conjuction with other organisms such as the University of Rioja and  C.I.D.A. Rioja.

Ijalba’s entire vineyards are planted on abandoned opencast mines, which have been restored from an environmental point of view, having received several national and European prizes for the restoration undergone. As a consequence of the location of the vineyard, the soils are poor and limy, with little depth. The vineyards are planted on the sites of these former quarries, which have poor rocky soils. In consequence, the vine’s roots have to grow very deep to find water and nourishment.

Viña Ijalba owns around 70 Hectares (175 acres) of vineyards which are in a number of parcels surrounding Logroño, in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, and Valle del Najerilla. These vineyards supply 100 % of the production of the bodega. The grapes planted have been matched according to the soil type and micro-climate of each vineyard site.

ijalba

Photo: saq.com

Ijalba Graciano 2012. Code SAQ :  10360261. $21.55

Dark purple colour. Complex aromas of red currants with iron and earthy nuances such as tamari soya, wasabi, dry blood oranges and hummus. Full body, with a good acidity. Structured and long in the palate with retronasal flavors reminding me of black currants and violets. Chewy fruit profile with beefy but mouth-watering tannins. Long aftertaste that remind of leather and other barnyard nuances. Drinking beautifully know but can be aged for 10 years. 95\100

Ijalba is represented in Quebec by Charton Hobbs. The sample reviewed was given by Hobbs for review.