Some say there are no coincidences… but this morning we attended a tasting of Spanish wines at Ely Wine Bar and noticed something that sparked our interest: the wines came from four different regions, all among Spain’s most prestigious and all beginning with the letter R: Rueda, Rias Baixas, Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Add to that the fact that the winery, Ramon Bilbao, shares the initial and, just to make our case, notice that our host’s name was Rodolfo.
Rodolfo Bastida, general and technical director at Ramon Bilbao, took us on a road trip across these four remarkable regions and while the capital R might simply be a fortuitous occurrence, there is something else they have in common that has nothing to do with luck: they all have clarity in the style they aim to express and passionate professionals working both on the field and at the wineries.
Below you’ll find the highlights of the tasting; they might not change your thoughts about coincidences, but they will definitively open you mind about the diversity of Spanish wines.
Rodolfo began by pointing out how often “people tend to see Spain as a country for red wines, but it is also a great source of white wines.” The region of Rueda, within the community of Castilla y León, is the place to go for refreshing Verdejo, a grape that thrives in the DO and which offers wines with “acidity yet creamy, with a slightly bitter finish that makes them one of the few wines to match certain vegetarian dishes.”
Ramon Bilbao Verdejo
The greenness of fresh cut grass (Verdejo comes from verde, Spanish for green) along aromas of citrus fruit and crisp nectarines.
Medium bodied and with moderate acidity, it feels fresh and fruity with a pleasant and persistent end.
Galicia’s distinctive DO Rias Baixas is quite popular in Ireland where the thirst for Albariño gets stronger as temperatures go up. Rodolfo explains that the Zamora family, current owner of Ramon Bilbao (the bodega exists since 1934 and was acquired by them in the early nineties), has a winery named Mar de Frades in Rias Baixas.
One thing Rodolfo points about about Rias Baixas is the importance of women in the regions’ wine industry. While “men traditionally work the sea, women tend to be the decision makers of the family and the ones that work with wine.” Mar de Frades’ winemaker, Paula Fandiño, is one of them, and she elaborates wines with grapes from approximately 150 small local producers in the Salnés Valley within the DO. While it’s not currently available in Ireland, we learned that Paula has developed the world’s first sparkling Albariño which, just as the one we tried on this occasion, is packed in a singular bright blue bottle.
Mar de Frades Albariño
If you like the idea of a holiday in Spain, you’re going to like this. It’s filled with aromas of ripe lemon and pineapple as well as an elegant presence of white flowers.
On the palate, it flows refreshing and igniting your wish for food -ideally seafood!- with a balance between juicy fruit and a subtle briney minerality.
A household name at this point and a regular presence in shelves and wine menus across Ireland, Ribera del Duero has gone from up and coming to well established in the last couple of decades. It’s also located in Castilla y León, and takes its name from the Duero river.
Rodolfo presented Cruz de Alba, the Zamora’s family label from this DO. “To make biodynamic wines, you really need to believe in biodynamics”, he says, before talking about the winery’s head, Sergio Ramos, a man who not only works biodynamically, he lives his life that way. “As a technical person sometimes it’s hard to find the explanations, but some people do have a special sensibility”, Rodolfo acknowledges. Science or fiction, Sergio’s work has earned his wines global recognition including gold at the prestigious Decanter World Awards.
Cruz de Alba Tempranillo
Known as Tinto Fino in the DO, Tempranillo shows a thicker skin and goes up a level in intensity. This powerful red is quite mineral with a ripe, red cherry note leading on the fruit front.
Tannins are persistent and restrained, and flavours included what the nose promised as well as cocoa nibs, toast and a delicate earthiness.
Spain’s most famous wine region and Ramon Bilbao’s original terroir. Located in the north of Spain and touched by the rivers Ebro and Oja (Rioja = Rio Oja = Oja River, now talk about coincidences, right?), it’s one of the world’s top lands for Tempranillo, often blended with other local varieties. Rodolfo mentions that there is also white and rosé Rioja, although at Bodegas Bilbao they prefer to focus on the reds “and if we are going to make a white wine, then we have Rueda or Rias Baixas, were white wines are the speciality.”
He recalls how Rioja came to be known as a premium wine region: “Back in the 19th century, after Bordeaux was destroyed by the phylloxera”, Rioja’s proximity and accessibility (Haro’s train station made trade between Rioja and Bordeaux very efficient) motivated winemakers to produce “Bordeaux style blends”, which were held in high regard. However, once Bordeux was rebuilt, there wasn’t a market for “Bordeaux style” wiens from Spain so, fortunately, Rioja producers eventually found their own voice.
Nowadays “Rioja offers some of the best value fine wines” and as Rodolfo points out, “unlike other top bottles, when a bottle of Rioja reaches the market, it’s ready to drink.”
Ramon Bilbao Crianza
Ripe red cherries graced by a playful touch of toast and spice. This is a vibrant Tempranillo varietal that feels fresh and youthful.
Flavours of cinnamon and fresh blackberries with a hint of vanilla tease with medium intensity and moderate tannins. A pleasant go-to red to casually sip in between tapas.
Ramon Bilbao Reserva
Mostly Tempranillo, blended with a small proportion of Graciano and Mazuelo, this wine shows the intensity and focus of a young adult; ready to face the world but also capable of benefiting from two years’ experience.
Darker fruit, ripe blackberries and coffee, with concentrated tannins and nutmeg notes. It’s one you want to bring to a barbecue or pair with a rich dish.
Ramon Bilbao Viñedos de Altura
Half Tempranillo, half Garnacha (Grenache, for the Francophiles, although… this is Spanish wine so Garnacha it is!), this wine comes from grapes planted at high altitudes, where milder temperatures translate in the self control and acidity that warmer areas simply can’t teach.
Elegant and dominated by juicy red berries and herbs, with medium strength tannins and a delicate touch of black pepper.
Ramon Bilbao Edición Limitada
Accurately named Limited Edition, this Tempranillo is made from what the makers consider to be their best grapes. Aged for 14 months in new oak and then in bottle for 10 months, it’s not about how long it stays in the cellar but about showcasing this carefully selected fruit at its best.
My personal favourite from the tasting, smooth, balanced and with a berrific start and a spicy finish. It’s velvet in a glass.
Ramon Bilbao Mirto
Introduced as the winery’s top, this refined Rioja comes from old Tempranillo vines and offers the complexity that a wine needs to become the topic of conversation, instead of just its fuel.
Blackberry bushes, black cherry preserve and a refreshing minty touch star, while cocoa, espresso and sweet spices enhance it from the background.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.