The Future Lies in the Past
The evolution of this project at Remelluri lies in the exploration of two rivaling yet sometimes complementary, core concepts to the origins of Spanish wine, and more specifically, to the Rioja discipline: one of place and one of time. The concept of place is one that, until quite recently, has been relegated to the outer limits of the Rioja discussion, in favor of the dominance of brand and appellation identity. We are told not to worry about the villages where the grapes come from; rather, focus on the wine being a “Rioja,” either Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. How long was the wine in the barrel, and what kind of barrels were they? What percentage of American oak does the wine contain? How much tempranillo? These questions lead the drinker directly away from the vineyard to a path which specifically concerns the concepts of time and élevage and their effects on the wine. They are the results of a process, and that process is time. This is the concept from which Remelluri Blanco stood in stark contrast, carrying the flag for specific places, made with as little process as possible.
One can draw a straight line through Rioja directly to the famous fortified wines of Jerez, the Sherries that reigned supreme during the years of Spanish expansion of trade and shipping throughout the world. At this time, when boats were the primary source of transportation, Rioja was a relative backwater of a wine region with powerful, young wines still made in the villages from which they came. The vineyards were still small holdings, co-planted with varieties that have since disappeared, and tempranillo was one of many players in the wines from the area. The arrival of modern Rioja came as a direct result of the arrival of technology in the form of trains and subsequent transcontinental railroads linking remote areas of Spain, which were previously cut off from one another. The train station in Haro changed everything in Rioja, allowing for the connection of vineyards from far away villages. Shortly after that, came the arrival of phylloxera to the vineyards of the world and a crisis in the vineyards of France, and with it, the incredible demand for a steady and consistent product to supply thirsty clients.
Enterprising wine companies sprang up in Rioja close to transportation, near the railway station. The blueprint for scaling up production was already present in the famous wines of Jerez, the most prevalent and successful wine in Spain’s history. The DNA for fractional blending, as well as the process of blending diverse components from various sources, followed by extended aging periods to achieve a consistent product, was in the blood of the Spanish wine industry. The prevailing style for white wines during this time period in Rioja was based on the popularity of the finos and manzanillas of Jerez. The technology was there to age the wines for very long periods in barrels that were not always filled to the top. Many barrels developed the characteristic veil of flor yeasts, which require younger, nutrient-rich wine added to feed the flor and continue the process. The resulting wines were increasingly more stable for transport, and therefore a more reliable investment for the big Rioja shippers of the day.
The concept of fractional blending and the subsequent modernization of Rioja during this time relied on the core concept of time as one of the principal mechanisms for this style of wine production. The exploration of the effects of time on wine leads us to a fork in the path and Telmo to a new iteration of the Remelluri Blanco story.
Inspired by this history, as well as the solera work being done in Champagne by Jacques Selosse, Telmo has been separating parcels of grapes once destined for the Blanco program. Instead, he ages them much longer, exploring the process of time. The solera project starts with all of the white grapes crushed and fermented together in large wood foudres, with skins intact and then pressed after fermentation. The resulting wine goes into a fist pass through a solera of barrels Telmo acquired from his friends at the Lopez de Heredia winery, which adds a rancio note and gives the wine great acidic structure and backbone. From there, the wine is put into a concrete egg of solera wines he started in 2010.
This resulting time-based Remelluri Blanco iteration is very different from his traditional terroir-focussed, place-based masterpiece that brought blanco Riojas onto the world stage. With all other factors being constant, one Remelluri Blanco is a snapshot of place and vintage, and the other is of that same place but seen through the lens of time and the results of a long élevage.
Simultaneously tasting both wines leaves the drinker with a complete picture of the path that viticulture in the region has followed. They are also both incredibly delicious and rare. At the end of the day, the wines have to taste incredible, and in that pursuit, Remelluri has never fallen short.
This relentless spirit of the scholarly exploration of wine and culture is perfectly at home at Remelluri. The estate presents a timeless environment where one can discover not only the history of the northern Iberian peninsula but also the future of Spanish viticulture through inspiration from the past. Remelluri is alive, and the future is bright in the hands of Telmo and Amaia Rodríguez.