Bodega Lanzaga (Telmo Rodriguez)

Rioja Alavesa, Rioja, Spain

“Rioja was always a field blend” -Telmo Rodriguez

Telmo Rodriguez first burst onto the American wine scene in the early 1990's, as the face of Remelluri, his family’s winery in the Rioja Alavesa. Remelluri was the first winery in Rioja to utilize new French oak barrels and to eschew the use of the traditional nomenclature; Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The wines were a sensation at the time, quickly catching the attention of the notable wine critics of the day. Whilst working at Remelluri, Pablo noticed that most of the dramatic vineyards in the area, the old vines on precipitously steep parcels and terraces, planted to local varieties, had all but been abandoned and forgotten.  In 1994, Telmo, along with his partner and friend, Pablo Eguzkiza, began Comapania de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez, a project intended to identify and restore ancient, indigenous varieties in top vineyards throughout Spain.  The philosophy was simple: to recover some of the country’s formerly great, abandoned vineyards and focus exclusively on native varieties. They now produce wine in nine regions across Spain: Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Rueda, Cigales, Valdeorras, Cebreros, Alicante and Málaga. We are proud to represent Telmo and Pablo’s extraordinary Rioja project, Bodega Lanzaga.

In 1999, Telmo and Pablo bought a cool, dark 17th century bodega in Oullari, a tiny village 7 km south of Haro. It’s a tiny twin-chamber affair which holds maybe 30 barrels. Backed into a little mountain, it is fresh and clean-smelling (albeit carpeted with black mold) and ages wines underground at a constant 12 degrees. Here, Telmo and Pablo have attempted to “re-understand how Rioja was made” pre-phylloxera, pre-chemicals, pre-machines. The original Rioja yeast strains live on here and are employed to make wines by hand – gravity-fed, using 3 large old foudres and taking 12 months to go through malolactic fermentation. Oullari was home to Altos Lanzaga until the 2014 harvest, but is now dedicated to the special vineyard projects ‘El Tabuérniga’ and ‘Las Beatas’, which grow nearby. Since the early 1990s, they have attempted to move beyond the limits of 20th century practice; increasingly this involves deeply historical revisions. It would be a poor mistake to tag such cultural historians with any label such as "modern." We tend to think of what they're doing as pre-traditional, that is to say, what existed in Rioja prior to the arrival of the large traditional estates in the 1890s. 

Bodega Lanzaga now consists of 19 hectares of organically farmed vineyards split between the villages of Lanciego (15 ha.) and Labastida (4 ha.). Telmo's goal is to recreate the vineyards of 150 years ago, where 50 varieties would be planted together.  All new plantings are planted exclusively to bush trained vines and are planted to a variety of strains of Tempranillo and Garnacha as well as ancient cultivars, such as Viura, Moscatel, Maturana, Blanca Roja and Gran Negro. These are true field blends, what Telmo considers the "oldest expression of the culture-  It is an intuitive approach," planted to both white and red varieties. All of the wines are fermented with local yeast strains that exist in the cellar.

Telmo and Pablo’s Riojas

Along with Remelluri, Telmo and Pablo have established three site-specific projects in Rioja:

  • Since 1998, they have worked on ‘el Monte’ – a single hilltop adjacent to the Basque village Lanciego (or Lantziego in Basque), 20 minutes north of Logroño. Here, where Mediterranean and Atlantic Rioja meet, they make the village trilogy of LZ, Lanzaga, and El Velado and La Estrada, two special vineyard wines which replace the Altos Lanzaga cuvee as of the 2014 vintage.
  • Also in Lanciego, Telmo and Pablo organize a ‘Cosecheros’ wine, representing the growers of Lantziego. As well as strengthening the village economy, ‘Corriente’ re-constructs a deeply historical Rioja, a view of the past over-written by big company agribusiness and faceless, placeless industrial Reserva wines. 
  • West across the valley, above Labastida in very cold Atlantic soils looking down on Haro, they are also making two special Cru wines, ‘Las Beatas’, which had its first release from the 2011 harvest, now joined by ‘el Tabuérniga’ (first release 2014). These are pure terroir wines, representing historical vineyards in the most natural manner possible.

For a good recent interview with Telmo Rodriguez, see John Szabo, MS's article in the National Post.


Our Selections

The Wines of Lanciego

Situated at the base of Sierra de Cantabria, where the Mediterranean and Atlantic climates meet, the village of Lanciego has the profile that Telmo and Pablo have wanted to show for years, a story they wanted to tell and taste.  Since 1998, when they bottled and made their first vintage in Lanciego, they have only continued to learn from the village, the vineyards and the grapes. Above all, they have learned from those who came before them; they are their directors, their guides. Which varieties, long forgotten, did they use in their field blends? How did they plant their vineyards - at what density and on what scale?, And how did they ferment and age their wine?… such are the questions being asked.  Now, with the current vintages, Pablo and Telmo want to share their answers. Their work is not complete, of course - learning is a continual process - but they believe the elements are all there, maturing, becoming something exceptional. LZ, Lanzaga, and the single vineyard wines, El Velado and La Estrada, are reflections of the remarkable taste of this village in Rioja, the next great wine making region to “re-discover”.

Bodega Lanzaga 'LZ' Rioja Tinto 2016

LZ (pronounced el-zed) Rioja is a tribute to the village grape growers of the 1920s. Telmo and Pablo love to imagine how they made wine back then; fermenting it with no cultivated yeasts in big, raw cement tanks, pressing it, racking once, then keeping the wine in the same concrete tanks for nine months until the next harvest.

A field blend of certified biodynamic young and old vines Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and other cultivars from estate fruit vineyards around the village of Lanciego, planted to cool clay and calcareous soils at between 450 and 700 meters in elevation.

This is a wine that truly punches above its category; featuring spiced cranberry and floral notes on the nose, a round, full palate with excellent tannin/acid balance. The palate is medium in body, lissome, fruity, earthy and remarkably deep. The purity of fruit is exceptional.

 

Bodega Lanzaga 'Lanzaga' Rioja Tinto 2012

Lanzaga is the backbone of the Lanciego project, the identity, the purest expression of their work. Made entirely with biodynamic grapes from some almost 30 plots that Pablo and Telmo work at between 450 and 700 meters in elevation from bush vines in Atalaya, Majadales, Arroyo la Losa, Pasocastillo and Soto vineyards in the cool Lanciego zone. From flat, shallow, stony, calcareous and silty textured sandstone soils with low fertility and low water retention capacity. A blend of roughly 85% Tempranillo, with the balance Garnacha, Graciano, and a mix of other grapes.

Lanzaga brings together all the elements of their way of work; bush pruning, field blend, organic viticulture, concrete fermentation, aging in foudres and barrels of different size and origin, and a limited, modest-sized production. The result is a serious and sophisticated wine that ages wonderfully. A richer and more complex expression of the village than LZ, Lanzaga is a Rioja wine with atrue sense of place.

“The 2012 Lanzaga shows the character of the year, but comes through as fresher and better balanced than the already impressive 2011. This blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano is sourced from their 14 hectares of organically farmed, head-pruned vineyards in the village of Lanciego. It fermented in 6,000-kilo cement vats with indigenous yeasts, and matured in a combination of 1,500- and 2,500-liter foudres and 225-liter barriques for some 14 months. The nose is elegant, subtle and balanced, with ripe fruit without excess and nicely integrated oak. The palate shows nice concentration and power keeping the poise and elegance, with good balance, fine tannins and moderate acidity. Nice combination of elegance and power. 93 Points" - Luis Gutierrez, The Wine Advocate #226, 8/30/16

 
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Bodega Lanzaga 'Corriente' Rioja Tinto 2015

At the beginning of last century, cosecheros or growers from Rioja Alavesa usually produced a village wine called ‘Rioja Corriente’: common wine, young but honest, for everyday drinking, leaving “Riojas Selectos” for special occasions. 

From the left bank of the Ebro river, Corriente is another tribute to the past. Rioja Corriente was the daily or common wine of the area; a wine for everyday drinking, typically from younger vines or old vines fruit that didn’t make the top cuvees.

Telmo and Pablo now reproduce the style with bush-vine fruit from six local cosecheros (growers) in the Lanciego municipality. Many of these are old vineyards with a natural mix of Garnacha, Graciano and even some white vines among the Tempranillo.

Corriente is made using no cultivated yeasts in raw concrete and aged in a mix of barrel and foudre for a year. As an exercise in resurrecting history, Corriente is an example of how lovely ‘regular’ Rioja may have been in the late 19th century.

Bodega Lanzaga 'El Velado' Rioja Tinto 2014

Velado (the veiled one) typifies the meeting of Atlantic and Mediterranean at Lanciego, and was the vineyard which started Telmo and Pablo’s love of and great commitment to this village of 600 people. Velado is an old, beautiful vineyard; 0.92 hectares of poor soil at 620 meters. It faces south-west, and while still a cool mountain site, is relatively warm compared to Estrada, and is a Garnacha-predominant field blend with Tempranillo, some other old varieties, including whites.

Natural yeast fermentation is in open oak casks; maturation is 16 months in big barrels.

Soft notes of leather and chocolate on the nose, along with cedar, white pepper and red currant, it’s not Garnacha-ey as such  but you can feel the quiet insistent tug of the Mediterranean, and the wine has a brilliance and energy that is pure cold-soil Rioja. 

Bodega Lanzaga 'La Estrada' Rioja Tinto 2014

In 2014 Telmo and Pablo split Altos Lanzaga into two special Fincas from Lanciego. La Estrada Alta (the high road) is one of the highest vineyard sites in all of Rioja, at 630+ meters on the ‘Atalaya’. Estrada is just 0.6 hectares on a pure slope of shallow soil of chalky clay. It’s an organic/biodynamic, cool, north-east facing vineyard among forest and a multitude of local herbs. La Estrada was planted in the 1940's to a bush vine field blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and many others.

The wine was fermented with natural yeast in large open oak casks, then aged 15 months in foudre. Just over 1,000 bottles made.

Classical, refined, and red fruited with touches of anise, fennel, herb and pepper. Great elegance, incredibly fine tannin and very pure. Sweet, red cherry berry fruit, beautifully round and delicate. The tannins are sweet, the acidity is sweet, and the wine, delicate, gently briary, round, energetic-nearing-electric, tangy and savory.

Village of Labastida

Labastida is an historic, cultivated and developed village, where the first great wines from Rioja and Spain were produced, guided by the legendary D. Manuel Quintano in the 18th century.  Labastida is the first village from Rioja Alavesa on the left bank of the Ebro River over the southern foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria. This narrow fringe of land between the river and the mountains, gives Labastida its steep slopes,  where historically the first and most appreciated wines of the region have been produced. Poor, ragged hillsides with elevated areas of strong Atlantic influences, this is a complex and heterogeneous place that offers some of the most reputed and historical vineyards of the Rioja and Rioja Alavesa.  These steep slopes are the cradle of one of the most stunning vineyards and wines from Rioja. 20 years ago, Telmo and Pablo fell in love with Las Beatas, since then, they keep building and working this gifted vineyard to express the purest and most outstanding expression of Rioja.

Bodega Lanzaga 'Tabuerniga' Rioja Tinto 2014

Tabuérniga is another extraordinary place, where viticulture has been practiced for more than 1300 years. It is a stunning landscape, a concave slope crossed by staves of vineyards. some of them abandoned, some of the being cultivated, and many others in the process of recovery.

Telmo and Pablo purchased the Tabuérniga vineyard in 2010, and its first vintage was made in the Oullari cellar with the 2014 vintage. However, they have been watching and hoping to purchase this special site since working nearby at Remelluri in the late 1980s. South-east facing, looking over a blind towards las Beatas, Tabuérniga is a 4.1 hectare spot with several ‘lugares’ occupying different terraces and varying aspects (the ‘lugar’ (or lieus-dits) names are: San Cristobal, Chifla, Canal and Tabuérniga).

Tabuérniga is planted to Tempranillo, some Graciano, Mazuelo and Garnacha, and lots of Garnacha Blanca (there is one sizeable plot of Garnacha Blanca planted solo, but most of the place is field blend). There are nine or more cultivars in total (the genetics have not been entirely identified – Telmo and Pablo like the mystery!), with traces of Viura, Moscatel, Maturana, Blanca Roja and Gran Negro too.

The soils are shallow, stony, silty chalk-clay of very low fertility. Altitude is 540-630 m, with 2.7 hectares of the little valley planted. The wines are naturally fermented in 3-4,000 liter open wooden casks, and aged 14 months in 1500 liter foudre. 2,000 bottles were made in 2014, the first release of Tabuerniga.

 

 

Bodega Lanzaga 'Las Beatas' Rioja Tinto 2014

Las Beatas is a spectacular 1.9 hectare property into which Telmo and Pablo have invested tremendous time and energy. 15 years of renovative viticultural work took place before a single bottle was made. This incredible vineyard, surrounded by abandoned terraces at the edge of the Sierra Cantabrias before it meets the Rio Ebro, near Remelluri and the village of Briñas, is planted to cold sandy soils facing north-west. There are ten or eleven grape varieties grown on eight terrace levels, predominantly Tempranillo with 30% Garnacha, some Viura and traces of many other rare, perhaps unidentified cultivars. The vines are densely planted and hand-worked.

Purchased in 1998, Las Beatas has 0.8 hectares of very old field blend material and the rest are young vines massale-selected from the original genetics of the place. In 2011 a small harvest of the old vines and about 10% of the young plantings yielded 500 bottles; in 2012, 1500 bottles were produced from the old vines plus about 20% of the young vines.

Telmo and Pablo see Las Beatas as “a memory of Rioja from long ago, before the industrial Riojas of the 20th century, for which the process is more important than the origin”. Here they are creating an antidote to the easy virtues of modern industrial plantings down by the river. In las Beatas, they are attempting to cultivate a Grand Cru vineyard – a significant wine of place. According to the Consejo Regulador this is an “illegal”, “experimental” vineyard. It’s also the history of Rioja.

The 2014 Las Beatas was made and aged in a single 1200 liter old French foudre. It blends the 0.8 hectares of old field blend Las Beatas (Tempranillo, Garnacha, other reds and some white), and 20% of the young vineyards which have been replanted to Las Beatas’ genetic mix.

 

Thank you to Scott Wasley from The Spanish Acquisition in Australia for the use and adaptation of some of the text above.