Rioja winemaker swaps oak for chestnut

  • Friday 13 June 2014

Rioja producer Oscar Tobia is experimenting with alternatives to oak barrels for ageing and plans to release a blended white wine partially matured in chestnut and ash.

Bodegas Tobia cellars

Bodegas Tobia cellars

Rioja producer Oscar Tobia is experimenting with alternatives to oak barrels for ageing and plans to release a blended white wine partially matured in chestnut and ash.

Tobia commissioned a cooperage to produce barrels from acacia, chestnut and ash that would sit alongside American oak in the cellar of his namesake estate Cuzcurrita de Rio Tiron.

He has 120 barrels covering those four different woods and is using them to mature five of the white grape varieties allowed in the Rioja DOCa: Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

While there is still one more year of the three-year trial left to run, Tobia told Decanter.com that he plans to produce a white blend encompassing wine from all four barrel types.

Tobia established a reputation as an experimental winemaker in Rioja shortly after he founded his estate in 1994. He spent the first two years persuading the regional wine trade council to change its rules to allow him to produce an oak fermented rose wine.

His new cellar trial comes amid growing exposure for white Rioja, partially fuelled by the DOCa council's decision to allow greater quantities of so-called international varieties, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, to be put into blends.

One producer, Marques de Caceres, said earlier this year that there was a shortage of white grapes in the region.

'Rioja is of course better known for its red wines, but white has been made here since the beginning,' Tobia said.

At the time of the rule change, some winemakers feared Rioja would be swamped with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc at the expense of traditional varieties.

Tobia said that he doesn't see that happening at the moment. The key thing, he added, is to reflect the 'typicity' of Rioja's climate and soils.

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