Rioja bodega Faustino is the first large-scale producer to make a white Rioja using Chardonnay in the blend alongside Viura.
Chardonnay, Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc have been allowed in white Rioja since 2007, although few growers have taken advantage of the ruling, many winemakers regarding the liberalisation of planting regulations a mistake. A tiny percentage of the total hectarage of Rioja is planted to foreign varietals.
Ninety per cent of Rioja’s 270m litre production is red, of which the majority is Tempranillo, with 5% Rosé and 5% white wines, mostly Viura.
Faustino is the largest family-owned company in Rioja, producing some 1m cases. The company planted its first Chardonnay in 1990 for Cava production, and in 2009 it extended its Chardonnay plantings for still Rioja wine to a total of 26 ha.
The 2011 Faustino V Blanco, with 25% Chardonnay, will be launched in London in March.
Javier Pérez of Faustino has said the wine, ‘reveals more aromatic and herbal hints’ than its all-Viura predecessor.
Although this is the first high-profile commercial Rioja Chardonnay, bodegas have experimented with the grape for years.
The Rodríguez family of Remelluri planted it experimentally in the late 1980s, and Remelluri Blanco has had the variety in its blend since the mid-1990s.
The major producer CVNE also had an experimental plantation in 1993, although they never marketed the finished wine.
The only other Rioja seen in the UK with a Chardonnay element was from Rioja Baja bodega Finca Manzanos.
That wine, barrel-fermented white with 15% Chardonnay and the rest Viura, won a commendation at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards.
According to Víctor Fernández de Manzanos, ‘Chardonnay helps us to create a Rioja white with a complete structure, filling all the gaps that Viura or Malvasia are not able to fill.’
Written by John Radford