Bodegas Montecillo: Contemporary wines with historic Rioja roots

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Montecillo's history intertwines two families and their passion for wines; a centennial legacy that forged an everlasting name

Family winemaking for nearly 150 years

Entirely family owned since 1870, Montecillo was founded by Don Celestino Navajas Matute in his small Rioja Alta home town, Fuenmayor. Bordered by the Ebro river and the Cantabrian mountains, Don Celestino recognised the area’s potential for making fine wines. He built the town’s first winery, which is still in use today, complete with its original pale gold stone masonry and ‘Montecillo’ styled in wrought iron. Over the following decades, Fuenmayor would become one of Rioja DOC’s most important wine-producing towns.

In 1880, at the dawn of a new era for Rioja wine, Don Celestino joined the revolutionary winemakers who began fusing Spanish traditions with Bordeaux techniques – namely, oak barrel ageing. In a shrewd move, Don Celestino sent his son Alejandro to study in Bordeaux and his know-how gave rise to a modern Rioja wine style. As phylloxera ravaged French vineyards, Rioja’s star ascended and Montecillo’s wines won international acclaim. The family’s pioneering spirit spread to Alejandro’s son, José Luis, who trained in Burgundy and returned with methods such as cold vinification – a key component of Montecillo’s elegant and age-worthy wines.

In 1973, Bodegas Montecillo passed from one Spanish wine dynasty to another when José Luis entrusted his winery to Osborne, one of the world’s oldest family-run companies. With over 245 years of sherry winemaking expertise Osborne was able to take Montecillo in a new direction, expanding into nearby Navarrete and building facilities to support its values: careful winemaking and optimal ageing.

Bodegas Montecillo cellars

Montecillo’s 19th-century cellar is a treasure trove of old and rare bottles

Capturing the essence of Rioja

Montecillo’s success is not only driven by family winemaking, it comes down to prime Rioja Alta sites planted with the best old vines bearing high quality fruit. Even Montecillo’s name, ‘little mountain’, speaks of the unique geography of this part of Rioja, where sloping vineyards grow among pine forests with snow-capped peaks looming on the horizon. Old bush vines are dry-farmed here in ferrous and calcareous clay soils, peppered with boulders and sand. In this terroir, yields can be as low as 3,500 kg/ha and flavours are concentrated.

Rioja Alta’s winemaking community also plays a vital role; after decades of dedication and prestige Montecillo has forged close bonds with the region’s top vine-growers – creating a forum of shared knowledge from 800 different plots.

Chief winemaker and innovator, Mercedes García Rupérez, has spent 10 years getting under the skin of Rioja. She and her team work tirelessly to revitalise Montecillo’s wine range with fresh new styles while also perfecting the classic Crianzas, Reservas and Gran Reservas.

Despite its historic reputation, Montecillo remains at the cutting edge of winemaking technology. The oenological team use everything from GPS-controlled vineyard systems to small Flextanks to craft complex, expressive wines.

Bodegas Montecillo chief winemaker

Chief winemaker, Mercedes García Rupérez

An ancient cellar of wine treasure

Although the wines are crafted in the winery, they truly begin their journey in the cellar. Over 20,000 of the highest quality French and American oak barrels store the wine for up to 32 months, after which it is bottled and stacked by hand in the underground cellar.

The story goes that the bottles are piled with such precision that they could support a pair of dancers, with no resulting damage to the wine or performers. Dancing aside, the bottles lie undisturbed in the silent darkness to slowly evolve over time.

For wine lovers, Montecillo’s 19th-century cellar is a treasure trove of old and rare bottles. Dimly-lit stone alcoves hold row upon row of oenological gems, including a private collection of wines crafted only in exceptional vintages, dating back to that of 1926.

Critics’s choice: Bodegas Montecillo’s top red wines

22 Barricas 2010

Modelled on wines made in the late 19th century by Montecillo’s founder, 22 Barricas blends old-vine Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo. 32 months in French oak gives rise to spicy resin notes overlaid with black fruit and delicate acidity. 94pts Highly Recommended – Decanter.

Edición Limitada 2010

Less than 6,000 cases produced, each bottle signed by the winemaker Mercedes García. 70% Tempranillo and 30% Graciano, separately vinified and oak aged for 26 months before the final blend spends two years underground. An explosion of black fruit, tempered by resinous liquorice notes and a delicate mouthfeel. 94pts Highly Recommended – Decanter.

Crianza 2015

Selected as one of top 10 Rioja Crianza wines by Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW in the UK’s Rioja 10×10 tasting 2018. A classic Tempranillo-dominant blend with black fruit notes and violet undertones. Fresh, silky and expressive – this a Crianza with body.

Reserva 2012

Traditional Tempranillo-dominant Reserva with some Garnacha and Mazuelo, vinified separately then aged in French and American oak. Intense ripe fruit with underlying sweet aniseed notes and a rich body. Bronze Medal winner at Decanter World Wine Awards 2018.

Gran Reserva 2010

95% Tempranillo with a splash of Graciano, aged in French oak and cellared in-bottle for at least four years. Intense sweet spice notes backed by candied fruit nuances and polished tannins. 91pts Highly Recommended – Decanter.