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Spanish Wine Academy

Ramón Bilbao aims higher

In partnership with Spanish Wine Academy

Seeking elegance and character in high altitude vineyards

The cultivation of mountain vineyards is one of the most exciting developments to have occurred in modern winemaking. Spain’s Rioja region has been at the forefront of this revolution; there is no paucity of cool-climate terroir in this vertiginous part of Europe. These privileged sites, rising to 700 metres above sea level, are highly coveted by leading producer Ramón Bilbao. Indeed, they supply the raw materials for two exceptional wines: Lalomba Finca Ladero and Ramón Bilbao Viñedos de Altura.

But what exactly distinguishes high elevation plots from their low-lying counterparts? The answer is diurnal temperature variation: a significant difference of temperature between day and night. This is a valued commodity for bodegas like Ramón Bilbao, who greatly desire freshness along with complexity in their wines. Thus, diurnal variation slows down the vine’s metabolism after sunset as the temperature drops, maintaining acidity, and promoting the slower development of intense yet filigreed aromas. As a result, the best ‘mountain Riojas’ are both racy and concentrated, with a Spanish verve that is all their own.

Tasting the exquisite Finca Ladero, it becomes all clear why site selection – and elevation – are vital components of Rioja’s future. The Tempranillo/Garnacha blend, produced in small quantities, is part of the Lalomba collection of single-vineyard wines and offers sublime red fruit, beautiful aromatics, and unrivalled elegance. The vines were planted in Monte Yerga in Rioja Oriental at an altitude of over 650 metres. Yet this subregion has a clear Mediterranean climate, drier and sunnier than the rest of Rioja. Achieving finesse through altitude is therefore even more important.

Viñedos de Altura, meanwhile, is composed of a blend of grapes from two different high-altitude vineyards. The Grenache is sourced from the Yerga mountain; the Tempranillo from the northern Sierra de Toloño-Cantabria range. Both locations benefit from diurnal temperature variation, yielding very small berries of exceptional fruit. And so Viñedos de Altura is for enthusiasts who want a savoury, crunchy ‘bite’ in their Rioja wines.

A site-specific approach to winemaking from the heartland of multi-regional blends? Ramón Bilbao has proven that the words ‘Rioja’ and ‘ terror-driven ‘ are far from being mutually exclusive.

Ramón Bilbao Viñedos de Altura  – £18.50
Lalomba Finca Ladero 2016 – £110

Both available from The Great Wine Co.

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