In June 2017, the Consejo Regulador of Rioja unveiled a new framework that caused a surge of excitement across Spain’s viticultural landscape. After much passionate debate, Spain’s engine for global export was to embrace terroir with the creation of a new ‘Viñedos Singulares’ (single vineyard) designation. Many of the region’s top producers have since taken the decision to promote a specific terroir under the auspices of this burgeoning classification – a unique expression of Rioja’s identity.
Bodegas Ysios is no exception. Located in the Rioja Alavesa subregion, the winery is flanked by the foothills of the dramatic Sierra Cantabria. Designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, a pioneer in the technological interpretation of organic forms, Ysios was built in 2001 as a monument to beautiful aesthetics that merge seamlessly into the landscape. Led by winemaker Clara Canals, the winery applies the same philosophy to the winemaking programme, offering a modern interpretation of a unique terroir.
Ysios’ most precious asset is undoubtedly Finca Las Naves: a single hectare of vines that predates the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th-century. Over a hundred years old, this ungrafted vineyard is a field blend (a mixture of different grape varieties) planted on ancient calcareous soils. It remains one of Rioja’s most coveted terroirs and a symbol of the modern shift toward a Burgundian paradigm of ‘vineyard first’.
A terroir’s expression
Yet the foundations of Ysios’ single-vineyard project stretch back to the late 1800s, when the site was planted to Tempranillo, Viura, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache Noir), and Graciano. From the outset, Ysios has pursued a vision of excellence through terroir expression and innovation, seeking the purest manifestation of the most enthralling, and often overlooked, Alavesa vineyards it could find. Over the years, winemakers and viticulturists have developed an intimate understanding of their soils; they have studied, observed and listened in order to unearth the hidden gems holding exceptional, and yet untapped, viticultural value.
Indeed, there is much to admire in a centenarian plot of old bush vines. It is a piece of living history. Situated in the Elvillar climat (site), the block is planted at between 540-560 metres above sea level. This leads to significant diurnal temperature variation; a difference of temperature between day and night. This is a valued commodity for bodegas like Ysios, as diurnal variation slows down the vine’s metabolism as the sun sets, maintaining freshness in the wines.
Meanwhile, the soils are well-drained calcareous clay with some sand over a limestone stratum. The vines are managed in a delicate and traditional way, ploughed by horse to protect the biodiversity of the soil and hand-picked in small 10kg boxes. The team continues to work hard to express Finca Las Naves with respect, vision and determination. That is their overriding ethos and goal.
An iconic wine
The result? An intensely aromatic and complex red that wears freshness on its sleeve. Produced in minute quantities (under 4000 bottles), the four varieties are fermented with indigenous yeasts and then aged for 16 months in a 2000-litre French oak foudre, followed by some time in bottle prior to release. Finca Las Naves is described as having a ‘dark black-purple colour, with an intense, aromatic and attractive nose of wild berries, wild herbs, flowers and subtle earthiness with spicy-toasty notes.’ On the palate it is rich and dense with wild berries, wild herbs, spicy flavours and hints of reduction, supported by lovely savoury tannins and a long finish.
An iconic wine in every sense of the word; Finca Las Naves will appeal to collectors who seek originality. Finca Las Naves has also won high praise from journalists and experts the world over.
Meanwhile at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, critics awarded this seminal Rioja 96 points. Finca Las Naves is a worldwide phenomenon, and the most prestigious sommeliers and merchants are seeking allocations of this venerable red. Historically, their sole focus would have been on the traditional blended styles that symbolised Rioja in the 20th century. Yet the region’s future, at least in part, lies in the production of terroir-driven and site-specific wines.
Finca Las Naves therefore represents the inevitable evolution of Bodegas Ysios. A natural next step as it seeks to capture the authentic identity of Rioja’s soils and landscape. Ysios has proven that Rioja is a region of many secrets, waiting to be unveiled and interpreted, one vineyard at a time.