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Remírez de Ganuza: Contemporary Rioja built to last

Sarah Jane Evans MW recently hosted a Decanter virtual masterclass from the cellars of Remírez de Ganuza in Rioja with co-owner José Ramon Urtasun. If you weren’t in the audience, here’s what you missed.

At the Decanter World Wine Awards this year there was a lovely 2006 Rioja Reserva that won a deserved gold medal. Amid many younger reserva vintages it showed complexity and youthfulness. The wine was from Remírez de Ganuza.

The winery’s co-owner José Ramon Urtasun says: ‘We particularly wanted to submit it to highlight the ageability of fine Rioja.’ With 15 years of age already, the 2006 has another 15 years ahead of it. At this Decanter virtual masterclass Urtasun guided the audience through recent releases and classics from the winery, plus two entirely new wines, highlighting the winery’s continued commitment to innovation.

Fernando Remírez de Ganuza founded the eponymous winery in 1989. As a broker he already knew where he wanted to source grapes for his project and establish his base. He gathered together fine vineyards across the Sierra Cantabria foothills covering the villages of Samaniego, Leza, Elciego, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Laguardia and Ábalos. The average age of the vines is 50 years, and the key varieties are Tempranillo, Graciano, Viura and Malvasía.

A landscape of vineyards in Spain with a small village in the background

Remírez de Ganuza’s vineyards in Samaniego

The winery itself is charming, tucked neatly into the heart of the traditional village of Samaniego. But while the physical building may be traditional, the philosophy is altogether more modern and shows a continued commitment to innovation. From introducing sorting tables, and using a much gentler balloon press, to selecting only the ‘shoulders’ of the bunches for the top wines and cutting off the tips. Not to mention introducing French oak barrels rather than the traditional American oak of Rioja.


Click to watch the full Decanter Virtual Masterclass: Remírez de Ganuza or view below:


At the masterclass, Urtasun, who joined the bodega as co-owner in 2010, introduced two reservas: the Gold-medal winning 2006 and the 2010. For contrast he also presented the 2005 and 2010 Gran Reservas. Selection is at the heart of the winery’s work. Remirez de Ganuza works with 240 different plots, which are well placed given their altitude for the influences of climate change.

‘In making these wines, we treat them all as if they are gran reservas. Only later we taste them and then select which will be the gran reservas and take longer ageing,’ explains Urtasun. He is not in a hurry to release the wines. ‘We like to give them time in bottle and release the Gran Reservas after 10 years. They have amazing potential to age,’ he adds. Hence the Gran Reserva 2012 is the current vintage on sale.

There are disadvantages with the traditional Rioja classification system of reserva and gran reserva; notably that it doesn’t indicate quality, only age. The other main problem is that it suggests that these wines, pre-aged in the winery, are ready to drink and have little future. This classification obscures the fact that the very best wines have plenty of years ahead. The 2005 Gran Reserva, like the 2006 Reserva, is a case in point: a wine which will continue to develop as it matures. Hence the success with collectors.

New additions to the range

While Remírez de Ganuza built its reputation on the selection of reservas and gran reservas from top vineyards, they have also begun to make white wines. Historically Viura was not the most exciting variety. However with careful attention from longstanding winemaker Jesús Mendoza, the results are impressive. At the masterclass Urtasun introduced the winery’s first ever Blanco Gran Reserva, a follow-on from the original Remírez de Ganuza Blanco. The vintage is 2013. Just released, with eight years of age, it is showing impressive freshness and finesse. The oak handling is particularly subtle and well-judged.

In 2019 the Urtasun family became owners of the winery. Fernando Remírez de Ganuza remains engaged, particularly with the vineyards. Importantly the mission remains the same: the best expression of the vineyard, while exploring innovation. Urtasun concluded with the latest innovation, the winery’s first Garnacha: Iraila, named after the month of September and its autumnal sensation.

Rioja has caught the interest in single variety Garnacha which started in the Gredos mountains, Aragón and neighbouring Navarra. Much of the Garnacha in Rioja comes from the eastern end, from the warmer Rioja Oriental. This was historically – and remains – the source of Garnacha for the traditional Tempranillo blends of Rioja Alta. Iraila, however, comes from Rioja Alavesa, from the cooler slopes of the Sierra Cantabria. Iraila was aged in three different containers: 228-litre French oak, a cigar-shaped 275-litre barrel; and an amphora of 400 litres. Tasting the wines individually after ageing the team felt that none of the containers worked by themselves, and that the blend was much more successful.

Iraila is a new style for the winery. It reflects a different flavour of Rioja and a different trend, and the audience at the masterclass were the first to taste it. The wine is so new it doesn’t yet have a label. It’s clearly one to look out for, a style that will continue to develop with each vintage. Just like the winery, as it moves into its fourth decade.


Tasting notes and scores for the Remírez de Ganuza wines


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