There is never a dull moment at Bodegas Medrano Irazu, where winemaker Amador Medrano Irazu always wears a smile- well, more like a smirk. He is a wiry man in his mid thirties who loves his work and is passionate about it, there is no doubt. So, it comes as no surprise that he owns some of the highest vines in all of DOC Rioja, designed his own trellis system to achieve maximum potential for his vines, and is known all over Rioja Alavesa. Some think he’s crazy, others maybe part genius/part mad scientist, but one thing is clear- he is leading the way for every producer in DOC Rioja.
As Spain continues to produce fantastic white wine from all over the country, it seems like white wines in Rioja have succumbed to the same scrutiny as their red wines- should they be made in a traditional or modern style? While you can find incredible white wines of both styles in Rioja produced mainly with the Viura variety (along with others such as Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca), they are usually overshadowed by Albarino from Galicia and Verdejo in Rueda. In response to other regions and varieties gaining more and more popularity, the Rioja Consejo Regulador has recently allowed the use of chardonnay and other non-native varieties in Rioja as well. While I’m sure this will be quite the controversy within Rioja, I worry more about the response to the addition in the US. As we’re already saturated with California Chardonnay, I just hope that the US consumer doesn’t begin to associate chardonnay with Rioja. Along with Ryan and Gabriella of Catavino.net, I don’t feel there was anything wrong with the white wines being produced in Rioja- I just think they haven’t explored the full potential of what their native white varieties can achieve. In my opinion, the addition has the potential to destroy Rioja’s image, not improve it, and is only an attempt to gain some of the white wine market share being exported from Spain.
Not one to sit back and watch his beloved Rioja become eclipsed by these other regions and varieties, Amador has been experimenting with the Viura variety to determine what kind of potential this grape possesses. With his love of Tokaji, Sauternes, and sweeter Sherries, he set out to see if Viura could make a quality sweet wine. After one successful and one disastrous attempt under his belt, I guess you could say that the “third time’s a charm” as he has been granted the first late harvest, or “Vendimia Tardia” approval from the DOC Rioja. I’ve had the chance to taste both successful vintages and they are absolutely fantastic and intriguing. These wines have wonderful acidity and complexity, as well as incredible floral aromas and honey notes on the nose. While there are some producers in Rioja such as Marques de Caceres producing sweeter wines with native varieties, they have yet to receive an official guarantee from the Consejo Regulador. With Medrano receiving the first official guarantee, I hope many other producers will now realize that they literally have incredible potential growing right at their feet.
I can’t wait to see how Amador will develop and brand this groundbreaking wine in the future. Hopefully it will bring some attention back to Rioja and it’s native varieties and what can be accomplished with a bit of imagination and hard work!