Bodegas Santalba Ermita de San Felices Blanco 2019
Recommended with seafood, creams, asparagus, pizza, risotto, Asian dishes, sushi, vegetables and pasta.
After working in the industry for 33 years, Santiago Ijalba Garcia established Bodegas Santalba in 1998, in the Rioja town of Gimileo. Obtaining his degree in oenology in 1974, Santiago was later joined by his son, Roberto, in 1997, after he’d finished studying at UC Davis in 1996. In the winery, both father and son employ spontaneous fermentations. They use indigenous yeast from the vineyard, and never add artificial yeasts.
They have traditional style wines, Ermita and Abando while also introducing modern techniques. Making wines under eight labels, including Santiago Ijalba Ogga, Vina Hermosa and Bodegas Santalba Abando, the Ijalba family has 20ha under vine, all of which is certified organic. The remaining fruit, they purchase from other growers. “My dad’s 63 years old,” says Roberto, “he’s been in the business for 46 years…he knows a lot of people, very good producers [from which we buy our fruit]…35-40% of which are practicing organic.”
Santiago Ijalba is in charge of their label Ermita, which produces rosé, white, Crianza, and Reserva. Abando and Ogga are produced by Roberto. The Ogga plantings are 90+ year old certified organic, coming from one contiguous vineyard, which is very unusual in Rioja.
In speaking of how he and his father work together, Roberto says, “Both of us look for the Rioja style. We believe that Rioja has a great name and quality. It has its own style. The difference [between father and son]? Maybe he’s more focused on balance and elegance, [while] I’m looking for an expression of the grape, Tempranillo. Not to make an international wine, but a more concentrated Rioja…not heavy. I studied at UC Davis, so my style is a little different.”
Commonly found as a single varietal white or blended with Malavasia and Grenache Blanc, Viura is a vital, leading white grape of Rioja. It also thrives in the lower elevations of the Penedes, where it takes the name Macabeo and adds aromatic and fruity notes to the traditional Cava blend with Parellada and Xarel-lo. Somm Secret—Called Macabeu in France, this versatile grape is prevalent in Roussillon where it makes still, sparkling, dry and sweet wines.
Highly regarded for distinctive and age-worthy red wines, Rioja is Spain’s most celebrated wine region. Made up of three different sub-regions of varying elevation: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental. Wines are typically a blend of fruit from all three, although specific sub-region (zonas), village (municipios) and vineyard (viñedo singular) wines can now be labeled. Rioja Alta, at the highest elevation, is considered to be the source of the brightest, most elegant fruit, while grapes from the warmer and drier Rioja Oriental produce wines with deep color and higher alcohol, which can add great body and richness to a blend.
Fresh and fruity Rioja wines labeled, Joven, (meaning young) see minimal aging before release, but more serious Rioja wines undergo multiple years in oak. Crianza and Reserva styles are aged for one year in oak, and Gran Reserva at least two, but in practice this maturation period is often quite a bit longer—up to about fifteen years.
Tempranillo provides the backbone of Rioja red wines, adding complex notes of red and black fruit, leather, toast and tobacco, while Garnacha supplies body. In smaller percentages, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) often serve as “seasoning” with additional flavors and aromas. These same varieties are responsible for flavorful dry rosés.
White wines, typically balancing freshness with complexity, are made mostly from crisp, fresh Viura. Some whites are blends of Viura with aromatic Malvasia, and then barrel fermented and aged to make a more ample, richer style of white.