Bodegas Santalba Ogga Reserva 2015
Deep, lurid ruby. An exotically perfumed bouquet displays an array of black and blue fruit, floral and spice qualities, along with suggestions of cola, vanilla and incense. Stains the palate with deeply concentrated blueberry, cherry cola and mocha flavors, and a floral pastille nuance emerges with air. Distinctly rich and fleshy, with harmonious tannins making a late appearance on a very long, smooth finish that echoes the dark fruit and vanilla notes. This is a decidedly modern Rioja, and while it shows strong oak character right now, there seems to be more than enough fruit to absorb it, given some patience.
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.”
Hailed as the star red variety in Spain’s most celebrated wine region, Tempranillo from Rioja, or simply labeled, “Rioja,” produces elegant wines with complex notes of red and black fruit, crushed rock, leather, toast and tobacco, whose best examples are fully capable of decades of improvement in the cellar.
Rioja wines are typically a blend of fruit from its three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental, although specific sub-region (zonas), village (municipios) and vineyard (viñedo singular) wines can now be labeled. Rioja Alta and Alavesa, at the highest elevations, are 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, great body and richness.