Behind the vines, 48 hours in Rioja…

Having sold ‘rather a lot’ of the wines produced by Bodegas Luis Cañas, including a few from their new winery Bodegas Amaren, I was invited to visit both wineries and taste some new wines from barrel which are set to revolutionise the way we perceive Rioja.

Luis Cañas was a pioneer within the region of Rioja Alavesa during the 1970s when instead of selling his grapes in bulk he began vinifying and bottling the wines himself, under his own label. Despite being in his 80s now he still visits the winery on a daily basis and helps with hand sorting the grapes during harvest to ensure only the best are used for his wines.

This spirit of innovation has been continued by his son, Jean Luis Cañas, who is leading the charge towards establishing a legal differential between his wines and the mass produced Rioja we see on discount in the supermarkets.

The problem faced by producers such as Luis Cañas is that when you can pick up a Rioja Reserva for £8 people can’t see why Bodegas Amaren Rioja Reserva is £39.49 – Well, for starters their vineyards are 60 years old so the yield of grapes they produce is one eighth of that of a 15 year old vineyard like those used to source fruit from for a wine like Campo Viejo – in layman’s terms this means they have less fruit, but its of a far higher quality and from a specific area rather than just ‘somewhere in Rioja’.

Then there’s the barrels, they only use new French Oak barrels which cost about ten times as much as the fifth or sixth use American Oak barrels used by producers of cheap Reservas. New barrels impart more character on the wine, as well as giving it added depth and potential for longevity once in the bottle however using barrels that have been used several times already does nothing for the wine other than save money money whilst ensuring it meets the legal paramaters to allow the producer to label it as Reserva.

However, change is in the air with the implementation of single vineyard labelling laws allowing producers such as Luis Cañas to differentiate wines such as Hiru – which is produced in tiny quantities of only 300 bottles from 110 year old vines specially selected as they only produce three bunches of grapes per vine – and those produced in vast quantities to satiate the unwavering thirst consumers have for wines adorned with 50% off price tags.

To take a closer look at the wines just click here