Ripping Rioja

In the manner of French Burgundy and the greatest Riojas of the past, Valenciso is all about aromatic volume rather than physical weight. To pinch a sentiment from Tim Atkin MW — “each wine commemorates its rocky, mature-vine origins rather than how long it has spent in barrel”.

“Valenciso is one of the most modern of the traditional producers, or the most traditional of the modern producers. I love their wines, which offer good typicity and drinking pleasure, and I think they deserve more attention than they get.” Luis Gutiérrez, The Wine Advocate

From humble beginnings, Valenciso has risen to become a leading light among Rioja’s small yet growing band of terroir-focused producers. The story began in the late 1990s when wine industry veterans Luis Valentín (Valen…) and Carmen Enciso (…ciso) left behind outstanding careers at Bodegas Palacio and rented a small warehouse with barely enough space to produce their first vintage of 2,000 cases.

Today, the vineyards and cellar are in the far north of Rioja Alta, in Ollauri, a small village four kilometres from Haro. Believing most of the region’s most outstanding wines derive from commune-specific precincts, Valentin and Enciso chose to focus on Ollauri and its immediate environs. Part of what has been proposed as the Western Sonsierra zone (by Alberto Gil and Antonio Remesal Villar in their compelling book, “Rioja: Vinos Silenciosos”), Ollauri’s vineyards are noted for their excellent calcário soils, altitudes of up to 600 meters and Atlantic-influenced climate. These factors are responsible for imparting depth and finesse into the Rioja Alta’s northern Tempranillo wines.

As Valenciso continues to etch out its own distinctive space in the Rioja story, year in, year out, every wine from this producer points to constant progression. A distinctive feature of Luis and Carmen’s approach is the use of concrete tanks for fermentation, which allows for a gentler extraction of fruit and colour. Aging for the Reserva takes place in French oak barriques (only one-third replaced each year), and the white wine is raised in low-toast Caucasian oak to prevent undue influence on the wine. All the Valenciso wines ferment naturally and are bottled unfiltered. In sum, these are complex, savoury, terroir-driven Rioja wines, revealing Luis and Carmen’s preference for subtlety, elegance and refinement.