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Roberto Oliván Iglesias has been farming his eight hectare family estate, Tentenublo, in the high, wind-swept Basque country of the Rioja Alavesa since 2011. Working organically, using native yeast fermentation, and limited sulphur, Roberto draws upon Rioja’s long established protocol of barrel aging (working mainly with French oak), to craft deeply personal wines of substance and character.
In our last Rioja article we touched on Roberto’s entry level cuvée, Viñedos en Viñaspre which with its bold, feral character and startling mineral intensity, feels invested with a narrative power. The Rioja Alavesa, where Roberto was born, has historically been an agrarian based society within which the cultivation of the vine firmly rests. Speaking with rustic, raw-boned honesty, this cuvée, comprised of fruit sourced from multiple vineyard sites, evokes in its own, wild, graceful language the day-to-day drama of farm life defined by relentless physical labor, the perpetual threat of extreme weather, and the servile existence of livestock.
In strict geographical terms, Roberto is a winemaker of Rioja, and more specifically a winemaker of the Rioja Alavesa. However, it is the powerful connection he shares with the previous generations of his family who once worked the land now in his care, combined with his deep knowledge of the country surrounding the small village of Viñaspre, where he was born, that truly defines Roberto’s sensibility and influences his decision making process.
Today, we are pleased to offer Roberto’s much more serious and ageworthy 2014 bottlings from the estate’s premiere vineyards: El Abundillano, Las Guillermas, and Las Paredes. Each of these wines is a remarkable, complex study of individual terroir and we are happy to announce that they have finally reached our shores.
Xerico is another multi-vineyard cuvée dedicated to Roberto's grandfather, Félix, who is pictured on the label. While somewhat softer and more refined than Viñedos en Viñaspre, this wine, through its direct, earthy simplicity, also tells a story of its rural origins.
As explained by importer Geoffroy Ducroux (Avant-Garde Wines and Spirits), the property of Tentenublo, despite its relatively small size, can be described as a collection of several distinct microclimates with 15-70 year old vines spread throughout 22 individual parcels in the foothills of the Cantabria mountains, at altitudes ranging from 450-650 meters. The estate is planted mainly to classic red and white Rioja varieties including Tempranillo, Garnacha and Viura.
While the soil composition of the overall estate is predominately marl and sandstone, the specific geology of each site varies depending on its particular position and altitude. Similarly, each site is influenced, to a greater or lesser degree, by the effects of the Ebro River, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, depending on its situation. All of Roberto's wines bear the unique stamp of these profound elemental variables.
The degree of understanding Roberto Oliván Iglesias has of the intricate terroir of his land is not only impressive, it is a testament to the value of filial loyalty and pride of origin in the world of winemaking. While we wish we had more bottles available to share with you, we hope you take this opportunity to try these remarkable offerings from a very interesting, evolving producer whose arc is well worth following. Sydney Snyder
Made from bush-trained, 70 year old vine Garnacha (90%), and Tempranillo (10%), this is a complex, heady wine of intense focus and precision. With a soil composition of marl, iron and chalk, at 640 meters in altitude, Las Paredes is among the steepest of Tentenublo’s vineyard sites. Cold winds from the Atlantic (visible from this height) maintain high levels of acidity in the fruit and allow for extreme aromatic complexity as grapes ripen slowly and evenly. Aged in new, 300 liter French oak barrels for nine months, this is a powerfully structured, grounded wine in which intersecting shades and tones seem to radiate energetically from a deeply rooted central point. A pronounced saline minerality lingers on the lips as initial over-arching notes of tangy orange, pepper and black olive give way to licorice, expresso and firm black cherry. Drinking beautifully now, the wine will continue to evolve for many years to come. Only 302 bottles made. Sydney Snyder
60% Tempranillo and 40% Viura, from 65 year old vines grown in clay and gravel soil, this is, relatively speaking, the most easy going of Tentenublo’s single vineyard expressions. Aged in new Burgundy barrels, with the Tempranillo grapes destemmed, the wine is supple and fresh in feel with notes of tangy grapefruit, roses, red berries, chocolate and coffee. Positioned at 450 meters in altitude, the Las Guillermas vineyard is greatly influenced by the Mediterranean which promotes a softer, gentler microclimate, the effects of which are definitely apparent in the wine. Sydney Snyder
The El Abundillano vineyard is situated at 590 meters of altitude and shares the same marl, iron and chalk soils as the Las Paredes site. Made from 90% Garnacha, 9% Tempranillo and 1% Malvasia, El Abundillano is aged 9 months in Hungarian oak with no racking. Rounder and darker toned than Las Paredes with distinct notes of cured meat, spicy black fruit, pepper and wild herbs, only 20% of the grapes are de-stemmed accounting for a fresh, verdant quality that marries beautifully with the underlying sanguine character of the wine. Sydney Snyder
Made with fruit sourced from three separate, marl-based vineyard sites in the foothills of the Cantabria Mountains, Tempranillo is blended with the white grape Viura in a manner customary to the Tentenublo estate. Opening notes of Eucalyptus, tropical fruit and black currant lead to kelp, smoke, tamari and a hint of animal fur, conjuring up thoughts of ancient sea beds, long-deserted beaches and remote brambly forests. A tremendous value from a very serious winemaker of the Rioja Alavesa. Sydney Snyder
A striking departure from the technically driven, polished showpieces which have become the hallmark of critically acclaimed winemaking in Rioja. While defined by the same intense, sanguine rusticity as in 2013, this vintage of Viñedos en Viñaspre, made from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura and Alarije, is more nuanced, offering exotic notes of umeboshi plum, black tea and lavendar. A satisfying, soulful wine that is a must-try for anyone interested in exploring the evolving landscape of winemaking in Rioja. Sydney Snyder