Palacios to release super-duper Rioja

(Palacios Remondo’s vast vineyards)

The world will be watching eagerly when Alvaro Palacios releases his first super-duper Rioja from the unfashionable southern part of the region, Rioja Baja, this year.

To be marketed under the Palacios Remondo label (tastings) and named Valmira (which sounds more like ‘Bolmida’ when pronounced by a Spaniard!), the first release will be the 2014, set to be released in September. It was made from a single, discrete, high-altitude vineyard covering just three hectares, planted in 1960. The plot is within sight of the Palacios family’s large 100-hectare estate in the foothills of Mount Yerga.

Valmira will be Palacios Remondo’s iconic Rioja wine, to stand alongside Alvaro’s other grand wines from Priorat (L’Ermita – tastings – and Finca Dofi – tastings) and Bierzo (La Faraona).

Palacios wants to make a statement with this wine, to draw the world’s gaze to the Rioja Baja while most of the attention this large region attracts is focused on the cooler, higher, wetter and more northerly Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. He also wants to show the world that this region, which is disparaged as the source of lesser and cheaper Rioja, is capable of great things.

Despite the aspirations behind the wine, it won’t be priced in the league of L’Ermita – which is over 1,000 Euros a bottle. The actual price has yet to be revealed but it will all be pre-sold to the firm’s distributors around the world. Such is the demand for this superstar’s wines. Alvaro Palacios is one of Spain’s wine heroes and was Decanter magazine’s 2015 Man of the Year.

Old-garnacha-bush-vines-at-Palacios-Remondo's-Propiedad-vineyards

The vineyard itself is one of the five that had until 2014 been used to compose Palacios Remondo’s Propiedad (tasting), a straight grenache all grown on the family’s vineyards (pictured). Palacios is a great champion of grenache, or garnacha as it’s known locally, at a time when its hectarage has decreased drastically, a casualty of the fashion for tempranillo.

Palacios is adamant garnacha is the best variety for the hot, dry conditions of the south, and indeed, it used to be the main variety, but today there is more tempranillo than garnacha grown in Baja. The people at Palacios are proud to say garnacha represents 80% of their plantings. It is the drinkability and softness of garnacha they prize: it invites you to have another glass.

Alvaro is replanting tempranillo and viura vines with garnacha. He is also farming organically, pulling out the irrigation, and encouraging the natural plants and animals of the area to come back. All vineyard labour is done by hand, and ploughing is increasingly by horse.

Rioja Baja has a very different mentality to the north: it is populated by peasant farmers, and Alvaro is much like that himself, despite the intensity of the spotlight that shines on him. He has his Rioja home out in the country, where the vines are, as he does in both Priorat and Bierzo. In his father’s time, the wines were bottled in Logrono, the nearest big city. He now bottles them at the winery in Alfaro. Nothing is outsourced any longer.

This is a seriously honest, down-to-earth, natural producer whose wines reflect his spirit. No need to break the bank, try a bottle of Palacios Remondo’s bread-and-butter Rioja, La Montesa (tastings), a garnacha tempranillo blend, and you’ll get the idea. The 2012 (tasting) is about $42.

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