Ramón Bilbao highlights the wonders of local wines
Ramón Bilbao showcases the wonders of local wines with its Lalomba range, which celebrates the tastes of individual plots, showing the purest expression of the grapes grown there.
IN JUNE 2017, the Consejo Regulador de la Rioja unveiled a new classification framework that sparked enthusiasm in the Spanish wine landscape. After many campaigns and debates, the engine room of Spain for the global export of red wine was to embrace the terroir with the creation of a new designation “Viñedos Singulares” (single vineyard). Many of the region’s top wine producers have since made the decision to market a brand under the burgeoning classification.
Yet the foundations of Ramón Bilbao’s single vineyard project predate the official sanction given in 2017. In July 2020, the producer launched three single vineyard wines marketed under a new brand – Lalomba. “The Lalomba project started 10 years ago, when our technical director, Rodolfo Bastida, had the visionary idea of creating a unique vineyard cellar in Rioja,” says Lalomba project director Alberto Saldon.
“Then, five years ago, Rosana Lisa – our innovation director – and I took over the project together, searching for the purest expression of the most exciting Ramón Bilbao vineyards we could find. . Over the years, we have developed an intimate knowledge of our terroirs. We have worked hard to express our vineyards with respect, vision and determination. We have studied, observed and listened.
THE FUTURE OF THE REGION
There is a fierce debate raging in wine critic circles about the future of traditional styles blended in Rioja. Several renowned wine growers have declared that the future of the region must lie in the expression of the terroir and the wines from single vineyards. However, Ramón Bilbao dismisses this as a hollow argument. As the company effortlessly demonstrates, there is nothing exclusive about championing blending styles and promoting the best of the appellation’s incredibly diverse terroir. “Lalomba is the natural evolution of Ramón Bilbao. A natural next step in the search for the identity of certain charismatic plots, ”explains Saldon.
He adds: “But the key here is that we created a new cellar while we were looking for a totally different concept. The vineyard is king. Viticulture, winemaking and concrete vats all have a common goal: to maintain the purity of the terroir.
Although the project is still in its infancy, the first three wines unveiled last year have already received praise from journalists and critics such as Tim Atkin MW.
Finca Lalinde Rosé 2019, a blend of 90% Grenache from old vines and 10% Virua de la Rioja Orientale, was a huge success. Fermented and partially aged in concrete to preserve the freshness and purity of the wine, Saldon describes the rosé as “refreshing and floral”.
He adds: “Lalomba Finca Lalinde was our very first wine in the range, and it is a delicate gourmet rosé that has sold year after year. in a row, and has often been voted the best Spanish rosé in Spanish wine guides.
Meanwhile, the Finca Valhonta and Ladero reds are a blend of exceptional terroir and 21st century winemaking. The fruit of Finca Valhonta comes from a high altitude vineyard in Villalba de Rioja, cultivated on clay-limestone terraces 650 meters above sea level. A 100% Tempranillo Rioja, the grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete and then aged for 14 months in 500 liter barrels. The wine then undergoes a second aging in concrete for eight months to soften the tannins.
However, Finca Ladero is based on a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, the latter variety planted in Monte Yerga in Rioja Orientale in 1989 at an altitude of over 720m. Typically, the grapes are fermented and macerated in concrete and then racked into 225-liter barrels for 16 months, after which the wine is rounded in concrete for another 22 months. Its annual production is 7,500 bottles. So why is the emphasis on concrete rather than Rioja’s traditional affiliation with oak vats?
“After a lot of research, we decided that concrete was the best material to use for fermentation,” says Saldon. “Concrete combines the best fermentation elements in stainless steel and oak; it does not impart any flavor, but it is porous, which leads to better color stability. We did not just look at the choice of materials: we also looked at the liner for the interior, the shape of the tank itself and even the origin of the concrete because all these things have a big influence on the final wine. . In fact, we have chosen “raw” concrete (no epoxy) because it allows us to preserve the identity of the vineyard, ”he adds.
TAKE A RISK
Produced in very small quantities, Ramón Bilbao took a risk by launching Lalomba wines during a global pandemic. The range is tailor-made for Spanish restaurant enthusiasts, both sommeliers and consumers. Still, Saldon is convinced that as European economies emerge from a succession of bottlenecks, the brand will be a success.
“The pandemic and the economic crisis have been a challenge, but we wanted to continue marketing the wines because Lalomba is a long-term project and no pandemic or crisis is going to stop a project with a soul,” says Saldon.
“Spain’s most prestigious sommeliers and haute cuisine restaurants are discovering wines right now and wine writers and critics – local and international – have been very enthusiastic about the project. We are just starting to introduce Lalomba to export markets and the first signs are really encouraging.
A Burgundian approach to the terroir and marketing at the heart of blended wines? Ramón Bilbao has proven that the terms “Rioja” and “site specific” are far from being mutually exclusive.