This is a stunning wine.
It's the difference between getting another Reserva "to try" and getting a bottle that will live long in the memory. This isn't another "bottle on special offer". It's a landmark wine that will impress and delight.
A single-vineyard Rioja from one of the most coveted vineyard zones available in one of five meandering corners of the Ebro river dividing the Rioja Alta and Alavesa sub-zones. It is wonderfully intense, superbly concentrated and completely compelling on the nose with licorice, tar, spice upon spice, all sitting on top of delicious ripe red fruits. The palate is amazingly well-balanced with a freshness that can only come from skilled winemaking and excellent vineyards. It gives huge amounts of joy - a wine that is simply very fine.
The Lanciano Vineyard is like an enclave in the Ebro river. There are a few places where the river does this meandering through the top two of Rioja's districts and at each point something great happens - chiefly it's the soils and that's very much the case here (just as it is further along the river at Contino). The soil is full of huge great flat stones that are text-book taken from Chateauneuf-du-Pape (of course they aren't actually taken, but you get the picture). Their effect is to have good drainage and poor nutrition, forcing the vines to burrow deep into the soil, and to provide warmth to the air around them as they release the day's heat like flat stony radiators through the night. This prevents frost damage during spring and maintains warmth through the night,
The Lanciano vineyard is actually quite big, at 72 hectares. It is divided into 22 parcels, each maintained separately and as a whole with the final blend in mind. The vines are aged between 30 and 60 years old and give amazing intensity and complexity to the wine; the key element to their depth being the actual depths to which the vines dig in order to find nutrients - it's a very tough and barren landscape - the only things that can prosper are grape vines and olive trees.
The other thing that has survived in the vineyard is the ruin of a vast Roman bridge - the bridge of Mantible. They reckon it's one of the last remnants of when the Romans were in Rioja and its features must have been extraordinary - they believe that it would have stretched 170 metres in length across the (then more-flowing) Ebro river, carrying trade from Madrid to the sea at Bilbao via Logroño, Rioja's main town. It was 30 metres high! And of course there's a legend, but not fairy-tale stuff, which is that Charlemagne crossed it, which is entirely possible as he was Emperor of Spain and presumably needed to get to Madrid at some stage (and could have been thirsty along the way...). It is at the north of the vineyard and is about four miles from the city of Logroño. The point about the bridge is that it is on the property of LAN and it sits IN the Lanciano Vineyard, which is pretty cool, and it is now a national monument and subject to myriad international historical studies. Until very recently, two arches of the original seven remain and it is these that are the focal point of the illustration on the label of this hugely important wine. Sadly, one fell and is the subject of intense work to be reconstructed, but alas, these things do take a lot of bureaucratic time.
It is aged for 14 months in French oak barrels and then moved to Caucasian-oak barrels for 7 months before bottling, where it rests for a further 18 months to allow the tannins to fully soften. It's released ready to go, but with serious ageing potential to boot. As such, it is remarkably good value for money.
The winery is a young one - established in 1972, they have not quite rewritten the rules, but they have certainly done things in their own way. The winery is just outside the town of Fuenmayor, in wine terms right on the border with Rioja Alavesa; in political terms right on the border with the Basque country. The Lanciano vineyard sits between the winery and the town of Logroño.
The wines have been made by María Barúa since 2002 and her specific expertise in oak use has led to these developments that allow for myriad flavours of the grapes themselves to be experienced, rather than just the flavour of oak. Funny in this day of oak use being abandoned across the board, her argument is that there is no need to reduce or do away with barriques at all, because there will always be a place for them, so long as the right barrels are used with the right wines.
P.s. I tried this over two days. It was gorgeous on the first day: it was utterly sensational the second day. There wasn't a third day...
Grape(s): Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano
Style: Structured, Smooth, Pure, Perfumed, Medium Full, Juicy, Fruity, Elegant, Creamy, Complex, Bright, Balanced
Best food matches: Wild Boar, Veal, Tapas, Steak, St Stephen's Day, Soft Cheeses, Roasts, Ribs, Red Meats, Poultry, Mature Cheeses, Lamb, Hard Cheeses, Grills, Game, Fine Dining, Duck, Cheeses, Charcuterie, Beef, Barbecue