I recently had the chance to taste a range of Rioja from Bodegas Tobía, an estate that was founded by Oscar Tobía and Ana Castello in 2004, after Oscar had qualified with a Masters Degree in oenology and viticulture. Given so many of the estates with which we work are steeped in history, it is intriguing to see what new producers can deliver and where they choose to focus their attention.
The leading wines from this relative newcomer are very consistent – I have tasted them with a friend a number of times over the last few years. I have also tried a few of their entry level wines before and have found them to have a ripe, but fresh, fruit, though perhaps lacking a touch of personality. Nothing at all was wrong, they were perfectly correct for the level, but somehow, they didn’t quite grab me. Then I was sent two varietal Rioja from Tobía made from less well-known Rioja grape varieties that really impressed me, namely their 2016 Graciano and their 2018 Maturana. Simply put, we have all paid more for less interesting, ordinary Rioja – these two wines from Tobía are individual, different and offer great value for money.
Tempranillo is the dominant grape variety in Rioja followed by Garnacha; the supporting cast seldom take centre stage. When researching Graciano, I noted that Jancis Robinson commented in my old copy (read ‘very old copy’) of ‘Vines, Grapes and Wines’, that ‘this delicately scented, subtle grape variety persists as an ingredient in red Rioja more in literature than in reality’ – if that was the case for Graciano in the mid-1990s, the other grape variety, Maturana, didn’t even get a mention in this epic work! By that time, I would guess it was considered extinct.
A word on Graciano
You are more likely to have heard of Graciano than Maturana, as it features in a number of Rioja blends, though is seldom seen as a 100% varietal wine. It has always been rated for its fragrant aromatics and dark fruits. Historically, it fell out of favour to some degree on account of its naturally low-yields, something that is praised for building concentration, but not so useful to a grower who sells their fruit and gets paid by weight! Fortunately, modern, quality conscious estates see merit in this fascinating variety. There is something about the tannin quality in the best Graciano, which can markedly assist in blending – they are very fine-grained if handled correctly. Some varietal wines can seem a bit assertive, given that this is a thick-skinned variety, rich in tannin, but producers have learned how to handle Graciano to produce much more open, accessible wines. To this end, Tobía allows a cold maceration of the destemmed whole berries for three days before an eight-day fermentation with native yeasts – interestingly he employs the same approach for Maturana.
A word on Maturana Tinta
A near-extinct red variety from Rioja. Maturana is a late-ripening grape, which used to play a prominent role in the region until phylloxera devastated vineyards in the 1860s. When replanting took place, it was Tempranillo and Garnacha that were favoured above Maturana, to the extent that by the beginning of the 21st century, few remaining vines were left in existence. Renewed interest in traditional varietals has led to new plantings, which have largely been championed by Juan Carlos Sancha, a viticulturalist based in Rioja. By 2007, Maturana Tinta was recognised by the Consejo Regulador, the regulatory body for Spanish wine, and it is now allowed to feature in Rioja. It will be interesting to see if more growers start to champion the variety. I find it distinctive in terms of the complexity of its fruit, which captures notes of peppery spice allied to dark juicy fruits. The bright acidity is sure to be one reason why it was previously cherished in the Rioja blend.
The wines – please see below for some details and my tasting notes.