The professional merits of the British journalist Tim Atkin, Master of Wine are so impressive that you need five minutes to read them on his website. But for many Rioja winemakers, he is simply Tim, the person who opens the doors of his house every year and shows his work to the world. He has been and continues to witness the profound transformation that is taking place in this DO in which the grape, the land, and the diversity of a unique place in the world are making their way to success. And the decline of an aging classification system that has become obsolete without many wanting to admit it
You are the only man alive who is able to taste more than 1,000 wines in a few weeks. Could you share the secret of this meticulous plan?
There is none really, it´s quite tiring tasting 1,000 thousand wines. The thing to do is drinking tons of water trying lots of sleep drinking lots of coffee and spit obviously. I am Drinking a lot of water between glasses of wine but it´s quite physically demanding I don´t think I´m the onlyman alive that can do it it but it´s physically quite rigorous and demanding.
Your first 100 points red wine is not a choice coming from a classic traditional great winery. Do you think this has been a surprise to Rioja or does it an unstoppable trend?
I´ve given a 100 point white as you know before. I think it might be a surprise really to many people because it´s from a single vineyard. It´s although it´s not registered as one. It´s not a classic winery, and it´s not particularly well known. It was making carbonic maceration wines until the early nineties when Arturo´s father I thinks it´s Ricardo started doing carbonic maceration wines and selling his own wines.
So yes, It´s a young winery in some ways. But I liked it I think they are people who going back to old traditions and they are much focused on the vineyards. Because they are vineyard people. But I think it´s an important statement to give a 100 points wine prize to a small vineyard and to a small winery. And to show that there is a future for such places that Rioja doesn´t have to be about big bodegas. Some of those are very good, but it can be about small being beautiful.
There is a future for such places that Rioja doesn´t have to be about big bodegas. Small can be beautifulTim Atkin
In your opinion the traditional homogeneous Rioja model has arrived to a dead end. Do you think the crisis due to an excess of production could be a tipping point in the DO strategy?
They are not quite at a dead end. I think there will always be a place for wines that are blended across the region and they can be very good. I think much more that the crianza category is in deep trouble. It´s devaluated. Very few people drink it or if they do they drink it at very cheap prices. I think dividing Rioja by crianza, reserva and gran reserva, in other words dividing it by the amount of time it spends in oak, is a dead model in many ways. I think Rioja is not talking sufficiently about villages, about winemakers and about vineyards.
The excess of production should be a tipping point. Rioja is in a crisis and one can only be honest about this and say that that´s the case. But as I said in the report, there are two Riojas really. This one bit of it is in a crisis, which is the volume part of Rioja, and a lot coming is from cooperatives and the stocks that they held in big wineries.
But on the other end you´ve got these incredible exciting wines that are the most incredible wines that have been made in the history of the region. They are coming from small wineries just like Artuke, Miguel Merino and José Gil, Sierra the Toloño. It´s very exciting but at the same time it´s a little bit depressing.
Do you see it possible that this new and diverse Rioja could be discovered in the international market without the support of the big wineries or do you think this is a utopia?
It´s difficult, a lot of people still think that these new style Riojas don´t taste like Rioja, because the Riojas they like are the wines that taste like American oak and are soft and sweet and very pleasant to drink. I think it´s difficult, but I think the more those wines emerge as having a story which is about place and about vineyard, and the more people understand the differences between the villages: Samaniego is not the same as Labastida which is not the same as Laguardia, which is not the same as San Vicente, which is not the same as Briones and those are all within a few miles of each other.
Then the people will begin to talk about Rioja as they do about French or Italian wine regions. The villages of Barolo, the villages of Burgundy. And I think that that´s why we need, as a fine wine end to the business. And I think that has to come from the marketplace but also Rioja itself needs from promote those wines.
The consumer has to talk about Rioja like talking about the French or Italian wine regions. As one speaks of the villas of Barolo or Burgundy. This has to come from the market, but also from the appellation itself, which has to promote these wines.Tim Atkin
You consider Rioja is again making fantastic white wines. Do you see them as a new contender of more traditional Spanish wines as Albariño or Verdejo?
I think they are brilliant. Verdejo and Albariño are particularly great grapes. But Rioja has this incredible diversity of grapes varieties and styles. I think Rias Baixas and Rioja are the two most exciting white wine regions in Spain.
You are really candid about the way the Consejo Regulador is using their resources not at their best to promote Rioja wines. What would you do in a different way?
The most important thing is the soil study so we actually know what the soils are. The second thing is to change the current requirements so you can only make a village wine from the village in which you have a bodega. If you have vineyards in a different town you should be able to make lots of different villages wines. I would rename the crianza category. I think the marketing budget could be spent better actually. Rather than trying to promote Rioja generically which doesn’t really help anybody I suggest promoting it individually. Talk about villages, talk about sites, talk about history, talk about the dolmens, talk about the Sonsierra… Give people the sense of what this unbelievable region is like. We don´t really have that now.
Rather than trying to promote Rioja generically which doesn’t really help anybody I suggest promoting it individuallyTim Atkin
Wine tasting with Tim Atkin
Tim Atkin presented his Rioja report 2023 during the celebration of Barcelona Wine Week in early February. The attendees had the opportunity to taste several of the best rated wines and also listen to Arturo de Miguel from Artuke who spoke about La Condenada, the first red to achieve 100 points ever.
The three wines that I would highlight and that I liked the most are:
1) White Remelluri
A wine as complex as it is mysterious, since Tim Atkin commented that he doesn’t know which varieties, some native and some international, are behind. It is said, it is commented, it is rumored, that some of them are not currently accepted by the DO Rioja. It is the totally opposite concept to parcel wine, since it comes from different vineyards located in the municipalities of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Labastida.
An example of the rebellious character of Telmo Rodríguez, who exercises his right to open new paths and make 100% personal wines to finally decide to create a great classic. Herbaceous aromas of white flowers and aniseed, peach, and other stone fruits.
Perfect for grilled fish and seafood rice dishes as it has a structure that will accompany them perfectly.
2) Jose Gil La Canoca
The success of the young winemakers José Gil and his partner Vicky has been so meteoric since they were discovered by critics and prescribers a few years ago that there is the paradox that their wines are sold out as soon as they go on sale, when in fact they´re are made for storage and enjoyment on the long haul.
La Canoca is without a doubt the best landmark in San Vicente de la Sonsierra. If Rioja were classified by the Burgundian system it would undoubtedly be considered a Grand Cru. It is a wine closely linked to the land that produces it, which is the most beloved estate for the young couple.
It´s a 95% Tempranillo wine and 5% Viura, made precisely in the Burgundian style. “They don’t like the extraction, sometimes it includes a bit of stalk. No doubt this 2021 is still young. It´s a good idea to keep it in the cellar 5 or 10 more years”.
Cherry and blackberry, mineral notes and an elegant aroma of vanilla and a perfect rounded tannin.
I would pair it with something earthy but light, with hints of pepper, like sautéed mushrooms or steak tartare.
3) La condenada (Artuke)
Arturo de Miguel from Bodega Artuke took the opportunity to thank Tim Atkin “for the voice you are giving to all the farmers in our area and the small wineries”, although he added that “Rioja needs to move faster”.
La Condenada comes from a 0.95-hectare vineyard in Baños de Ebro that mixes different varieties: garnacha, palomino, graciano and tempranillo. It was abandoned for three years until the winery decided to buy it to give the land a new life. “Sadly, this is a very common story and reflects the reality of many people who went to study to the city in the 80s and 90s and left the tradition of their elders behind. When their parents die they are left with an old vineyard as a burden and not as a gift”.
This wine has as little make-up as possible: it speaks of the land. And curiously it has meant a return to the traditional way of elaboration of Arturo´s grandparents. Seven days of fermentation and 13 or 14 months in used barrels, so the wood is present in a very subtle way.
Strawberry and black fruits like cherry and blueberries. Perfect for grilled meat and other intense red meats.
Find Tim Atkin Rioja report 2023 here
If you are interested in Rioja wine read this