Viura – the illusive white wine of Rioja

 

Rioja wineIf you’ve like Spanish wine, you undoubtedly love Rioja.  The backbone of Rioja was build on Tempranillo, and is dominated by rich, red wines, but did you know that Riojo also has refreshing and lovely white wine?

While there actually is a Tempranillo Blanco grape, the shining star among the allowed white varietals in Rioja is Viura.  A mildly acid white grape, it is often used as a blending component, and was nearly wiped out by phylloxera.  When they replanted, much of it was replaced by Malvaia and Garnacha Blanca.  Viura is also one of the most im . portant grapes in Cava production, where it is known as Macabeo.

Viura is an excellent alternative to Chardonnay, and if you see the Lopez de Haro Blanco in your wine travels, be sure to check it out.

100% Virua, these grapes were hand harvested and spent a short 3-4 months in oak, keeping the vibrant and fresh flavor.  A low 12.5% ABV (Hallelujah!) this is a wonderful choice for brunch or lunch, wit tropical flavors, peach, fresh citrus, and a lush mouthfeel.  Yum!

 

Thanks to another great selection from Vintae and Lopez de Haro!

 

 

 

Pulling it all together

Now that we have seen the grapes come in and the base wine made, it’s time to pull it all together.  It’s time for the assemblage!

Assemblage is the process of choosing which case wine will be blended to make each sparkling wine.  Each base wine can be classified in to different levels of wine, and the process involves several components, including multiple trials and blends.  But first, you need to taste the base wine from which the blended cava will be made.

Each primary still wine is made specifically for the purpose of creating cava.  Unlike the table wine, these wines are made with a lower sugar content and a higher overall acidity.

First up, the Macabeo cava base, showed lychee and a slightly tropical undertone, with bright acidity, green apple and grapefruit.  It’s easy to see how this can create an excellent cava.

Next, we compare the Macabeo cava base with the Macabeo wine base.  IN the wine base, you get a creamy undertone, it’s roudner and softer with more pear flavors followed by citrus.

Now on to the Xarel.lo cava base.  This uniquely Spanish wine has a very subtle nose and is bright, lean and tight.  A strong banana scent is followed by bitter lime.  This wine adds more weights and depth to the finished cava.

Finally we taste the Xarel.lo wine base.  This was a bit like unfiltered grapefruit juice, stll with that banana flavor and a heavier mouthfeel.  I would call this a pithy wine.

Now that we know who the players are, it’s time to play mad scientist with the assemblage!Now we get to the third traditionally cava base, Parellada.  The base wine had a slight spritz, and  was full bodied and had lemon custard flavors with heavy aromatics and floral notes.

Gabriel Suberviola, Master Winemaker at Segura Viudas, was on hand to help walk us through the process.  As we found out in the component tasting, each wine contributes its own unique notes, and bringing it all together takes patience and skill.  To maintain a consistent product, winemakers need to be able to replicate a flavor profile year after year, with minor changes to the blend.

Gabriel and his team taste up to 200 wines, and they are classified in to specific lines.  Each line will become a different wine.  For our small team of amateur wine blenders, we had to learn how to spot a premier cava in the making in the unusual base wines we tasted.  The winemaking team has years of practice and can tell in one sip, but we needed a bit more time.

We started our adventure with four bottles of base wine:

  • Macabeo base wine
  • Xarel.lo base wine
  • Parellada base wine
  • current candidate of test wine, for control purposes
Over the next 2 hours, we tediously tried to create the best blend possible, which Gabriel would then be grading them as we ate lunch.  And so it begins.  Never one to play exactly by the rules, I started creating concoctions immediately.  Instead of trying to match the current test candidate, I decided to go out on my own and create a blend that I thought would make an amazing cava.
In the end, my favorite blend didn’t wine, but I sure had fun trying!  It’s amazing how as little as 5% of one wine or another can have a profound impact on the finished product.  If you’ve never played with blending, I encourage you to do it at home.  You can try it with any old wine, just add a dash of Petite Sirah to your Zinfandel.  Maybe some Malbec to your cab1  be your own winemaker!
The winner of this round was erstwhile wine director Mark, who proudly carried home an

excellent bottle of cava.  The most vivacious team goes to Rebecca and Tom, who had nearly identical blends, but still didn’t win.

Cin cin!