An exciting new force in Rioja Alavesa.
From €8.60, £11.50, 15 Swiss francs
It’s always reassuring to find agreement between our various contributors. Two of the best-value wines in a recent Wine Society tasting here in the UK, on which I will be reporting in due course, were made by a Rioja producer whose name initially meant nothing to me but I see he was first rated, enthusiastically, by our Spanish specialist Ferran Centelles. And, furthermore, Javier San Pedro Ortega is one of the under-celebrated Rioja finds identified in the book Vinos Silenciosos about ‘secret rioja producers’ profiled in this tasting article.
In his introduction Ferran writes
‘If Basilio Izquierdo [ex CVNE] is carved into the living history of Rioja, the story that is still being written includes the young, talented, dynamic and very promising Javier San Pedro Ortega. We might say he is destined to become one of the great rioja winemakers. He comes from the fifth generation of winegrowers and his family owns Bodegas Vallobera. Despite this legacy, he decided to start his own project and in 2017 Bodegas Javier San Pedro was born. His Viuda Negra Nunca Jamás (“never again”) is an overwhelming, concentrated wine that costs only €14 – perhaps the best bargain of the entire tasting?’
Here’s what Javier, pictured above, writes about himself and his new bodega on his website under a giant instruction to THINK LESS, FEEL MORE: ‘I was born in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa), the fifth generation of a winemaking family. I was that five-year-old boy who cleaned his grandfather’s winery and produced his first wine in 2005 in his father’s winery at the age of 17.’
After eight years working in the family bodega he decided to go it alone, producing three ranges of wines at his Bodega Javier San Pedro Ortega. Cueva de Lobos (Wolves’ Cave) wines are ‘modern, aromatic and funny’. Viuda Negra (Black Widow) wines are based on old-vine vineyards (calling Tam…) and Anahí is a medium-sweet white produced in honour of Javier’s mother. He describes the venture as ‘an innovative winery with a young team looking to surprise you with wines that are different from traditional rioja. We feel our wines have to tell a story. They have to be singular, authentic, transmitting the expression of our land, being produced and aged with maximum respect but with a dynamic and contemporary vision.’
The red shown by the Wine Society, which I am assured will be introduced on their site this coming Tuesday 11 October, is Javier San Pedro Ortega, Viuda Negra Crianza 2019 Rioja. It’s 100% Tempranillo from vines at least 20 years old picked at the end of September. After a three-day cold soak the grapes were fermented for nine days in tank before being transferred to French barriques for 14 months before bottling in March 2022. Alcohol is an extremely well-hidden 15%, (not 14% as I was originallly told) residual sugar is under 2 g/l and free SO2 is just 20 mg/l. My tasting note:
Very gentle, lively, subtle wine. Still youthful but very convincing. Long and sophisticated. Not classic rioja but a very good red with such vivacity. VGV 16.5+ Drink 2022–28
The Wine Society’s £11.50 is a pretty good price for a ‘sophisticated’ wine capable of ageing for six years in bottle. The 2019 is widely available in Spain and Switzerland and earlier vintages are available in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
A white version, Javier San Pedro Ortega, Viuda Negra Las Levantadas Blanco 2021 Rioja, won't be available from The Wine Society until 23 November but it's worth waiting for. It's another sophisticated wine, a blend of 55% Viura/Macabeo, 35% characterful Malvasia and 10% Tempranillo Blanco. The Viura was cold-soaked for 12 hours, the other two varieties for 24 before a cool, 11 °C, fermentation for 24 days in tank. The wine was then aged in tank on lees for four months. Alcohol is 13.5%, residual sugar 3.3 /l and free SO2 21 mg/l. My rather terse but enthusiastic tasting note:
Really interesting wine on any measure. Good fruit, acidity and interest, a great find! VGV 16.5+ Drink 2022–26
Again this wine is priced at £11.95 and again I am suspicious of these pairs of wines at similar prices when any logic says that a barrique-aged wine with an extra two years is surely going to be much more expensive to produce than a young, unoaked white – but perhaps that is a curmudgeonly observation. Anyway, I would happily pay £11.95 for a white that seems to have potential to develop further and is made substantially from a grape that has shown its ageing potential. See Macabeo/Viura – the Cinderella grape? especially Allende white Rioja.
The exclusive US importer is San Pelayo Imports and the US stockists are Avinage Wines of Petaluma, California; Convive Wines of New York; and Bottles Up! and Wine Goddess of Chicago.
Read more about Rioja's secret wines.