Bodegas Tobía is seeking to create a “new type of Rioja” by looking beyond oak to explore the impact of different types of wood on the region’s white grape varieties.
Oscar Tobia shows some Viura cask samples from his alternative barrel trial
Oscar Tobía, who founded the winery in 1994, has laid down a total of 120 225-litre barrels of wine for the experiment, featuring four different types of wood – ash, chestnut, acacia and traditional US oak – and five different white grape varieties in the form of Viura, Chardonnay, Tempranillo Blanco, Garnacha Blanca and Sauvignon Blanc.
His goal is to create a single white blend from the 2013 vintage which he aims to release onto the market by the end of this year through UK agent Barwell & Jones with an RRP of “around £14.99”.
The trials have partly inspired by a move by Rioja’s Consejo Regulador in 2009 to authorise a number of new international white grape varieties in the region, which are now permitted to make up 50% of a blend.
“The idea is to have a wine that represents a new type of Rioja,” Tobía told the drinks business. “Oak is fine but why not try different types of wood?”
Seven months into the barrel trial, he offered an initial evaluation of the different styles that are starting to emerge, using Viura samples as an illustration.
Highlighting the “smoke” flavour imparted by his acacia barrels, Tobía said: “The only thing I don’t like is the intensified colour of the wine. It gives the impression that the wine has aged.”
While picking out the “spearmint, cool” character of Viura matured in ash barrels, he noted the particular success of chestnut, which “moderates the wine, brings out the acidity and adds a little bit of tannin.”
Tobía also pointed out the historical connection between chestnut and wine barrels. “It used to be the most popular type of wood around 100 years ago and was the first wood used to make barrels,” he claimed, “but it was in high demand to build boats.”
The current selection of barrel types represents a whittled down range from earlier preliminary trials. “Cherry didn’t work,” admitted Tobía. “It was too porous so there was too much oxidation.”
The project has been carried out with the help of local Rioja cooper Murua. Recalling their “very enthusiastic” reaction to his proposal, Tobía observed: “For them it’s one way of opening up another stream.”
Tobía is no stranger to pushing boundaries within Rioja, having already succeeded in winning permission from the DO to make barrel fermented rosé. However, in this case there are no restrictions on the type of wood used for vinification so long as the barrels are 225-litres in volume.
These trials in place at Bodegas Tobía are happening simultaneously with a those at a number of other wineries in Rioja such as Campo Viejo, which has also carrying out its own experiments in order to understand how to achieve the best results from these newly permitted white grapes.
Praising the Consejo’s decision to open up this region to new grape varieties, Tobía said: “Rioja is a very old region and very traditional, but like all Dos it needs to look at being dynamic and improving. Each winery should respect their style, but they should always be looking to push the boundaries.”