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White revolution taking place in Rioja

A quiet revolution is underway in Rioja as winemakers look to unleash the potential of Viura.

Though white Rioja currently accounts for just 5% of the Spanish region’s global sales, winemakers are now investing time and energy into getting the best from the grape, particularly in light of the 2007 law allowing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo to be used alongside Viura in blending.

The regulations allow those grapes to be blended with Malvasía and Garnacha Blanca in the production of white Rioja, so long as native grapes make up the majority of the blend.

Three “new” native grapes were also recognised under the terms of the new law – Tempranillo Blanco, Maturana and Turruntés.

Indeed, Tempranillo Blanco, which currently only exists in Rioja, is causing great excitement among producers. Rafael Vivanco, winemaker at Dinastía Vivanco, believes its arrival in the region is “very promising”.

Dinastía Vivanco is one of only three wineries to have plantings of the rare grape, along with Bodegas Valdemar and Juan Carlos Sancha. “Tempranillo Blanco needs to be planted at high altitude,” Vivanco said. “It’s not as aromatic as Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s fresher than Chardonnay.”

Native grape pioneer Sancha is equally enthusiastic about the indigenous white grape. “It has fantastic natural acidity and an aromatic profile that will combine well with Viura,” he says.

Meanwhile, Valdemar is the first winery in the world to sell Tempranillo Blanco commercially.

Made from an 11.5-hectare plot in Alto Cantabria, the wine is barrel fermented then aged in French oak for a year.

The bodega is already planning to release an unoaked Tempranillo Blanco in order to maximise its aromatic potential.

“It’s such a good thing for Rioja,” said marketing director Ana Martinez Bujanda. “Viura isn’t very aromatic, but white Tempranillo has great aromatic potential.

“I think it will work well in a blend with Maturana Blanca or Sauvignon Blanc – we’re experimenting with it at the moment – it could really help boost the reputation of our whites.”

Click here for an in-depth look at the rise of white Rioja

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