Bhilar Rioja 2016
True story –
A young man from small village of Elvillar walks into a bar in Barcelona. There, he sees a woman with not just one glass of red wine in front of her, but two. Immediately he feels compelled to meet this woman.
A young woman from America walks into a bar in Barcelona. She’s thirsty, and one glass of wine isn’t going to get the job done. So why not speed up the process by doubling down on the first call? And that way, you can taste back and forth and really experience the two wines.
That is how David Sampedro met Melaine Hickman – and the rest is history. Better still, the rest is a love affair with each other and with wine.
David comes from Rioja Alavesa, a small sub-section of the much larger geographic wine growing area of Rioja. He grew up among the vines and always desired a career making wine. Yet after going to enology school and working at some of the regions’ large wineries, he knew something important was missing – a respect for the land and its ancient vineyards.
Those are buzzwords on the wine scene today, but they are something David and Melaine have always taken to heart. And Melaine isn’t a sidekick along for the ride: After marrying David, moving to Rioja Alavesa, having two kids, and cashing out her 401k to purchase a specific vineyard of her own—I can fully say that Bhilar is truly a family-owned business. See where two glasses of wine can take you?
Back to the wine. Rioja is big, relatively flat, and as such can be industrially farmed. That’s why you see $3 Rioja on occasion. But it’s also full of old vines – nothing Bhilar works with is younger than 50 years old, and many are over 100. David and Melaine feel the best way to treat these vines is under the respectful care of biodynamics, a system of farming where the entire vineyard is viewed holistically.
That’s not an easy philosophy to pursue in Rioja, and when they started out it seemed impossible. They had just one acre of vineyards to their name. And while surrounded by ancient vines, every grower they talked to wanted to continue with the standard, tried-and-true, chemically intensive ways of farming. Eventually, in 2007 one grower gave them a chance, and that chance has now blossomed into a family of delightful wines. Here they are:
BHILAR is the village wine, a blend of vineyards from across the village of Elvillar (Bhilar in the Basque language). It’s a bold and intense red that opens with aromas of countryside – earth, a touch of game, rosemary and dried thyme. That is backed up with an intense Morello cherry flavor that evolves into blueberry, strawberry and black pepper. Structured with an integrated acidity, this wine is powerful to drink now, but lives beautifully on into the second or third day, suggesting a long cellaring potential.
PHINCAS is a selection of high-altitude, old-vine vineyards (over 100 years old). Here the expression of concentrated fruit comes to the fore. This is a seductive expression of the land – crushed boozy cherries with ripe strawberries, and dark bramble fruits. Behind this wave of gorgeous fruit there is complexity: Touches of herbs and spices waft through the background. A delicious tug of tannins leads to a long and mineral finish. This is outstanding Rioja.
ABEJERA is a single-vineyard wine planted in 1929. If you’ve never had a single-vineyard, old-vine wine, this is something you simply have to taste. The nose practically explodes out of the glass with sweet spices, garrigue, cherry fruits and hints of tangerine peel. Most old vineyards are blends and that is fully reflected here – the wine is 40% Graciano, 40% Tempranillo, and 10% each Garnacha and Viura. A concentrated palate leads to a salted rosemary finish with great freshness and very fine tannins.
LALI is a tiny, .5 acre site planted in 1910 almost entirely to Tempranillo. This impressive wine is an authoritative display of what Tempranillo can be: blackberry liqueur, crushed blueberries, violets, smoke and graphite expound from the glass. Its terrific purity offers a rich, multi-dimensional palate, layering in even greater flavors of plums and cherries, as well as structured tannins. It’s massively endowed and enjoyable now, and I believe will last for decades in your cellar.
David and Melaine are still flying a bit under the radar with their homemade, hand-crafted wines. But I don’t believe they will be for long – we got a hot price their current vintages, and you should take advantage. Further, I know they would love for you to explore the old vines of Rioja. So we’ve put together a snack pack of six, offered at an even greater discount, so you can explore!