It had been possible to produce sparkling wines in Rioja, certified as DO Cava, since the creation of Spain’s main sparkling wine entity. But this fact was often unknown to consumers given that 95% of Cava is produced in the Catalunya region.
The area for production of Cava in Rioja is however limited to only 18 of the nearly 150 municipalities within the entire DO zone. In a bid to better show point of origin, the new subzone labelling of Cava that was approved in 2021 now refers to the permitted production areas within the Rioja region as, “Alto Ebro”.
A 2017 revision to the pliego de condiciones (bylaws) in DOC Rioja brought about many significant changes. One was the creation of the certified Viñedos Singulares which are continuing to grow in number significantly as the new wines come to market. There is however no stipulation as to what form the resulting wine from a certified vineyard can be as long as it’s permitted within the larger Rioja rule, thus is can be: red, white, rosé, still or sparkling.
It was this additional change allowing for the production of sparkling wines made using the traditional method from any vineyard within the DO boundaries that set the project in motion for Valdemar winery. This first vintage is from 2017 as it was the first year such a wine would be possible.
The “Alto Cantabria” vineyard for this wine is within the municipal limits of Logroño on a plateau at nearly 500m that overlooks the city from just across the river to the north. In total it’s actually a 23ha vineyard, but the certified single vineyard portion is comprised of a 14ha parcel that was planted in the 1970s with the Viura (Macabeu) grape variety, the principal white grape for Rioja as well as one of the three principal grapes for Cava wines along with Xarel·lo and Parellada.
With this change to the pliego, more sparkling wines are emerging each year, albeit slowly at first. As to why Valdemar has decided to start producing this wine now, marketing director, Ainara de Dios, told Decanter: ‘Our oenologist, Antonio Orce worked in Penedès prior to starting with Valdemar in 2016. He really wanted to try producing a sparkling and especially one from Viura due to its ability to age in the bottle.’
Considering the newness, and still somewhat experimental production of sparkling wine in a region famed for long-aged reds, the first vintage of this Alto Cantabria wine is a limited production of just 2,050 bottles. There will be no 2018 nor 2019 vintage as the climatic conditions were less than ideal. Future vintages show potential, but they’re still waiting to see.
For the moment it remains unique within Rioja but with growing interest, more sparkling wines and especially more single-vineyard wines are quickly coming to market, as part of a larger plan to change the orientation of this classic Spanish wine region.