Our tasting impressions
There aren't many Mazuelo (or Carignan) varietal wines produced. The few that are done well are captivating. This is among the best as Javier has quickly discovered how to enable this grape's lovely nuances. Medium-bodied with floral aromas and bright, spicy red/black fruit flavors that are accentuated by umami. It is mildly tannic but definitely young. This fabulous wine is juicy, interesting and distinct.
About this wine
Solo Mazuelo was the first wine Javier produced from the 2013 vintage. 100% Mazuelo from La Cantera vineyard at 530 meters planted 35 years ago at a northeast exposure on flat, low-fertility soil (stressing the vines is beneficial) composed of rocky clay. In 2016 & 2017, irrigation was needed to due little rainfall. All but the minimally required leaves are pruned. Yields are low at about 30 hl/ha.
Grapes were hand-harvested early in the morning in early October, de-stemmed and placed in 500-liter steel tanks. A cold soak maceration takes 2-4 days. Wild yeast fermentation is at a controlled temperature around 25ºC. During fermentation, he sinks the skins at least twice a day to ensure that they are in permanent contact with the must. In this way, a smooth maceration is achieved that enhances the aromas and color and promotes elegant and soft tannins. A brief post-fermentation maceration (2-3 days) precedes malolactic fermentation and subsequent aging in 500-liter French oak barrels for around 12-14 months, depending of the evolution of the wine. Javier tastes all the barrels once a month to determine the optimal time to bottle. Annual production is 4,400 bottles.
About the grape
Mazuelo (a name used only in Rioja) - aka Carignan, Cariñena & Carignano - probably originated in Northern Spain around the 9th Century. It is very hard to manage (slow to ripen, can be high yielding, prone to mildew and must be hand-harvested). It once was an important blending grape with Tempranillo in Rioja to add tannin, acidity, color and longevity. But farmers, unwilling to tolerate its challenges, tore it out to plant Tempranillo. Now, it constitutes just 2% of the region's vines and only a handful of producers make a Mazuelo varietal wine.
About the vintage
2016 was a very successful vintage. A dry and hot summer was followed by higher than usual fall temperatures. Pre-harvest rain helped the grapes to ripen, if growers waited sufficiently. Keeping yields in check was critical as this was an extremely abundant crop.
On your table
At lunch in Javier's cellar, the 2013 paired beautifully with a range of tapas including jamón and chorizo (the latter effectively highlights the wine's array of spice flavors. But it has ample acidity to complement briny vegetables and is meaty enough to serve with everything from chicken to duck and dark meats.
Suggested Glassware: Grassl 1855
Javier Arizcuren is a talented architect who designs wineries. His family has a long history of growing grapes in Rioja Baja (Javier prefers this traditional reference rather than Rioja Oriental) from a village called Quel in Sierra de Yerga.
He had a vision of producing traditional Rioja varietal wines using modern day knowledge to improve old school practices with minimal intervention. He studied viticulture and oenology at the University of La Rioja and assumed responsibility for his family business in 2011, after deciding he wanted to produce his own wine, something no one in his family had done before. 2013 was his inaugural vintage.
His is the first urban cellar in Logroño, 50km from his 19ha of vineyards. He emphasizes the original Rioja grapes, which he believes are best suited to the terroir and capable of greatness in this area. His vineyards (and those he purchases from) are mostly very old and planted to Mazuelo and Garnacha. He also has some Tempranillo, Viura and Malvasía de Rioja. Production is about 12,000 bottles per year though he expects that will double in five years.
It should be apparent that Javier is a man on a mission, combining entrepreneurship with a deep commitment to preservation of traditions. He is a warm, gracious man who cares deeply about family. VDLT is pleased to support and join Javier at this seminal time in his journey and to be the first and only source for his wines in the US.