Our tasting impressions
The amphora makes a palpable difference in this wine when tasted alongside the same vintage Mazuelo from barrel. I can't say which I prefer. Both are lovely variations on the same theme. The amphora seems to produce a smoother wine with fleshier fruit that is pure and spicy. There is a lovely herbal tone that provides good balance. In its youth, there is a touch of sweetness. A truly excellent and uncommon wine that Javier recommends drinking sooner and cellaring for a shorter time than his barrel-aged Mazuelo.
About this wine
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 are hand-harvested early in the morning, 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.
Malolactic fermentation and the maturation is done inside traditional clay amphorae, painted with tartaric acid to maintain acidity levels. These vessels import more oxygen to the wine than barrels and do not add any flavor or tannin. Javier calls this his "naked wine" because it is the purest, most transparent expression of the grape and the terroir. He produced just 330 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
2018 was a year of erratic weather conditions. In general, alcohol levels are lower than in recent vintages and the quality was good. Careful vineyard management was key to success.
On your table
Mazuelo is a great food wine because it is high in acidity, zesty, red-fruited and low in tannins. In other words, it could be great with the myriad flavors of a Thanksgiving meal or keep it Spanish and serve with a spicy, herbal Paella.
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.