The First Sparkling Wine to Earn Rioja’s Highest Distinction is Bold, Effervescent, and Complex
By Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen, Robb Report, published June 6, 2023
If you love fine wine but also like to throw around your “limited edition” or “one of a kind” bona fides every now and then, a pioneering Rioja winery has released the ultimate rare wine. Conde Valdemar 2017 Finca Alta Cantabria Viñedo Singular Gran Añada is a unicorn among wines, as the first and so far, only bottling made under two recently introduced categories in Rioja, Viñedo Singular and Vinos Espumos, which translate to “unique vineyard” and “sparkling wine.” Gran Añada translates as “great vintage;” like many vintage sparkling wines this will only be made in exceptional years.
Viñedo Singular is not just a single vineyard, it is a “unique vineyard,” meaning the winery must prove to the Consejo Regulador de la Rioja, the regional wine authority, that their vineyard can produce a special wine worthy of the designation, and that the vineyard itself has notable and distinct qualities. While there are quite a few Tempranillo-based still red wines in the category, and several wineries produce sparkling wine, this is the only sparkling viñedo singular being made. The consejo has to approve the production up front, and then taste the wine before it is released. And the wine must be tasted every year before it is put on the market—this designation is not a blanket approval.
As there are no comparable wines in a region that boasts 567 wineries and the largest number of barrels in the world, the local authority’s tasting group first sampled Champagne to adequately judge the quality of Conde Valdemar’s new sparkling. Side-by-side, it more than held its own. “They were really astonished about the complexity of the wine,” technical director and winemaker Antonio Orte told Robb Report. “It’s not fair to compare because we don’t share the same grapes, climate, or soil—but in terms of quality we can be really proud of what we’ve made here.”
The unique vineyard in question, Finca Alto Cantabria, is a 28-acre estate that sits 374 feet above the city of Logroño in the heart of Rioja. Twenty-one acres are planted with Viura, one of Rioja’s main white varieties. Bodegas Valdemar founder Jesús Martínez Bujanda first planted the vineyard in 1975, and he says, “that at the time everyone thought I was crazy,” as Rioja was firmly red wine territory. Moderate altitude and rocky soils come together in a spot that turned out to be perfect for Viura, although it took a while for the combination of site and winemaking techniques to hit their stride. Bodegas Valdemar also makes a still Viura from the same site that is fermented in barrel. We tasted several vintages back to 1995 and were amazed at the complexity and freshness exhibited across the range.
…With a forceful stream of bubbles, Conde Valdemar 2017 Finca Alta Cantabria Viñedo Singular Gran Añada has aromas of Granny Smith apple, lemon zest, and hazelnut. Flavors of apple and lemon transfer to the taste buds along with a sense of creaminess, bold effervescence, and notes of apricot, dried Mediterranean herbs, and a hint of honeysuckle. There is a palpable sense of mineral chalkiness on the side palate with a bright citrus wash on the finish. Only 2,050 bottles were made in total, with just 700 of those imported into the United States. Almost the entire first production run was sold out upon release, but a couple of cases have just been made available via madwine.com.
The inaugural sparkling Rioja Viñedo Singular is one in a string of many firsts. Since the founding of their first winery in 1889, five generations of the Martínez Bujanda family have been making history. From the start, they were pioneers in the promotion of Viura in Rioja.