A further tasting of Bodega Otazu

When the mega top-end “Vitral” by Bodega Otazu was announced earlier this year, I wrote a critique of the overall approach of creating what is for all purposed a “cult wine”, one which is created solely for the collector market due to its relative scarcity. While I’ve encountered the Otazu wines here and there, my tastings have been scattered, so it was something of a relief to finally visit the cellar recently and have a longer tasting on the premises.

It should be noted that said premises are exceedingly lovely. Located in what was an old señorío or better known to English speakers as a “manor”, the vines spread far and wide across a basin that opens up near Pamplona just as the Cantabrian Mountains give way. There’s a small collection of old stone homes near the cellar that date back to a founding in the 12th century and the cellar itself is from 1840 although at this point, it functions as a museum with the modern cellar nestled off to the side of it. Everything about it is very much regal, impressive, and lovingly designed to bring the old into the modern.

This basin or cuenca in Spanish is interesting as it originally wasn’t part of DO Navarra. While historically there were vines on the estate (thus the 19th century cellar), in the post-Phylloxera era, vine cultivation and grape production had fully ceased and thus it was left out of the original demarcations for the DO. When they restarted winemaking in the 1990s, the Penso Blanco family requested to be included and eventually were.

Whenever you visit a winery, they will inevitably toss out words such as “unique” and “microclimate”, usually joining them together all in an effort to play off how they’re different from their neighbor down the road. There is some truth to this discourse but in general terms it usually means nothing. I emphasize the usually in that statement as when it comes to Otazu, it’s quite easy to see that they are in microclimate that’s quite different from the rest of the DO in general. This basin where they’ve set up shop gets significantly more rainfall than their neighbors just over the mountain and they also see a much cooler climate overall.

They’ve used this aspect as justification to plant grape varieties that are almost all foreign. I usually scoff at this, but there’s something to as in visiting the property, it’s quite clear that it’s not Grenache country. The vineyards are bracketed by a river and thus the soil is quite rich with nutrients and alluvial materials. There’s a dampness to everything that one usually only starts encountering over the Pyrenees. That said, I think that they either need to take a slightly different approach to the winemaking or consider different viticultural practices. Apparently they felt the same as they changed their entire enology team back in 2013.

The good news is that Chardonnay seems to do well in their environs and if they continue to work upwards, they might very well succeed and this is coming from someone who is very much a #ChardonnayDenier on the Iberian Peninsula. They’ve also planted Pinot Noir which is yet another variety choice that rankles my neck hairs when I hear that someone is trying to do it in Spain. But, I have to say that it just might work out very well for them based upon the strength of the Chardonnay and the fact that the Bordeaux varieties they have: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, along with a splash of Tempranillo are yielding too much. They don’t taste as if there is a ripening issue, but more that they lack a great deal of density that they’re trying to prop up by cellar work. This is ultimately leaving them a bit loose in the mid palate and length. But, I’m definitely curious to see where the cellar goes from this point as it seems the owners are committed to seeing it along as well as taking steps to experiment as they’re working in what is very unfamiliar territory for most Spanish winemaking.

Chardonnay 2016
Clean, fresh nose, light pineapple, crisp green pea. Light mineral in the mouth, punchy citrus zest, medium short finish.

100% Chardonnay 13.5% 10€
* Q

Pago de Otazu Chardonnay 2014
Light lemon in color. Leesy, grapefruit, lemon peel, pinch of white pepper with lean pineapple and mango notes. Lighter on the palate, crisp and holding good acidity but falls off in the finish.

100% Chardonnay 14% 29€

Rosé Tempranillo 2016
Pink with a coppery glint. Crisp, very light red fruits, raspberry, herbal touches, mint glints, somewhat mineral but drifting towards metallic. Red fruit on the palate, astringent with a sweet finish. Claim there is only 1.2g sugar but have trouble believing this as it’s very sweet.

100% Tempranillo 13.5% 10€

Premium Cuvée 2013
Simple red cherry, touch of kirsch, cedar notes, pencil shavings, underlying plum. Quite marked by the oak on the palate, good acidity carrying it but really falls off.

Cab Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot 14% 12€

Señorio de Otazu Tinto Pago 2009
Plum and dark cherry, very light herbal notes, quite dominated by the oak, good deal of vanilla and toast, stewed tomato reduction. Light cedar and good acidity on the palate, lacking in the middle and a bit short in the finish, lacking depth but future vintages could easily hold greater potential as this was definitely the best of the lot.

85% Cab Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Tempranillo 14.5% 20€