Rare wines grapes of Rioja: Maturana Tinta & Mazuelo

It may seem like a tired trope to bang on the fact that most people, when hearing the regional name, “Rioja” think that all wines are made from Tempranillo, but it’s the most common word association for the two. There is of course value in this as having such an immediately identifiable brand in this day and age is worth its weight in gold. And course, it exists for a reason as the vast, vast majority of of Riojan wines are mostly Tempranillo. I have to admit that it’s not a grape I’ve ever particularly loved as it’s really a question of the winemaker’s ability as to whether the resulting wine will be stellar or just some form of “red wine substance”.

Pliable and bent to one’s needs, the Riojans will often blend in a couple of other permitted grapes such as Graciano and Grenache to round out the profile a touch. I’m actually of the opinion that Graciano is highly underused as in the right hands its floral aromatic notes are simply enchanting; much more so than what I usually find in the crunchy, two dimensional red fruit notes of Tempranillo on its own.

There are other grapes that many people will often forget about though. Yes, there were some French varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that were mistakenly allowed to be planted a few years ago but are heavily discouraged in use now to the point where you can’t plant any new vineyards with these grapes. But then there are small time players like Carignan which can sometimes make up a very small part of blends under the name, Mazuelo to give a bit of acidity.

I have an unrepentant love affair with the Carignan grape. So hated in the past, but so capable when grown and produced correctly, it can be transcendent now. Despite this newfound potential, you don’t see varietal bottles of the grape in Rioja which is why when I saw this “Mazuelo de la Quinta Cruz 2012” on a menu, I simply had to try it.

Made by Miguel Merino in the village of Briones, this was apparently the first varietal Carignan wine to be made in Rioja. It was both very surprising and not at all surprising. By this I mean that when taking a first smell and taste of it, the wine seemed to have nothing in common with Carignan. It was chocked full of red fruit notes, a bit thin in the mid palate, and incredibly full of cedar and coffee notes from the year in barrel it typically receives. It smelled and tasted much more like a Rioja wine than it seems like it should have.

The wine appears to writhe in being extremely closed upon opening and given time, it did open up. Much like a flower, it gave way to violet notes and the body spread out. It got longer in the mouth and quite enjoyable, becoming much more the Carignan that I know and love. I’m just a little confused by the wine in wondering if it needs more time in the bottle (it already had at least three years) or if it just really, really needs decanting prior to serving. I feel like it’s mostly the second which is again strange as well-mage Carignan is pretty much ready to get busy as soon as you open it. Very, very curious wine that’s mostly sold in Sweden which is again a surprise given how much they enjoy large-bodied reds such as Amarone, Châteauneuf, and Priorat.

An even more curious wine is the “Nada que Ver” from Bodegas Martínez Alesanco. Meaning, “Nothing to see” this wine (I was tasting the 2011 vintage) is rarer than rare, at least in Rioja. Comprised of 100% “Maturana Tinta”, it’s a grape that was thought to be some saved from extinction red mutation of the Maturana Blanca that’s also rare, but not as much as the red. It reminds me a lot of the “discovery” of Garnatxa del Po in Priorat which turns out is another grape called Vidadillo.

Things went a similar way for Maturana Tinta. First, it was shown that it wasn’t a mutation of the white grape and they are in fact two genetically separate grapes, much the same way that the Catalan Picapoll Blanc and Picapoll Negre have no relation–undoubtedly this is seen in other regions as well given that grape classification used to all be visual.

Then of course José Vouillamoz had to come along with that DNA shit and show that the grape was not only not native to Rioja, but all of Spain. It’s the same as the much more commonly-known grape in Portugal called, Bastardo, but is originally believed to be from Eastern France where it is called Trousseau in Jura.

I had trouble believing this given how many sources show the grape as being from Spain, but José’s reasoning is sound in that it has a sibling relationship to Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and then a parent relationship to Savagnin (not to be confused with Sauvignon) which are all most definitely French grapes from the Jura region or there abouts. Science is a bastard this way in providing actual facts instead of #fakenews upon which many long-held ideas of grape origins were based until José and the Wine Grapes book came along.

It’s still hard to think that this grape is related to a single white grapes (which the three listed previously all are) when you taste it because it’s very beefy. It’s loaded with black fruit (blackberries, currants), touches of tar, floral notes, and a bit of smokiness. I have to say that I really quite liked the wine and I’ve no idea if there were will more of in the future as it’s a very un-Rioja style of wine. Maybe there’s a future as apparently another winery makes the Ojuel Maturana Tinta so it can indeed be found, albeit in rare quantities.

These were a couple of fun discoveries in a week that was otherwise focused on the classic style of Rioja and from the classic cellars at that. Good to see that there is a subset of winemakers willing to to take chances and see what else can be done and that’s before we even get into the gang behind Rioja and Roll!