Visiting this dynamic, Rioja- based Spanish wine company, part 1


ricardo arambarri raul acha

I recently spent three days visiting Vintae, a pioneering wine company now working across several Spanish wine regions, with a range of different stand-alone brands. Managing director Ricardo Arambarri and chief winemaker Raúl Acha (above) took me around to see some of the vineyards they are working with and let me taste through their wines, so that I could get a feel for what they are doing.

rioja vintae

The roots of Vintae lie in Rioja, and in the village of Badaran, in the southwest corner of the region. Ricardo’s family came from this village. This is a forgotten part of the region: the expansion of Rioja in the late 19th century followed the railway, and because it never got here, it is still a little backward. This is actually quite a good thing: the villages here have some of the oldest vineyards in the region, and in particular old Garnacha, the variety that lost out to Tempranillo (which has more colour, higher yields). Garnacha is the unsung star of Rioja.  



garnacha tintorea
Garnacha Tintorea, aka Alicante Bouschet. It's not allowed, but there's fair bit of it in old vineyards

Ricardo Arambarri’s great grandfather on his mother’s side was a dedicated, 100% grape grower. His father’s family were carpenters, who also made a little wine. In the villages here you can still see how wine was made, in lots of tiny wineries. Typically, families would make some wine and then the large companies would come round and buy the finished wine, with each family keeping some back for their own personal consumption. We visited Raúl Acha’s tiny family winery in Cardenas, which had one floor and a basement, with the footprint of a small terraced house. He’s making a bit of wine there, and has cut through the walls of the old concrete tanks in the basement that would have been used to store the wine: he now keeps barrels here, and an amphora.

raul acha

Ricardo’s father, José Miguel Arambarri, has a successful construction company. In 1999 he decided he wanted to return to his roots: wine in Rioja. He began farming wine grapes in the region, but as well as making red wines, he decided to plant some Muscat. This was once more common in the region, but disappeared with phylloxera, along with many otherwise excellent vineyards.


‘My brother and I arrived when the company was mostly doing Rioja,’ says Ricardo, ‘and we had a wider idea. We wanted to make wines from the diverse landscapes in Spain – honest wines.’ Thus the expansion of Vintae began, starting off in Ribera del Duero, followed shortly by a move into Toro. Ricardo is the wine guy, while his brother, José Miguel, shows more interest in marketing and design, and has been involved in some of the more exotic packaging that the wines have.

matsu toro

It was his idea to use the distinctive and quite haunting portraits of three generations of winegrowers on each of the Matsu Toro wines. These are from Bèla Adler and Salvador Fresneda, the famous Spanish portrait photographers. ‘We were fifteen times smaller then,’ explains José Miguel. ‘We went there, they liked the idea, and we did it. If we went now it would be seven times the price.’

2016 was a high yielding year in Rioja

discarded grapes rioja
As a consequence some growers were forced to discard healthy grapes before harvest to avoid excess yields: these have to be placed between the rows as evidence that they haven't been used. 

‘We are a young, dynamic company and we love challenges,’ says Ricardo, who is in his early 30s. One of the features of the Vintae portfolio is the value for money some of these wines offer: frankly, they are too cheap. It’s because the company has been targeting the more commercial end of the market, yet making wines that over-delivered compared with their peer group. They’re now looking to tilt at the top. ‘Now we are starting to become more mature,’ says Ricardo. ‘We are looking to make more complex wines for niche consumers.’


Our first stop was at a new vineyard on top of a hill at the southwestern extremity of Rioja. This year they got the first grapes from it. It’s at 760 m altitude and has 12 different white varieties. It will be used to make whites and sparkling wines.


Over the ridge of this hill, which is the limit of the appellation, they have plans to plant more vineyards, outside the DO, near the village of Villa Verde de Rioja. In the past there would have been vineyards here. The soils are good, and there’s lots of potential for future development here, but at the moment the problem it is outside the appellation.

viewPotential vineyard land 

camino real vintae

The Camino Real Wines
From this area, they are making a brand called Camino Real, which is the name of the road in Badaran the family home is on.

Palacio del Camino Real Blanco 2015 Rioja
Made from grapes of this area in the Valle del Najerilla. Mostly from Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, but also lots of other varieties, some unknown. A part is in oak ageing only for two months, the rest is in tank. 12.5% alcohol. Fresh and textural with lovely rounded, pretty lemon and pear fruit, with fine spicy notes. A touch of melon and honey with nice purity. 90/100

Palacio del Camino Real Tinto 2015 Rioja
Old vine Grenache, Tempranillo and Viura. 20% barrel aged. 13.5% alcohol. So perfumed and floral with lovely black cherry fruit. Lively, pretty, textured palate with fresh cherries and berries. So pure, floral and elegant, with ripe fruit but lovely freshness. Such a stylish wine. Smashable. 90/100

Palacio del Camino Real Tinto Crianza 2013 Rioja
Old vine Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura. 18 months is old barrels. Sappy green edge to the vivid raspberry and cherry fruit. Juicy with nice freshness and a bit of bite. Crunchy and delicious with lovely freshness and some spicy complexity. You can taste the coolness of the vintage in this wine. Needs time to come together, but I admire the freshness. 90/100

See also:

The wines of Marques de Murrieta
Visiting Rioja (series)
Vintae Part 2, Garnachas de Espana
Vintae Part 3, in the vineyards of Rioja


Wines tasted 10/16  
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