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
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, aka Alicante
Bouschet. It's not allowed, but there's fair bit of it in old
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.
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
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
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
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.
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