MacRobert & Canals, new wave Rioja with a terroir focus

What happens when a winemaker from the Swartland marries a winemaker from Rioja? Well, he moves there and starts making terroir-focused wines

I first met Bryan MacRobert in the Swartland in 2011, and I was taken by his small-production, minimal intervention wines. Since then, he’s moved to Rioja, and is now making wine there, out of a small cellar in Logroño.

Bryan MacRobert in the vines

It was love that took him to this region of paradoxes: great vineyards but factory wineries.  Having worked with Eben Sadie in the Swartland, he did vintage at Terroir al Limit in Priorat, a winery that Eben was involved with at the time. There he met a girl from Rioja, and now they are married. She is a winemaker here, and her father in law, Fernando Canals, is an investor in his project.

Bryan’s first vintage here was in 2013. He doesn’t own vineyards, but rents them and does the farming. They are mostly small and old. Grapes are picked by hand into small crates and brought to the winery, where they pass over a sorting table.

Many of the younger Rioja producers are trying to focus more on the vineyard, rather than the ageing in oak aspect of Rioja that is still so dominant. This is a big region, and it will take a long time to turn it around, but increased focus on terroir rather than factory winemaking is long overdue here.

These wines are imported into the UK by Graft Wine

Laventura Viura 2017 Rioja, Spain
This is from an old vineyard with limestone soils, and it’s about 90% Viura with some other varieties in the mix from Rioja Alavesa. Fermented and matured in large format oak. Fine and precise with some ripe pear, tangerine and soft peachy notes. Nice fresh focus with some minerality, with good texture. 92/100

Lanave 2016 Rioja, Spain
Half Tempranillo and half Garnacha, spends one year in oak (500 litre, used). Sweetly aromatic nose with floral cherry fruit. Lovely expressive raspberry and cherry fruit here with good structure and some elegance. Focused and very drinkable. 93/100

Laventura Garnacha 2017 Rioja, Spain
From sandstone soils at 600 m in Rioja Oriental (Tudelilla). Destemmed. Fine and expressive with raspberry and red cherry fruit. Good acidity and a nicely grainy structure. Elegant and red fruited with good finesse. 94/100

Laventura Tempranillo 2016 Rioja, Spain
From Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. Tight and slightly reductive with compact blackberry fruit and a lot of tannic grip. Quite backwards with nice density. 92/100

Barrango del San Ginés 2015 Rioja, Spain
This is from a 1.3 ha vineyard planted in 1935 at an altitude of 520-600 metres on limestone soils in Rioja Alavesa and now cultivated organically. It’s a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Carinena and Virua. Taut nose of floral red cherry and plum fruit with hints of leather and tea, as well as fresh cherries. The palate is complex and compact, with tightwound black cherry and raspberry fruit as well as firm tannic structure. Such concentration and depth here: this is massively structured yet really refined. An exciting wine. 95/100

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