Sustainability and affordability drive Rioja Bodegas LAN wines to U.S. Markets

There is so much to love about Spanish wines from Rioja and other regions.

Heirloom tomato salad with six-month Manchego cheese at Bellota Restaurant, south of Market. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Heirloom tomato salad with six-month Manchego cheese at Bellota Restaurant, south of Market. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

There is so much to love about Spanish wines from Rioja and other regions. Fueled by a high quality to price ratio, they have significantly expanded their presence into US markets over the past few decades. According to the newsletter, “Spanish Wine Lover,” imports from Rioja bodegas has grown from fewer than 20 in the 1980s to over 180 today.

Imports from Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Rias Baixas and sparkling cava from Penedes are readily available and many have captured the attention of consumers and restaurant sommeliers. Spanish wines, in many ways, are produced with a completely different mindset from those in California or other states. No one seems to be in a hurry. The focus is making the best wine and not releasing it until it is ready, which could be years after it is bottled.

A relative newcomer to the Rioja region that is steeped in old traditional, Bodegas LAN, founded in 1972, consistently exports some of the finest examples of good value wine from Rioja as well as some premium releases.

Their 172-acre Viña Lanciano Vineyard sits near the natural border of the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa sub-regions. It is divided into 22 separate plots that are all surrounded by the Ebro River and LAN is deeply committed to sustainable viticulture and to co-exist with the native plants, animals and reptiles. By practicing biodiversity, adding natural flora and fauna to the vineyards, and using much manual labor, LAN has reduced pollution and water use and eliminated the need for chemical herbicides.

Tempranillo is the main grape varietal used in wines from Rioja, including those from the Bodegas LAN. The true character of Rioja is revealed when tempranillo is combined with garnacha, mazuelo, viura and graciano, with the best examples coming for the cooler, higher-elevation regions like Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa.

Today, the LAN brand is consumed locally and around the world. I recently joined CEO Enrique Abiega and Trinidad Villegas, LAN’s Export Director for the USA for lunch at Bellota, south of Market. We shared conversation, tapas and raciones while tasting the current vintages of their food friendly wines.

Bodegas LAN CEO Enrique Abiega. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Bodegas LAN CEO Enrique Abiega. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Enjoying a rare visit to California, Abiega began our discussion by pouring Bodegas Lan Santiago Ruiz, Albarino Rias Baixas ($20), a beautifully rounded, fruit driven white with a rich mouthfeel, a departure from the varietal’s typical crisp, acidic features. We spoke of the Sonoma County fires, drought and of the importance of LAN’s dedicated effort toward sustainable practices. Enrique and Trinidad have been with the LAN team for many years and both strongly feel that their methods create wines that, for the price, can compete with any others.

The tapas that included a fresh, decorative heirloom tomato salad, patatas braves with chipotle salsa and Spanish omelette, were paired with the aromatic vintages 2015, 2016 LAN D12 ($18) and the LAN Vina Lanciano Reserva 2012 ($25), aged 42 months between French and Russian oak and bottle conditioning.

The ninth and tenth vintages of the D12 both had intense bouquets, earthy qualities and the balanced, fruit-forward flavors of wines twice the cost. The hand-selected grapes for the Vina Lanciano go through full malolactic fermentation before extensive aging that results in an earthy, food friendly wine with integrated flavors and soft tannins.

A wonderful vegetarian paella that included wild mushrooms, autumn squash, sun chokes and pomegranate along with wood- grilled, dry-aged beef were paired with vintages 2103, 2106 LAN Edición Limitada Rioja ($50) and the vintages 2014, 2015 LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza ($20), a 100 percent tempranillo from the organic certified Ecological Mantible parcel, named after the nearby Roman Mantible Bridge.

A 2013 Bodegas LAN Edición Limitada Rioja. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A 2013 Bodegas LAN Edición Limitada Rioja. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

After Wine Spectator magazine raved about the LAN 2005 Edición Limitada Rioja, future vintages have been on the radar of consumers. Low yield vines, full malolactic fermentation and aging in new French and Russian oak barrels produce concentrated aromas, fruit-driven flavors, hints of spice and a lush texture.

Both the growing and winemaking methods for the Xtrème Ecológico Crianza call for minimal intervention. After initial fermentation, the juice is transferred to new oak barrels for 14 months and sits another nine months in the bottle. The color was dark and deep and, as with many of the LAN wines, the candied ripe fruit aromas were intense and the flavors, layered and complex. A tremendous value available for under $20.

I was impressed with all the Bodegas LAN releases that were served and would recommend them when exploring fine, value-driven wines from Rioja and other Spanish regions.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

Food and Wine

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