Alegre Valganon

VISIT THIS PRODUCER'S WEBSITE
VISIT IMPORTER'S WEBSITE
Country of Origin: Spain
Location: Fonzaleche, Rioja Alta
People: Oscar Alegre & Eva Valgañón, Owners & Winemakers

Items

Alegre Valganon 2019 Rioja Blanco DOCa Login AG 91 WA 93 On Order
Alegre Valganon 2018 Rioja Tinto DOCa Login WA 93 In Stock
Alegre Valganon 2019 Rioja Tinto DOCa Login On Order

Ancient Traditions
A decade or so ago, traditional Rioja seemed to be on the verge of extinction, beaten into submission by the “international” winemaking trend that has swept the region for more than thirty years. But, today, traditional Rioja is making a strong comeback, as connoisseurs come to realize that the sumptuous CUNE Viña Reals and Lopez Tondonias and Bosconias from the 1940s to the 1970s are among the planet’s greatest wine treasures. The recent rise to stardom of the relatively young, but staunchly traditional Hermanos Peciña offers compelling evidence of the world’s growing love affair with Rioja as it was once made.

Yet, it’s often forgotten that what we know as “traditional Rioja” is less than 150 years old, having been created in the wake of phylloxera in the late 1800s. Before that, an earlier tradition flourished that featured viticulture and winemaking on a far smaller scale, allowing vine-by-vine attention to fruit quality, the inclusion of stems during fermentation, and shorter time in larger barrels. Since 2014, the husband-wife team of Oscar Alegre and Eva Valgañón have embraced this even more ancient tradition. By working strictly with tiny lots, they are turning out head-spinning reds and whites that capture the best of their beloved land’s 1,000+ year history. Their wines are informed by this ancestral wisdom and offer something unique in today’s Rioja landscape.

Before the French
The “traditional” era developed after the phylloxera root louse swept through France in the 1860s. Frenchmen looked to Spain to supply their wineries, and soon the méthode bordelaise had conquered Rioja. Production became large scale, and small barrels (usually the 225L barrique) became the aging vessel. Barrel-grade European wood was difficult to come by and expensive, so the Riojanos turned to America’s vast forests for cheap wood. The American oak gave the wines a uniquely sumptuous texture.

Rioja had a long winemaking history prior to the arrival of phylloxera. Grape cultivation arrived during Roman times, and—just as in France—monasteries were instrumental in codifying the best vineyards and varieties. Rioja wines were often fermented with their stems, and the quality of one’s grapes was a point of pride. Yet, this intimate knowledge of the land and its local cultivars slowly dissipated as the large houses grew larger, and the majority of grape growers were paid by the tonnage they produced.

The Rediscovery
While Oscar and Eva have only been producing wine since the 2014 vintage, their ideas developed over a period of years. They met while studying enology in Italy, and they eventually married. After returning to Spain, Eva found work as a winemaker while Oscar worked in export for some of Spain’s most famous producers. Both families own prime vineyards, and the young couple held onto the dream of crafting their own wine from them.

Oscar traveled throughout Europe in his export role and was exposed to many of its ancient wine traditions. A particularly eye-opening 2007 trip to Rhône and Piedmont brought visits to luminaries like Allemand, Rostaing, Giuseppe Rinaldi, both Mascarellos, and Giacomo Conterno. That trip greatly impacted Oscar. He saw how dedicated winemakers could reinvigorate their region’s traditions in the face of “modern” or “international” winemaking.

Voices from the Past
The turning point came in 2012 when Oscar traveled with Rare Wine Co. on a trip to interview surviving winemakers from traditional Rioja’s golden age (1940s-1970s). These old-timers had retained incredible knowledge about where the best vineyard sites were, how blending varieties and sites could yield a more compelling final wine, and how the stems in old wines imparted freshness and character. But by the time of these interviews, it was already too late: most of their bodegas had turned away from tradition. On the positive side, they practiced more serious viticulture. But their newly adopted cellar methods gave a more international feel to the wines. It became clear to Oscar and Eva that there could be another path forward in Rioja—an approach that married the best of traditional Rioja with a deeper appreciation of Rioja’s even more ancient ancestral past.

Alegre Valgañón Begins
The basis of any great wine estate is its vineyards. Many of Oscar's and Eva's family vineyards lie just to the west of Haro in the shadow of the Obarenes Mountains. This area has long been revered for producing freshness and persistence in blends. In fact, one old-timer claimed that the esteemed early Viña Reals were usually a blend of 75% Obarenes Tempranillo with up to 25% Garnacha from Cárdenas. Having vineyards in both villages, Oscar and Eva are able to work with similar proportions for their signature tinto. The vineyards are farmed sustainably. In the cellar, Oscar and Eva follow their ancestors and include stems during fermentation to produce wines of greater purity and expressiveness. They choose to minimize the effect of wood and use a mix of aged French barriques and demi-muids. French wood loses its flavoring ability much faster than American oak, so they’ve been able to minimize the flavor impact of the wood. They hope to adopt longer aging and even bigger neutral barrels as the project develops.

For now, Alegre Valgañón releases just two wines: blanco and tinto. There may be an old-style clarete down the line, and the couple hopes to eventually develop a long-aged, large-barrel wine that would take lessons from Barolo and Rioja’s old gran reservas.

Media Links
Foods and Wines from Spain: Rioja 'n' Roll

Social Media
Instagram: @alegrevalganon, @o.alegrevalganon
Alegre Valgañón on Facebook

Reviews

  • Alegre Valganon 2018 Rioja Tinto DOCa
    The Wine Advocate
    Rating: 93 (10/30/2020)

    I see the effect of the Garnacha very clear in this vintage, as it has some aromatic notes—flowers and red fruit, a touch of iodine and something mineral (think wet stones)—that are common with the Garnacha bottling and also the new single-vineyard Carra Sto Domingo. The palate is medium-bodied, there is some tannin, softened by the Garnacha, and it's juicy and round and finishes with a faint bitter twist. It follows the line of the 2016, perhaps a little fresher/less oxidative. Both this and the Blanco clearly overdeliver.
  • Alegre Valganon 2019 Rioja Blanco DOCa
    Vinous
    Rating: 91 (4/22/2021)

    High-pitched citrus and orchard fruit aromas are complicated by building herb, floral and mineral flourishes. Fine-grained and precise on the palate, offering bitter lemon pith, pear skin and quinine flavors that unfurl slowly through the back half. Finishes long and stony, with repeating florality and a lingering suggestion of tarragon.
  • Alegre Valganon 2019 Rioja Blanco DOCa
    The Wine Advocate
    Rating: 93 (10/30/2020)

    The 2019 Blanco is a blend of Viura and Garnacha Blanca that wants to be fresh but complex, elegant but structured. It's a blend of different vinifications, some with skin contact, some with malolactic, etc. in search of achieving more complexity and showing the limestone soils from a cool place even, in warmer vintages like this 2019. The bottled wine is 13.05% alcohol and has freshness with a pH of 3.3 and close to six grams of tartaric. It's very medicinal, textured and with some tannin, from early-picked grapes to keep the acidity. It's also balsamic, with notes of cloves, dry flowers, chamomile, quince and citrus, so it's certainly not your average young white from Rioja. It aged in oak for 11 months (500-liter barrels and 1,000-liter foudres). The palate has a lovely texture, round and lush with great freshness, and it's structured and long. I love it.