August 12, 2023

Winery Spotlight: Fincas de Azabache

There is always something happening in Rioja  ….

And Fincas de Azabache is one winery to watch..…  Those new happenings makes it such an interesting region for winelovers to revisit time and time again. So, when I discovered a producer that was producing some interesting wines from the region, I decided I should find out some more about them.

What I had suspected but not known, was that this was a co-operative wine producer that isn’t afraid of trying something different. They were part of the vanguard for organic wine growing and wine making way back before their first organic wine release in 1998. It is no surprise then in the future we shall be seeing more of their wines labelled as ‘organic’ as plans are afoot to expand the range. 

They also have some diverse white wine offerings such as Verdejo amongst their more traditional white Rioja offerings (note for Australians, this is not the same grape as Verdelho). Including a traditional method sparkling Rioja blanco made from Tempranillo Blanco.  This is the wine that captured my attention in the first place.  

Click here to read a review of the Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco NV Sparkling.

The team behind these wines are very obviously passionate about their wines and their regions. They are also very keen and very generous with their knowledge about their regions and wine in general. 

Here is the Fincas de Azabache story …..

Who is your winemaker?

Martin Saez Palacios, is one of the best known winemakers in the Rioja Region. His reputation has grown over 35 years of distinguished winemaking, 

Martin’s interest in wine began at an early age while working with food and wine in his hometown Alfaro, working in a restaurant as wine manager when he was 18. His academic work was based in Oenology and he received a B.S. degree from “Escuela de la Vid y el Vino” of Madrid. 

Martin came to Fincas de Azabache in 2003. And for the last 20 years he has been meticulously taking care of all processes of winemaking. Here he demonstrates his huge talent that is reflected in our Azabache wines.


What varieties are planted in the vineyards from which your wines are sourced? Are there any rare or unusual varieties?

We are very lucky that our terroir is located in Aldeanueva de Ebro, in Rioja Oriental. Here the Atlantic and Mediterranean climates converge. It is also a dry area with very limited risk of fungal diseases and rot. The soils are alluvial and ferrous clay, that provide the wines with unique traits.

These factors contribute to the fact that we have an incredible varietal diversity: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura. But also much scarcer varieties in Rioja, such as Graciano, Mazuelo, Tempranillo Blanco, Verdejo among others.

The winery of Fincas de Azabache
Source: Fincas de Azabache

What is the history of Fincas de Azabache? 

Fincas de Azabache is a state-of-the-art Cooperative founded in December 1956. 

The winery has been kitted out with the most advanced technology. This is a tribute to our history and to the first growers. Their hard work and inspiration had led us to become who we are today.

It was born mainly from the need to highlight the jewels and unique terroirs that Viñedos de Aldeanueva possessed, but which were somewhat hidden.  

Spectacular centennial GarnachasTempranillos with unique mineral nuances, rustic and at the same time refined. Gracianos full of very unique notes of Mediterranean bushes. Our exclusive and vibrant White Tempranillo. Or our Verdejo, a perfumed stranger that we could well define as “the new kid on the block”…

Our commitment to white wines is definitely strong and perhaps daring. We are one of the few wineries holding a specific technology for the elaboration of white wines in a region that has been historically linked to the production of red wines.

Azabache old vine
Source: Fincas de Azabache

What varieties are Martin’s favourite grape variety to work with?

Tempranillo Blanco 

It is a unique and autochthonous new variety as it comes from a natural genetic mutation from a single vine shoot of a Tempranillo tinto vine. It was located in 1988 in an old vineyard in Murillo del Río Leza, La Rioja. 

The Center for Agricultural Research and Development of La Rioja (CIDA) was informed to carry out the appropriate studies, obtaining as a result a DNA genetic seed of around 98% with respect to red grapes

In the organoleptic analysis it presents an excellent quality, like the Tempranillo tinto from which it comes. 

The aromas that develop in the wines are certainly interesting. You will find white flowers, white fruits such as pears, as well as tropical fruits such as pineapple. Its palate is balanced, with structure and a long persistence.

After having the opportunity to taste wines from microvinifications of this new variety, and seeing the great qualitative potential that it could develop, we decided to bet on planting 80 hectares of Tempranillo Blanco.

We make a monovarietal still wine that is kept in contact with its lees to provide volume and creaminess. Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco, a truly elegant wine that shows the character of the variety.

In addition, since 2018, “Fincas de Azabache Espumoso Tempranillo Blanco”. It is a sparkling wine made by the Traditional Method (Champenoise) within the new category of DOCa Rioja “Quality Sparkling” . It is elaborated 100% with the rare Tempranillo Blanco variety. We have put a lot of effort and passion into this wine, creating an authentic and exceptional Rioja. 

To this day, there are very few sparkling wines from Rioja and even fewer made with this unique variety.

Click here to read a review of the Fincas de Azabache Tempranillo Blanco NV Sparkling.

Garnacha Tinta

Until 1990 it was the most widely planted variety in Aldeanueva de Ebro. Nowadays we are very lucky to have very old Garnacha vines, which have a very small production. However, the quality of the wines is really amazing.

Garnacha wines have a very characteristic aromas of candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon, and it is packed with flavours of raspberry, plum and tobacco. Garnacha also boasts balanced tannins, medium acidity and plush berries, making it an extremely pleasing wines.

Our “Fincas de Azabache Crianza Garnacha” and our Singular Vineyard “Coscojares” are elaborated with 100% Garnacha Grapes.

 What is the most challenging grape variety to work with?

Graciano. It is one of the most complex and difficult varieties that we have had to handle.  Graciano has small berries and give a low production. It is a very rustic variety that requires very specialized techniques.

The wines have spectacular profound color intensity with aromas of black fruit, plum, and cocoa with floral hints of violet and a mineral touch.  On the palate they have a powerful entry with good acidity that refreshes the mouth and ends in a fresh menthol. It is a grape that is widely used in blends with Tempranillo, providing an extraordinary aging potential.

What are the future plans for the wines from Finca de Azabache?

Our profound respect for the land, to which our wines and we owe so much, has driven us to make a profound commitment to sustainable practices in order to minimize our impact, some examples: 

· Reducing the use of pesticides and insecticides to the minimum, our aim is that the treatment with pheromones will be used in the total extension of our vineyards in the forthcoming years.

 • Implementing the Oresteo system for the production of wines, a pump over system that allows us to make the most of CO2 generated during the fermentation, helping with not only energy savings, but also avoiding 906 kg of CO2 per year released into the atmosphere. 

· We have a solar installation, which produces about 440.000 KWh per year. This will allow us to reduce the electricity consumption by around 25%.

· A strong commitment to organic wines, significantly increasing the number of hectares for the coming years.We are also considering introducing new grape varieties, such as Maturana red variety, with which we are sure we can make very complex and interesting wines that have great potential.

Azabache sources from some older vineyards
Source: Fincas de Azabache

How have your winemaking processes changed from the 1950s to now?

We like to believe that we have gone from being a very humble winery in its origins and eminently focused on the sale of bulk wines, to a leading winery in the Rioja region.

Without abandoning the social responsibility component of its origins, today we are talking about a very modern high-tech winery, internationalized. The inversion was significant, but all of this allows us to produce a wide range of wines of outstanding quality.

Name some of the things that make Fincas de Azabache so special?

We were pioneers in implementing the Oresteo System, one of the most advanced and environmentally friendly systems for the productions of wines

Some of the advantages the system offers: 

· Re-use of natural CO2 created during fermentation.

 · Real- time tracking of fermentation tanks. 

· Wines with lower SO2 content, respectful with the environment and the carbon footprint.

· Fermentation at perfectly controlled temperatures. 

· Substantial improvement in the extraction of aromas and compounds.

· Digitization of processes and internet connection.

· Technology specialized in the production of white wines.

In your opinion what makes your region so special?

The Rioja Denomination of Origin is small compared to other Denominations, but despite this, it has an enormous diversity of climates and soils, giving very diverse conditions for the cultivation of the vines.


The Eastern part where we are located, is distinguished by a more Mediterranean climate, which gives rise to a greater varietal diversity, as well as the best phenolic ripening.

Fincas de Azabache
Source: Fincas de Azabache

What were the highs and the lows of the 2022 vintage?

It was a difficult year due to the enormous drought that the entire country suffered. Thanks to drip irrigation we were able to alleviate the water stress of our vineyards, finally achieving optimal phenolic ripening.

When did the Fincas start producing organic wine?  

We are very honored to be able to say we produced the first bottle of Organic wine marketed by the Rioja Region in 1998. 

We are growers and therefore sensitive to sustainable practices and are specialists in the cultivation and management of the vineyard. Also, we are in a privileged area with a very low risk of diseases. Our biggest problem in the vineyards was caused by the berry moth, but that problem is now solved thanks to a clean and environmentally friendly technique, which uses devices with pheromones to prevent the reproduction of these insects.

What is the most popular wine you make?

Our range of wines have different personalities although always within the framework of a perfectly recognizable identity

Our Crianza Azabache and Tunante, are both very iconic of the winery. Their modern style, versatility and quality, make them ideal for today’s public, and those who try them, repeats 😊

_________

What countries are your wines currently sold?

Currently our Azabache wines are enjoyed in a very wide range of countries. 

Our main markets are probably England, Germany and France. However, our presence is becoming stronger in more distant countries such as the United States, Costa Rica, Peru or Japan.

To read more about Fincas de Azabache and its wines, click here.

With great thanks to the team at Fincas de Azabache, particularly thanks to Nora.

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