It’s hard to believe but the last time we spent time with Ramon Bilbao was 13 years ago, where winemaker Rodolfo Bastida hosted us in what is now a certainly defunct San Francisco restaurant where a good portion of the collection was on display. Today our aim is a bit more focused, looking at two Riojas in current release — a 2016 Reserva and a 2104 Gran Reserva.
Curious about the operation? Let’s refresh:
From utilizing traditional ingredients with a re-envisioned approach, to incorporating a racking system, cement vats, and conducting extensive yeast research, the winery is always seeking innovation. Ramón Bilbao is spread across single vineyard sites that are unique for their altitude, proximity to the mountainsides and the Atlantic Ocean. These optimal location factors allow the harvest to occur at the tail-end of the summer, maintaining fresh fruit flavors in the wine.
Winemaker Rodolfo Bastida, who joined Ramón Bilbao in 1999, has made it his mission to emphasize two essential qualities in the portfolio: freshness and fruit-forward. Rodolfo mastered crafting robust wines that maintain powerful aromatics by aging wines for a maximum of five years in premium American and French oak barrels and avoiding the typical filtration step in the production process. Rodolfo and his team deliver classic Rioja reds with a twist that embody healthy levels of acidity and fruitiness that harmonize with tannins over time and underscore the true expression of their grapes.
And now, two wines:
2016 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Reserva – Tempranillo blended with a 10% blend of Graciano and Mazuelo, made from 40 year old vines in the Rioja Alta sub-region of Rioja. Initially fairly closed off, it takes but a few minutes in glass to find its footing, where a bright note of blueberry and raspberry set the stage. Tobacco and a touch of licorice build on a lightly sweet palate that winds its way toward notes of chocolate-coated currants. Expressive and bright once you get past its initial goth phase, I founded it extremely food friendly as well as a lovely aperitif. A- / $27
2014 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Gran Reserva – The Gran Reserva expression doesn’t reinvent the wheel, leaning on on the notes of tobacco and cocoa nibs, evoking notes of coffee particularly heavily on the nose. The overall balance is better but the wider impression is one of savoriness, influenced by black cherry, raspberry, and rhubarb. Gently smoky as it develops, some light balsamic notes add gravitas, fading back to cherry as the finish dissipates. Different than the Reserva, but equally impressive. A- / $37