2016 Sierra de Toloño

Grapes Tempranillo
Colour Red
Origin Spain, Rioja
District Rioja Alavesa
ABV 13.5%

Sandra's wines seem to improve with every release. 2016 is a fabulous vintage for her here in the high hills of Alavesa on the north side of Rioja. The lovely long summer season has added a shade more fruit weight to the classic detailed frame she conjures up here. This is deliciously nuanced with just-ripe cherry juice and lovely darker notes of more brambling berries. Underpinned by a fresh line of graphitey minerality. For Rioja - this is a gorgeously fresh, clean-lined expression L&S (May 2018)

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Youthful violet color. A highly perfumed bouquet displays an array of red and blue fruits and fresh flowers, along with mineral and allspice accents. Juicy and appealingly sweet, offering vibrant black raspberry and cherry flavors and a subtle licorice nuance that builds with air. Finishes silky, sweet and long, with discreet tannins that fold smoothly into the sappy, clinging fruit. Drinking range: 2020 - 2026 Rating: 91 Josh Raynolds, 2019)

At the annual tasting last week of The Bunch group of six independent wine merchants, of which Lea & Sandeman is one, most of the 60 wines had been made by women: it was this year's theme. I could have chosen any number for this slot, and no doubt will in the weeks to come, but this one, made by a woman, Sandra Bravo, wasn't one of the 60 (how contrary can I be?). Another of her Riojas was shown, the glorious 900-bottle Camino de Santa Cruz, but I've chosen the Alavesa at less than half the price, which I tasted the week before – and loved – at Lea & Sandeman's own tasting. Like all her wines, it's made from old Tempranillo vines grown high up, in this case at 650m, to give the fruit freshness, clarity and the vineyard signatures she seeks. Even when she uses it, oak is not the point. The Alavesa 2016 has plum and strawberry aromas, a deep, finely structured, velvety palate and a long, lithe finish. Drink it with? This is going to sound lazy but, honestly, the answer is almost anything savoury you like, except anything very acid or highly spicy. Joanna Simon, 2018)

Rich and concentrated, dark summer berries. This is quite pure and fruit-driven. The palate has impressive depth and fleshy allure. Supple and even-paced, this is a very fresh, juicy and attractive wine. Drink or hold. Rating: 92 James Suckling, 2018)

Sierra de Toloño

Sandra Bravo is a seriously exciting winemaker. Working with some of the highest altitude vineyards in Rioja – with plots of very old vines, she is hunting out freshness and purity. Having travelled the world and made wines in Bordeaux, Tuscany, New Zealand and California she has returned to Spain with her eyes wide open and a brave ambition to show the different expressions of Rioja. It does not all have to be blended, heavily-oaked, creamy and rich any more. Her delicately shaped – intensely pure wines are a revelation. With a range now of different releases each profiling a particular vineyard or a particular grape variety she is making some of the most drinkable and delicious wines in the region. No surprises she has been crowned the 2019 ‘Young Winemaker of the Year’ by Rioja expert, the wine critic Tim Atkin MW.

Sandra originally comes from Rioja, and returned there to start this project. 2012 was the first vintage. Sandra has trained in Bordeaux, Chianti, Marlborough, California, and is still currently winemaker for one othe bigger producers in Priorat. She has returned home to make a Rioja which reflects the land and climate of this particular corner of Rioja Alavesa. The wine comes from old goblet trained Tempranillo vines grown on calcareous clay are at 650m in Labastida - one of the highest vineyards of the Rioja region. The mountains of the Sierra de Toloño protect the vines from northerly winds and create a special microclimate, cold because it is so high, but dry with the Mediterranean influence despite being so far north. All this is perfect for the grapes to ripen fully over a long time in the bright light but relatively cool temperatures - the ripeness comes slowly, retaining natural acidity. The grapes are harvested into 15kg boxes, sorted at the vine, and taken to the winery in Laguardia. Here Sandra does a very conservative vinification, with a cold soak to start with to preserve the freshness of the fruit, and then only a gentle pigeage. After the vinification the wine is aged just six months in French oak barrels, and bottled without fineing of filtration. For the 2013 Sandra is delighted to have some amphorae, and will make a wine with no oak at all, aged just in these.

News 07/02/19 : Great to see Sandra Bravo getting the credit that she deserves from Tim Atkin, who has awarded her his young winemaker of the year - a great friend and brilliant winemaker, brava!

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