When I received an invitation to meet up with a scion from the famous Rioja winemaking family Martinez Bujanda at rather short notice, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a fabulous autumn day and I felt a bit of melancholy in the air as I crossed the Sydney harbor on a Manly Ferry as, in spite of the beautiful blue skies and the serene atmosphere, I instinctively knew that the long days and excitement of summer were over. Of course, Sydney siders know that autumn brings the nicest weather of the year (apart from spring), when the temperatures are mild and the skies are blue with sufficient sunlight to maintain ones positive spirits and feel good about life.
My destination was a well-known Sydney restaurant “Wildfire” generally frequented by businessmen with “big expense accounts”, located at the Overseas Passenger ship terminal (See article on Wildfire Restaurant).
I was aware that the restaurant was rather expensive and, as I had been there previously and knew their well-known sommelier, that they had an excellent Wine List with a good selection of Spanish wines to accompany the Churascao dishes and the “excellent seafood”, that this place enjoys a well-deserved reputation for.
As I was compiling a review of the Top Spanish wines now available in Australia and planning on publishing a magazine in Australia, I reflected on the famous Conde Valdemar brand and my recollections of it. Funny enough I used to see the wine up in the Baltics and had quite enjoyed the Conde Valdemar Rioja Crianza on numerous occasions, normally with some Jamon Serrano and olives (one of my favourite combinations), and numerous vintages, but I hadn’t really tried either the Bodegas Valdemar Reserva or the Gran reserve, nor did I really know anything at all about the winery, I merely recognized the label as a good one from past experience. (Incidentally Valdemar itself is a popular name in Poland and the Baltics, so that alone would guarantee it some favourable recognition in those countries.)
Signor Carlos Martinez Bujanda
On arrival I was met by Reece from a leading Sydney Importer Negociants (the local distributors of this prestige label) and introduced to Signor Carlos Martinez Bujanda the current Managing Director of the famous winery. It transpired that he was “quite jetlagged” and had been on an arduous tour, as is frequently the case with internationally known Winemakers and Marchands du Vins, who invariably operate on very tough and physically demanding flight schedules as they go about presenting their wines in what is very much a global business. Nevertheless Carlos politely demurred that he was excited to be in Australia and glad to have the opportunity to make a flying visit to Sydney, a market which showed some promise, perhaps compared to the rest of the Europe and America which were suffering from the GFC.
In spite of his jetlag, being the consummate wine professional and a very gracious host, which undoubtedly comes from the fact that he is the fifth generation of the Martinez Bujanda family to produce wine in Rioja, he gave me a very detailed explanation about the winery and the philosophy behind the Conde Valdemar wines. As I have spent time in Rioja and know the wines and the terroir quite well, I didn’t have too much trouble understanding.
Reece from Negociants had obviously gone to some trouble to pair the wines with suitable Wildfire dishes and appeared to know the menu well. After consulting with the waiter, he organized for us to start off with some Prawns. We started with some Seafood entrées including their special Salt and Pepper Prawns and Balmain Bugs called the Wildfire Signature ‘Salt and Pepper Fried Crustaceans’ (You can choose by the 100gms from Balmain Bugs, King Prawns, Yabbies and Lobster). As a big seafood fan, I was impressed.
Apparently they are coated in Sichuan seasoned flour and wok fried fresh to order with black beans, garlic, chilli, coriander and lime.
Absolutely delicious and a perfect foil for the crisply chilled Vino Blanco Viura wine from Conde Valdemar, Rioja. Naturally, I tasted the Viura before I consumed any food and I must say, I found the wine impressive in all respects
The tasting notes for this wine are as follows:
Conde de Valdemar Blanco 2008
Perhaps this is another first for Rioja – a barrel-fermented Viura. Viura is a common Spanish synonym for macabeo, northern Spain’s most planted white grape variety, the dominant white variety in Rioja. A rich golden colour, this single vineyard viura blends a touch of vanilla with tropical fruit notes on both nose and palate. This wine is one that could age well in a cool, dark place and be even better in a few years.
Following on from the white wine with the seafood entrée I was given a rather comprehensive and detailed explanation of the winemaking traditions and philosophy behind the Bodegas Valdemar label.
Apparently The Martínez Bujanda family has been growing grapes and making wine in Rioja since 1889. With more than 1,000 acres under vine, Bodegas Valdemar has extensive vineyard holdings in all three of Rioja’s sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa.
Carlos carefully emphasized that “This gives winemakers absolute control over the quality of the grapes”. When you consider the often quoted phrase that a “good wine is made in the vineyard” I understood the relevance. In addition, the Bodegas Valdemar winery, located along the banks of the Ebro River in the town of Oyon, is a state-of-the-art facility.
Now Carlos explained that under his leadership as the fifth-generation of Martínez Bujanda Mora family, Bodegas Valdemar is helping to redefine the style of Rioja, moving away from oak-dominated offerings and toward a fresher, more fruit-driven style!
Whilst I listened to all this information and tried to absorb it, some of the Conde Valdemar Crianza was pouredin my glass and we shared it and drank it with a delicious Charcuterie tasting Plate comprising San Danielle prosciutto, Wagyu bresaola, Dalmatian Prosciutto and Jamon Serrano with fennel seed grissini, mustard fruits and pickles.
Spanish Denominizione laws dictate that a Crianza must be aged one year in both oak and bottle prior to release. The Conde Valdemar Crianza 2005 is 90 percent tempranillo and 10 percent mazuelo (a blending grape also known as carignane that gives the finished product colour and capacity for aging). This particular wine spent three years in the cellar before release, giving the wine added complexity. It has great acidity with aromas of cherries and red plums. On the palate, the plums are present as are forest berries. This is a juicy wine that goes well with practically any meat dishes, but superbly well with grilled fish or even seafood Paella.
That’s right, forget about the tired old combinations. The Spanish drink red wine with Fish or Paella dishes all the time!
“In the alluvial soils of high-altitude Rioja Alta, the family has planted 336 acres of vines. This area is known for wines with great acidity and structure,” Mora pointed out. “The terraced limestone and clay terrain of Rioja Alvesa produces wines with great finesse,” he said, “as 244 acres are planted here”. The alluvial clay soils of Rioja Baja offer wines with body and great colour.
Martinez Bujanda owns two exceptional vineyards near the Ebro River that total 379 acres.
After nearly a century as a mainstay in Rioja winegrowing, the family in 1984 designed and built a state-of-the-art cellar in Oyón, a few hundred metres from the original Bodega.
“The winery is one of the most technologically sophisticated in Europe,” Mora pointed out. “Each step of the winemaking process has its own building within the winery complex to avoid any microbiological problems.”
Bodegas Valdemar produces wines from both traditional and non-indigenous grape varieties. In addition to cultivating popular Rioja varieties — tempranillo for red wines, viura for whites — the family has helped revive interest in older, traditional varieties such as mazuelo, malvasia and graciano.
“Mazuelo was a grape that fell out of favour due to low yields and the need to age wines from this grape longer, making it a more costly varietal to use,” Mora explains. “We feel that the higher acidity mazuelo imparts to our wines provides a structure that stands up to a greater variety of foods.”
Conde de Valdemar Reserva 2004
Conde de Valdemar Reserva 2004, Rioja reservas are aged at least a year in oak (here, it was 18 months) and at least three years between barrel and bottle. Again, the majority of the blend is tempranillo, with mazuelo accounting for about 20 percent of the total. This is not as pretty in the mouth as the crianza and is less dense. A bright cherry colour, the wine offers both red fruit and spice on the nose and a well-balanced palate of raspberries and cherries. A silky finish offers a hint of vanilla, undoubtedly due to 70 percent of the blend being aged in American oak.
With this wine we shared the Meat dishes comprising brochettes of diverse meats and we tasted the delicious Bodegas Valdemar Reserva.
At “Wildfire” when ordering the Churrasco, the practice is for the waitpersons to bring over different roasts from time to time, you can have as much as you want, they have roast pork neck, lamb, chicken, rump steaks, squids, gourmet sausages etc. All in all it was quite impressive and the meat did not stop coming, all delicious, tender and excellently flavoured. Very tasty indeed!
The Martinez Bujanda family is also at the forefront of cabernet sauvignon cultivation in Rioja. Recognized as pioneers in modernizing the style of Rioja wines, Mora and members of his family are credited with “pushing the envelope” of classic Rioja with their fruit-driven style, resulting in what the industry terms “high expression Rioja”.
More recently, the family has successfully championed the revival of ancient indigenous varietals like Mazuelo, Malvasia, Maturana and Graciano.
All fermentation (with the exception of the barrel-fermented, single vineyard, Alto de Cantabria) takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. An extended maceration period gives the red wines additional depth and character. After more than 100 years, the family continues to follow the principals laid out by Jesus Martinez Bujanda.
A great wine is the result of an endless journey filled with fundamental processes.
Bodegas Valdemar exports 60 percent of its total production to 70 countries around the world.
It was only at the end of the meal that I finally got to taste a sample bottle of the Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva 1982. It was mature and quite exquisite, but, of course, it was produced in the traditional style and I made a mental note that I preferred the Reserva as it had more life and more fruit and acidity and a more lively structure, but I could see that in the right circumstances it too would be a delight to drink.
The official tasting notes for this wine are as follows:
Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva 1982
A meaty blend of tempranillo (80 percent) and mazuelo (20 percent), this one spent 30 months in French and American oak. This wine is a blend of fruit from two distinct regions, giving it greater complexity than its 2004 counterpart. Gorgeous in the glass, the deep garnet wine has both herbal and vanilla notes. It has an enticing silky texture and lots of cherries and plums on a lengthy finish.
As mentioned the wines really showed their best when paired with the Roast meats and grilled sausage on offer at Wildfire restaurant, but after an intense 3 hour lunch trying to absorb all this information “my head was already spinning” and I was anxious to get back on the Ferry to Manly with a view to reflecting, compiling some notes and after the Wildfire Carnivores Feast perhaps even indulging in a cleansing ale!
Written by Wine Correspondent