Tradition Come to Life: Pecina is Back!
Traditionally made Rioja has become a darling of the wine world which is remarkable considering that this style was almost extinct. To this day, it's only practiced by a dozen or so producers.
Even more remarkable is that one of the masters of this old-school way is a relative newcomer. Bodegas Hermanos de Peciña only came to be in 1993 making it about a hundred years younger than many of its predecessors.
The vineyard was founded by the former vineyard manager of perhaps the most storied old school producer of them all, La Rioja Alta. Pedro Peciña took what he learned and built a winery dedicated to bringing these historic wines into the 21st century.
Pedro took a big risk. Traditional Rioja was almost unknown outside of Spain except for Bordeaux, the region that served as inspiration for these now legendary Spanish wines.
While we're at it, what do we even mean by traditional? In Rioja that translates to long cask aging in old American Oak barrels and then a long time in bottle before release.
Pedro ages his wines a lot longer than the appellation requires. Racking (moving wine from barrel to barrel) and candling (separating the sediment from the wines at the end of the cask) is done by hand allowing the wines to fully and gently oxidize. These Bordelaise inspired traditions have all but disappeared including in Bordeaux itself, but the hard work pays off producing wines that are both complex as well as capable of aging gracefully for decades.
Pedro took things even further when it comes to the old way. Even fewer producers working in this way rely solely on native yeast. And at Pecina, sulfur is used extremely judiciously with only a small amount being added to the wine while aging in cask.
By the time the wine is released from the winery that added sulfur has all but dissipated. All of this helps to produce wines that are profoundly earthy and savory but with Tempranillo’s tell-tale black fruit and licorice aromatics and flavors.
We love Riojas like this. Located in San Vicente, home to another favorite Remulleri, it is located on the northeast side of the Ebro river near the border of the Basque Alavesa zone.
Their Rioja Alta vineyards, many 40 to 60 years old, are actually some of the finest in the appellation as they fall at the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria Mountains at an average of 500 meters, offering hillside expositions as well as complex and diverse soils with a large proportion of limestone, unusual in Rioja. Many of Peciña’s most prized vineyards are actually on north facing slopes which Pedro feels adds vibrancy and freshness to his wines.
We couldn't agree more. The wines of Peciña are unusually bright for the region. Even the reservas, after spending years in cask and bottle, feel young and alive upon release. They offer not just the complex flavors that come from long elevage but are refreshing with more acidity and minerality than many of their likeminded cohorts.
This is in no small part due to the limestone in the soils and the exposition of the vineyards. While the aged wines are always a treat, we were rather impressed by the 2019 Cosecha. The Crianza and Riserva wines have an old school Bordeaux vibe, savory and rich. The Cosecha reminds us of the Loire with its crunchy black fruit and earthy minerality.
It is one of the best young Rioja’s we have ever tried.
Whichever you choose, one thing is for sure, almost true of all the great Bodegas of Rioja, the wines are a relative steal. The cost of doing business in Spain as well as the rather large size of the estates all help contribute their value.
There’s also the fact that Rioja still doesn't get the respect that it should. Rioja is very big and there are many areas, particularly in Rioja Baja, that produce nondescript industrially farmed plonkers that end up affecting its overall reputation
Fortunately for these dedicated torch bearers, less so for our wallets, things are starting to change.
The last few vintages have seen the price of some of the most celebrated bottlings in the region push skyward, in particular Viña Tondonia. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of truly exceptional and inexpensive Rioja, but even at twice the price the wines of Bodegas Hermanos de Peciña are worth every penny.