10 Things Every Wine Lover Should Know About REMÍREZ DE GANUZA

Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza | Remirez de Ganuza's Samaniego vineyards contain vines that are almost a century old.

Popular with Robert Parker, Remirez de Ganuza is probably Rioja's greatest innovator, James Lawrence discovers.

1. A head start

Founded in 1989 by Rioja stalwart Fernando Remirez de Ganuza, this remarkable producer boasts a major advantage over the competition. For more than 40 years, Fernando's family worked as grape growers in the sub-zone of Rioja Alavesa, cultivating Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and small amounts of Viura and Malvasia. But, more importantly, Fernando was a respected broker of vineyards in Rioja, buying and selling old vines within a closed circle of growers. This gave him an unrivaled knowledge of the region's best terroirs, ensuring that his project had a massive advantage from day one.

Today he manages more than 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards spread across over six plots in the Cantabrian mountain range: Samaniego, Leza, Elciego, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Laguardia and Abalos. The average age of his vines is more than 60 years, with some approaching their centenary.

2. The right tools for the job

Although Remirez de Ganuza had no shortage of superb raw materials, at the time of the winery's inception it lacked the technology required to craft the styles of Rioja that Fernando strived for. "In the beginning, our biggest challenge was that Rioja didn't have the proper equipment or technology needed for quality; in the early 1990s grape-sorting systems for example didn't exist in the region," he exclaims.

3. An innovative approach

However, under Fernando's direction, Remirez de Ganuza was the first bodega to hand-harvest grapes in small baskets in the region, which were then put into cold storage to avoid oxidation and spoilage before being sent to the sorting tables. Moreover, in 1997 Remirez de Ganuza pioneered the technique of using only the upper half of the bunches (shoulders) for the top cuvées, while the tips - lower halves – were reserved for wines made using carbonic maceration. From 2003, all the wines have been made from estate vineyards – in 2005, Remirez pioneered yet another technique of washing the grapes in must after de-stemming. "Practices that were taken for granted in other leading wine regions were considered a novelty in Rioja during this period," he notes, with a wry smile. They have also been flirting with organic and biodynamic viticulture, although the jury's still out on that one.

4. Breaking with tradition

The first vintage (1992) of Remirez de Ganuza shocked the more conservative members of Rioja's tradition-led winemaking community. For, unlike the majority of Rioja's bodegas, Remirez de Ganuza did not subject their wines to a prolonged regime of aging in old American barrels, designed to oxidize and subjugate the fruit. Wine writer Hugh Johnson once noted that Rioja was once "renowned for producing well-made but rather washed-out wines – most Rioja lost its fruit due the stressful demands of barrel-aging, becoming dry and monotone". In contrast, Remirez de Ganuza's new wine, like the majority of Spain's modern output, was crafted in a distinctly international style – deeply colored, very ripe and seasoned in new oak. It was unlike anything seen before in this venerable region.

5. Out with the old

Since 2003, new French oak has played a decisive role in the winemaking at Remirez de Ganuza. The prestige cuvée, Trasnocho, spends 24 months in 100 percent new French oak, whereas the reserva enjoys a 27-month long vacation in barriques. The resulting wines are powerfully structured and concentrated – the antitheses of traditional Rioja, which was renowned for its soft tannins and lightness of structure. Fernando describes them as "Classic vin de gardes, wines that can be cellared for at least 30 years."

Of course not everyone in Spain is enamored with the modern paradigm of winemaking in the region. Pingus founder Peter Sisseck has been particularly outspoken about what he perceives to be the "boring homogeneity" in contemporary Rioja winemaking. "Modern styles of Rioja, especially 100 percent Tempranillo-based wines, can be very tedious. The paradigm of super-extraction and lavish new French oak for its own sake is looking increasingly outdated," said Sisseck in 2015.

6. Parker points

One devotee of Remirez de Ganuza's powerful and concentrated style is, unsurprisingly, Robert Parker, whose Wine Advocate awarded the 2004 vintage 100 points, describing it as: "The Latour of Rioja". Even the entry-level Fincas de Ganuza Reserva caught the Wine Advocate's eye, and he continues to wax lyrical about the brand. The 2004 is described as: "A mouthfilling, intensely flavored wine with good grip, excellent depth, and enough structure to evolve for several more years." The 2004 Gran Reserva currently fetches more than £300 ($392) in the UK, an astonishing sum for a Rioja wine.

"Parker's 100-point score was a great honor for our bodega," says Fernando Remirez de Ganuza. "But, more importantly, it opened doors in new markets and suddenly importers were desperate to do business with us," he adds.

7. Why stop at one?

Although Remirez de Ganuza is renowned for its yellow-label Reservas and Gran Reservas, the bodega produces a wide variety of brands at different price points, including the entry-level Erre Punto label, which is subject to a carbonic maceration. In contrast, Viña Coqueta is made from grapes from a single vineyard found in the foothills of Samaniego, while the Fincas de Ganuza range serves as a mid-point between Erre Punto and the celebrated Reserva and Gran Reserva styles. It is typically composed of 90 percent Tempranillo and 10 percent Graciano, aged for 24 months in 80 percent new French oak and 20 percent American oak.

However, it is the Reserva and Gran Reserva wines that really excite the critics. According to Fernando, the Reserva is a blend of 85 percent Tempranillo and 10 percent Graciano, with a dash of Viura and Malvasia added for good measure. It is aged for 27 months in 85 percent new French oak, while the Gran Reserva contains no white grapes, and is aged for more than 45 months in new barriques. Approximately 18,000 bottles are produced per annum, with a decent majority sold in the US.

The unique Maria Remirez de Ganuza must also not be omitted from this discussion. Produced using the best grapes grown in La Coqueta vineyard, it's a deluxe cuvée with no commercial aspirations whatsoever. In fact, all the proceeds from sales of the wine are given to charities, such as the Spanish cancer charity AECC (Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer).

8. Trasnocho

Remirez de Ganuza's flagship wine is one of the most celebrated deluxe cuvées, or Vinos de Alta Expresion made in Rioja. The blend mirrors the Reserva, although it is aged in barriques for a shorter period of 24 months. However, what really sets it apart from the Reserva is Fernando's novel approach to juice and skin separation – a PVC water-bag is placed into the tank at the end of the fermentation once the free-run juice has been drained. It was designed to release the majority of the wine contained in the skins, while protecting the wine from oxidation.

Today, Trasnocho continues to be marked by dark, brooding fruit and an extremely lavish use of new oak. Jay Miller, awarded the 2004 vintage 98 points, describing it as: "Succulent, voluptuous, and pleasure-bent".

9. A dash of white

After years of being stuck in the doldrums, Rioja's whites have returned to favor in all styles, from fresh to oxidative. Remirez de Ganuza arguably makes the finest of the modern-style whites, a delicious and zesty blend of Viura, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca and a dash of other varieties. Aged for nine months in barriques, the Remirez de Ganuza Blanco is packed full of citrus and tropical fruit. It joins a growing firmament of fresher styles, including the Contino white first released in 2009, and the excellent Valenciso Blanco.

10. Que terroir, terroir

Remirez de Ganuza has been one of the strongest proponents of promoting Rioja's wines through references to individual terroir, a highly contentious issue for Rioja's Consejo Regulador or appellation authority. "We believe that Rioja should establish a Burgundian-style cru system, with classifications of terroir throughout the region," argues Fernando. "It's also vital that producers are able to reference the specific village names on their wine labels." This stands in marked contrast to the traditional approach taken by Spanish DOs, where historically the quality of wines was associated with the length of time they spent in barrel.

Yet Remirez's viewpoints are shared by a growing number of producers across Spain, including Pepe Raventos, and Telmo Rodriguez who unveiled his Manifesto in defence of Spanish terroir in January 2016. So far it has attracted the signatures of more than 150 winemakers, including Peter Sisseck and Xavier Gramona. "Of course the DO framework in Rioja needs to be updated – the classification system has to be based on wine selection, not on the length of aging," adds Luis Alberto Martinez, Remirez de Ganuza's export director. Watch this space.

Prices worldwide on Wine-Searcher (US$, ex-tax, per 750-ml bottle):

Wine Name Avg. Price

Remirez de Ganuza Reserva, Rioja


Remirez de Ganuza Gran Reserva, Rioja


Remirez de Ganuza Trasnocho, Rioja


Remirez de Ganuza Fincas de Ganuza Reserva, Rioja


Remirez de Ganuza R. Erre Punto Blanco, Rioja


Remirez de Ganuza Blanco, Rioja