Was it destiny? Beronia winemaker Matías Calleja was born to a winemaking family in Ollauri, the historic town in La Rioja where Beronia is located. Matías has completed 36 harvests at Beronia!
Winemaker Matías Calleja is endearingly modest when he talks about his impressive career. Considered one of Rioja's innovators, Matías has been at the acclaimed Beronia winery since 1982 and became Technical Director in 1996 -- that's pretty impressive considering that the winery was founded in 1973. His long tenure at Beronia has had a definitive impact not only on their wines but on winemaking throughout Rioja and all of Spain. Matías balances his technical know-how with authentic passion and humbly says, "Everyday I enjoy my job. I enjoy making wine."
It's hard to fathom but there was a time when Spanish cuisine and wines were not as celebrated abroad as they are now. Having lived in Spain in my younger years, I can say that it was frustrating when I returned back to the US and couldn't find authentic expressions of the flavors that I had grown to love. Of course, times have changed and you'd be hard pressed to find an American food-loving city that doesn't have a first-rate tapas bar with a great Spanish wine list. In the old days, Spanish wines had a reputation for being more rustic than elegant but Beronia has been one of the leaders in elevating the quality of Spanish wines without obliterating their authenticity.
image courtesy of Beronia
Located in the north of Spain, Rioja is the country's preminent wine region and is divided into three distinct sections: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Alta. Beronia's vineyards are concentrated in the heart of Rioja Alta and experience a mainly Atlantic climate along with various micro-climates. The soils have a balanced structure of sand, sediments, clay and other qualities that make them ideal for the production of quality wines.
image courtesy of Beronia
But one of the most distinctive traits of Beronia's winemaking style is what I call "The Matías Method" for barrel aging. Why choose a barrel made exclusively from French or American oak, when you can combine both? 95% of the wines produced by Beronia are red and designed for long aging. Matías, a self-proclaimed oak enthusiast, pioneered combining French and American oak in one barrel to achieve optimal aging results for a selection of their wines. The Matías Method of aging reds in barrels made up of American staves and French tops is a hallmark of the Beronia Style. American oak tends to be more intensely flavored and contributes oaky flavors such as cinnamon, vanilla, and coconut. French oak imbues the wines with more subtle and pungent spicy notes like clove and black pepper and Matías believes that it "respects the fruit more." Combined together in this clever fashion, the two very different oaks balance and enhance each other.
My recent tasting of Beronia included a barrel sample and showed how oak selection influences their wines.
When we talk about Rioja reds, Tempranillo is la reina (the queen) and occupies more than 75% of the region's vineyards. In younger wines, Tempranillo's fresh & fruity nature are its main appeal but the grape also has the structured needed to grow more complex during many years of barrel and bottle aging.
Beronia Reserva 2013 ($19.99) is mostly Tempranillo (95%) with kisses of Graciano (4%) and Mazuelo (1%). Crafted from a selection of the best grapes from the oldest vineyards, Beronia Reserva 2013 was aged in mixed French & American oak barrels for 20 months and aged in bottle for another 18 months before release. That's a lot of serious, creative, and meticulous winemaking at a very affordable price! A captivating shade of deep cherry red, the winemaker's notes describe it as "On the nose complex aromas of black fruits, above all blackberry. It also shows a great bouquet of spices with cinnamon standing out and notes of cedar on the finish. On the palate smooth with sweet and round tannins. Great balance between acidic fruit and oak. Fresh, structured, and complex with a long aftertaste."
Beronia Gran Reserva 2009 ($29.99) takes it to the next level. 98% Tempranillo with a besito of Graciano (2%); shows Matías's flexibility and precision as a winemaker. For the Gran Reserva, he opted to age the wine exclusively in new French oak for 28 months, not mixed barrels, and an additional 36 months in the bottle. Silky and bold but not aggressive, the winemaker's notes say "Beronia Gran Reserva 2009 shows a deep intense maroon color. On the nose intense and complex with dried fruits and plums standing out over chocolate and sweet spice. On the palate structured and full showing black chocolate and tobacco. This wine shows great personality with a full body, elegance, and freshness."
Reds may rule in Rioja but Beronia brings the same level of passion and innovation to their white wine Beronia Rueda 2017($12.99). Crafted from 100% Verdejo grapes from two different harvests in the same vineyard that were vinified separately, it has a perfect balance of crisp freshness and nuanced complexity. Rich and aromatic but very refreshing, the winemaker's notes say "Beronia Rueda 2017 is pale yellow in color with greenish tints. Intensely aromatic, it displays notes of citrus and white fruit along with herbaceous aromas that are typical of the grape variety, such as fennel. Richly textured on the palate, it is fresh and elegant, with a slight touch of bitterness on the finish, also characteristic of the Verdejo grape."
In 1982, Beronia was integrated into the highly regarded González Byass wine family but has retained its unique Beronia style. Tasting wine and sharing laughs with Matías, during his recent visit to Manhattan, transported me back to Spain for a few wonderful hours. This conviviality is truly in the DNA of their wines - Beronia was founded by six friends from the Basque country who loved to wine & dine together while vacationing in Rioja. Elegant, authentic, and creative; Beronia's beautiful wines are made for sharing and bringing people together.
Click here to learn more about Beronia's complete portfolio of wines and to plan your visit to their winery in Rioja.