Vivanco, a family-owned company dedicated to preserving the heritage of winemaking, is serving history in the form of an unusual blend of white wine grapes in an 18th century-inspired bottle.
I find it exciting to discover an unusual wine, made from uncommon grape varieties. It’s particularly nice when the wine is an excellent bargain and easy to return to as a summer favorite.
Vivanco’s Rioja Blanco is such a wine, and it has the added bonus of being made partially from grapes that have been around for centuries but had fallen from favor and were on the verge of extinction.
I generally shy away from the word “unique,” which is frequently misused, particularly in advertising and by broadcasters, and substituted for words that don’t mean “one of a kind.” I mention this only because winemaker Rafael Vivanco notes on the company’s website that the Rioja Blanco is the first wine in Rioja, and in the world, to be made from a “unique” blend of wines from three grapes, Viura, Tempranillo Blanco and Maturana Blanca.
I’m far from being an expert on almost everything, and winemaking is something I put in the realm of the gods, so when Vivanco says the only place to find this blend is in his wine, I tend to take him at his word. I exhausted my limited resources — the internet and a handful of wine books — to check him out and couldn’t find anyone else doing what Vivanco is doing.
Half of the Rioja Blanca blend comes from Viura. Also known in Spain as Macabeo, it’s the most common white wine grape in Rioja, the wine-making region in north central Spain. The Viura imparts fruit flavors and floral aromas.
The remaining 50 percent of the estate-grown wine is what moves the blend away from the ordinary.
Thirty-five percent of the blend comes from Tempranillo Blanco, a grape that was the result of a genetic mutation from a single cane found growing on a red wine Tempranillo vine in Rioja in 1988. The white grapes propagated from that vine yield yellow-green wines with intense aromas of banana, citrus and other tropical fruits, according to the regulatory board of Rioja.
Vivanco played a key role in developing Tempranillo Blanco, and also has been instrumental in bringing Maturana Blanca, which provides the remaining 15 percent of the Rioja Blanca blend, back from obscurity. The indigenous grape is the oldest recorded in Rioja, first mentioned in written records in 1622. But growers had largely abandoned the finicky Maturana Blanca. Today, the grape is grown only in Rioja, with a mere 37 acres in cultivation, 22 of them held by Vivanco.
The result of the blend and aging it for four months in stainless steel is a pale, yellow-green wine that’s clean and bright tasting with layers of interesting, well-balanced flavors.
The Vivanco family’s links to wine go back at least four generations. Pedro Vivanco, who studied oenology, became Spain’s first certified winemaker and traveled the wine world, built the foundation of the current company, which is now run by his two sons, Rafael and Santiago.
Pedro Vivanco’s love of wine included a passion for the history of winemaking, and he collected objects associated with wine from around the world. That collection, including the inspiration for Vivanco current bottles, is now part of the Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine and its related education center, which has made the vineyards and the state-of-the-art winery a tourist destination. The company also operates a foundation to help further wine education and research.
Rafael Vivanco studied winemaking in France and worked in some of the country’s top wineries before returning to Rioja and developing the company’s line of wines, which he says on the website “reflect deeply what Rioja and its terroirs are capable of giving.”
His efforts must be paying off. Vivanco’s wines recently received a “Top 100” accolade from Wine Spectator.
Vivanco’s Rioja Blanco is an excellent wine to cut through sultry summer days. It’s great to drink on its own or with appetizers or cheese. Try it with a salad or grilled lemon-tarragon chicken; it’s a fine fit.
I found Vivanco Rioja Blanco at Norwich Wine and Spirits for $9.99, but it’s available throughout Vermont. You might have to ask for it. I also found the very fine Vivanco Tempranillo and Garnacha rose at the New Hampshire Liquor Store. You also might ask for the white at other stores in the state.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.