Nestled in the heart of Spain’s Rioja Alta wine region is one of the jewels of Rioja — Bodegas Beronia. In just 40 years, it has become one the top ten wineries in Rioja – a remarkably short period of time in the wine world. It was started in 1973 by a local gastronomic society, who wanted to produce Reserva and Gran Reserva wines in the traditional Rioja style.
To leverage their success, they needed a financial partner. Famed sherry house Gonzalez Byass was the perfect choice because it was diversifying into wine and recognized Beronia’s potential. In 1982, Beronia became its sixth and smallest winery. That same year Matias Calleja joined the team and five years later was made head winemaker. Over three decades he has created Beronia’s signature style, which combines innovation and traditional Rioja winemaking techniques.
Matias’s passion was evident when I sat down with him before a winemaker dinner this summer at the Toronto Hunt Club. There to help translate was Christopher Canale-Parola, Export Manager for Bodegas Gonzalez Byass. Woodman Wine & Spirits is Beronia’s local agent.
His innovation has primarily been on the influence of oak. Beginning in the late 1980s, Matias experimented extensively not just with oak from different countries, but from different forests. He was also one of the first to try out mixed barrels, using French oak heads and American oak staves. Because of his close working relationship with the coopers in this experimentation, he never felt the need to buy his own cooperage.
He forged the same close rapport with some 150 growers on 850 hectares within 10 kilometres from Beronia’s 20 hectares of estate vineyards. The Tempranillo varietal accounts for 90% of their 400,000 plus case production.
He also cites Beronia’s extensive studies on evolving consumer tastes in wine as key to its success. They spotted earlier than most that consumers were gravitating to a healthier, more natural expression of wines, with less manipulation in both the vineyard and the winery. Beronia responded with a lighter style wine that slightly tipped the balance toward wood versus fruit, preserving the classic Rioja style.
Their goals by their 50th anniversary in 2023 are to produce wines that are the best quality in their premium segment and to increase the quality of their entry level wines. They also want to increase their export sales from 30% to 50%.
Beronia Rosado 2012 (V323519;$14.95;13.5%) is a delightful strawberry hued rose, made from 20-year old Tempranillo vines. Its red fruit aromas of strawberry, red currant and pink grapefruit, touched with a hint of rose petals, follow through in the full fruit palate and lingering finish.
Beronia Barrel Fermented Viura 2011 (12.5%) is made from the indigenous Viura varietal, which is not hugely aromatic but creates a delicate wine. To give it extra body, this pale straw wine was barrel fermented in lightly toasted, new French oak for four months on its lees. Made from 40-year old vines, this wine offers fresh floral aromas, exotic fruit flavours framed with toasty vanilla notes.
Beronia Crianza 2009 (13.5%) is a blend of 90% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha and 2% Mazuelo grapes, aged for 12 months in barrels with French oak heads and American oak staves. Smooth and round, this garnet hued wine has a medley of wild berry and red currant flavours, with good spice mocha and vanilla notes. One of Beronia’s most popular wines, it is also the one it produces in the largest quantities.
Beronia Gran Reserva 2006 (14.0%) also uses 90% Tempranillo in the blend. But it adds 2% Graciano and increases the Mazuelo to 8% for more structure and a bolder character of wine than the Crianza. It was also aged longer – for 27 months – and made from 60-80 year old vines. This is a classic Rioja-style wine, with well integrated oak and fruit flavours. Smooth and elegant, it has vibrant mature black fruit flavours, with bramble, barnyard, sweet spice with a streak of tobacco and minerality in the full finish.
For more information, contact Beronia’s agent at Woodman Wines and Spirits.
Margot Ritchie is a Toronto-based journalist, whose articles focus on wine and culinary trends. A member of the Wine Writers’ Circle since 1997, she has travelled throughout many of the major wine growing regions of Europe and North America. These include Austria, France, Italy, and Portugal, as well as California, New York State and Ontario. Spirits, sake and beer are also highlighted in her writings, where her travels have extended to Scotland, Japan and the Czech Republic.Margot’s wine columns have appeared in Del Condominium Lifestyle, Elite Wine, Food and Travel, Modesty Magazine, International Women’s Forum (IWF) – Toronto Chapter Newsletter and the Portuguese Post . Margot also advises on private wine cellar management.