Miguel Merino – Rioja with heart and soul
The UK’s love affair with Rioja continues and it is still listed as the country’s favourite wine region, with 16% of consumers preferring these Spanish reds.
Situated in Briones, in the heart of Rioja Alta, Miguel Merino produces no ordinary Rioja. Working in the wine trade, Miguel always dreamt of owning his own small ‘bodega’ and Briones provided the perfect location: old, steep vineyards of Tempranillo grapes, chalky soil and a climate with a marked Atlantic influence. “It is very hilly and produces wines that are good to age,” Miguel says.
As one of the smallest and youngest wineries in Spain —their first vintage was 1994— these wines are now among the most prestigious in the country, and are exported to over 30 markets.
Unique to the region, Miguel produces a single varietal Mazuelo (otherwise known as Carignan). Old vines are at the heart of what they do and this Mazuelo vineyard was planted in 1981. “The ‘problem’ with Mazuelo is that people used to plant just a few rows and harvest it too early, with the Tempranillo. To make a good Mazuelo, you have to reduce the yield and work carefully with the oak,” Miguel says.
The Unnum red is 100% Tempranillo and produced from their oldest vineyard planted in 1931. This is a seriously delicious wine, perfect to pair with richer style foods and tapas like chargrilled chorizo or pork belly, as showcased during a recent press lunch with Miguel at Soho’s charcuterie and tapas bar, Dehesa.
The Vitola Reserva is a classic blend of Tempranillo and Grenache. And classic is what it’s all about. “We need to make more wines to please, rather than to impress. Our winemaking style is classic, not traditional,” he says. The Vitola is delicious with simple lamb and other meat dishes.
Miguel is a keen storyteller and explains that his harvest team is a group of professor friends who generously lend a hand – which certainly makes for an intellectual day in the sun! When it comes to sorting grapes, Miguel uses a unique three tier system. Grapes are either in ‘hell’ (and therefore discarded), in ‘purgatory’ (kept separate for their house wine production) or in ‘heaven’ (used for the Miguel Merino range). And 2015 was all heaven… they had nearly no grapes classified as purgatory or hell.
Miguel is an advocate of releasing red wines a little later. While the Gran Reserva (Tempranillo and Grenache) can still age for many years, the current release is 2007 – making it nearly 10 years old and delicious to drink now.
From the Quinta de la Cruz Mazuelo to the Gran Reserva, Miguel’s wines all showcase a lovely purity of fruit, which is supple but structured – not easily achieved. Wine journalist Charles Metcalfe says it best: “These wines are related to specific pockets and vineyards, without going over the top. They show respect and awareness.”