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Bodegas Santalba in Rioja!

Cepa Vieja Ogga

After working in the industry for 33 years, Santiago Ijalba Garcia established Bodegas Santalba in 1998, in the Riojan town of Gimileo.  Obtaining his degree in oenology in 1974, Santiago was later joined by his son, Roberto, in 1997, after he’d finished studying at UC Davis in 1996.  “This is a father/son team,” says Jorge.  “They do everything hand-in-hand…These two winemakers represent two different generations…They have traditional style wines, Emirta; and Abando, which is the son taking over, introducing modern techniques.”  Making wines under eight labels, including Santiago Ijalba Ogga, Vina Hermosa and Bodegas Santalba Abando, the Ijalba family has 20ha under vine, all of which is certified organic.  The remaining fruit, they purchase from other growers…”My dad’s 63 years old,” says Roberto, “he’s been in the business for 46 years…he knows a lot of people, very good producers [from which we buy our fruit]…35-40% of which are practicing organic.”

Santiago Ijalba is in charge of their label Ermita, which produces rosé, white, Crianza, and Reserva.  And while Santiago produces other wines, these are not available on the U.S. market. Abando and Ogga are produced by Roberto.  “The Ogga plantings are 90+ year old certified organic,” says Jorge.  “They come from one contiguous vineyard, which is very unusual in Rioja.  It makes Ogga quite a statement.  It [the wine] is pretty stellar.”

Santiago Ijalba & Roberto 

In speaking of how he and his father work together, Roberto says, “Both of us look for the Rioja style.  We believe that Rioja has a great name and quality.  It has its own style.  The difference [between us]?  Maybe he’s more focused on balance and elegance, [while] I’m looking for an expression of the grape, Tempranillo.  Not to make an international wine, but a more concentrated Rioja…not heavy.  I studied at UC Davis, so my style is a little different.”

In the winery, both father and son employ spontaneous fermentations.  They use indigenous yeast from the vineyard, and never add artificial yeasts.  Some of the wines are filtered, the white and the rosé wines, but the rest see only gentle fining.

Abando White Grapes

In 2009, they launched the Santalba Rioja Resveratol, “A very interesting wine,” says Roberto.  “We are pioneers in resveratrol [a natural anti-oxident that’s found in the skins of grapes and is thought to extend life].  In 2005, we started an investigation with eight other wineries in Rioja, to make healthy wines…we wanted wine to be more healthy, so we provoked the plant to increase the resveratrol with organic treatments.  We have 6x’s higher concentration of resveratrol than normal wine…the immune system of the plant produces the resveratrol to protect itself.  We trick the plant into thinking its sick, so it produces more resveratrol.  After one one week, we harvest the grapes and make wine using the natural process….Barcelona University said we have the highest concentration [24.5 mg/l]…there’s a Hungarian wine that was made with botrytis [at 14.3 mg/l]…most wines have 4-6 mg/l of resveratrol.”

Represented by TEW since November 2005, Roberto says of Bodegas Santalba, “We’re a family company.  All of my family, six in total, everybody is involved with the wines.”

Reviews from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar:

2004 Santiago Ijalba Ogga Reserva Rioja

($65) Inky ruby. Exotically perfumed bouquet of cherry-vanilla, candied dark berries, Asian spices and cola, with darker espresso and black cardamom qualities gaining strength with air. Lush, broad and deep, offering liqueur-like dark berry and candied plum flavors and a strong jolt of vanilla on the back end. Really takes over the palate. This is extremely primary right now: unless you’re a fan of oak, I’d give this at least five years in the cellar to harmonize. 91 Points

2010 Bodegas Santalba Abando Rioja Blanco

(100% viura):  Light, bright yellow.  Pungent aromas of dried apple, pear skin, toasted nuts and herbs.  Rich and fleshy, offering palate-coating orchard fruit flavors and notes of anise and toasty lees.  Finishes on a subtle vanilla note, with an echo of dusty minerals and a slight warmth. 88 points


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