On the Trail

Rioja's Forward-Thinking Leader

Joe Manekin

Alvaro Palacios has roots that run deep into the soil of Rioja. He was born into one the region's most prestigious winemaking families, the force behind Palacios Remondo, yet his interests have always been grander. Rather than slide simply into a position at the family winery, Alvaro decided to go out and do his own thing for a while. During the eighties, he worked in Bordeaux with Jean-Pierre Moueix, then decided to purchase his own winery in Priorat where he worked avidly to help put that region on the map. Almost thirty years later, his L'Ermita Priorat is the gold standard for the appellation. During that time, Alvaro has advocated for the lesser known wine regions of Spain, eventually coming back to the family winery in Rioja. Once home, he set to work using his experiences elsewhere to get the business back on track, while at the same time rethinking exactly what Rioja is about. Today he's considered one of the region's forward-thinking leaders; its champion and passionate voice.

There's a reason Alvaro Palacios was named Decanter magazine's "man of the year" for 2015. He's completely reimagined what it takes to make top quality Rioja: what proportions of grapes to use, when to pick, how to vinify, and how to age the wines, with the goal of maximizing terroir, cutting back on oak, and showing respect for the land. As a result, the wines from Palacios Remondo have become brighter, livelier, and more expressive since his return, but the best is still yet to come. He's still figuring out where the best parcels in La Montesa are—a very large single vineyard known to be the best source for grapes in Rioja Baja—and the family is still tinkering in the cellar, trying to make less stereotypical wines and more interesting expressions from the region. The 2013 Bodegas Palacios Remondo "La Montesa" Crianza is a perfect example. 2013 was a vintage the really highlights freshness over intensity and aromatics over richness. It’s exactly the kind of vintage where someone like Alvaro can show his vision for a new direction forward, where the stony soils can show their characteristic terroir.

He has the platform and the experience to help Rioja lead the way forward in terms of changing people’s idea of what constitutes good and even great Rioja. According to the Wine Advocate's Luis Gutierrez, who is arguably today's preeminent Spanish wine critic and definitely amongst Palacio's biggest believers: "The wines are gaining in precision and purity by the vintage." I'd highly recommend checking out the new vintage of La Montesa, where you can experience Rioja's new way forward for a very reasonable fifteen dollars.

-Joe Manekin