On the outskirts of the town of Laguardia, located in Rioja Alavesa, at the foot of the Sierra de Cantabria, an oval shaped concrete building rises up crowned by an ancestral manor house. The structure is built on the top of a hill with views of the impressive landscape of the La Rioja countryside and belongs to Bodegas Loa, the flagship of the family-run business, Casalbor. In its relatively short lifespan of just six years, this business venture has managed to define its own style of top-of-the-range wines, not only under DOC Rioja but also extending its philosophy to the regions of Rueda and Ribera del Duero.
The philosophy behind the venture, which started in 2005 and sold its first wine ‘Loa’ in 2006, is to make premium wines whose personality transmits the unique characteristics of its roots. The principal brand name, ‘Loa’, is made at the bodega of the same name located on the outskirts of the town of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa.
The vineyards that surround Bodegas Loa were planted with the Tempranillo grape variety at the onset of the project. Currently, the bodega works together with the region’s viticulturists to make ‘Loa’ and ‘Spes’ using low-yield, painstakingly selected very old Tempranillo vines in order to obtain the very best raw material. The town of Laguardia, capital of the La Rioja Alavesa region, is famous for its optimum vine cultivation conditions, owing to its fertile chalk soils, as well as its Atlantic climate, which is tempered by the Sierra de Cantabria which acts as a shield against the cold, humid winds of the north.
The building which houses Bodegas Loa, and where both ‘Loa’ and ‘Spes’ are made under DOC Rioja, is built in the style of the French château, with an oval concrete structure crowned by the family house and surrounded by a landscape of vineyards, the characteristic scenery of the outskirts of the Laguardia town centre. The concrete structure is divided into two rings, the outer ring houses the machinery used in the vinification process and in processing the grapes, while the inner ring houses the barrel and wine-rack room. The hypostyle structure in the centre of the building is free from vibrations and natural light and as a consequence factors such as temperature and humidity levels suffer minimum fluctuations, giving rise to an unbeatable natural climate control system for wine ageing.
Elena Ezpeleta, oenologist at Casalbor, regards ‘Loa’ as the bodega’s flagship wine: “it’s the wine to which I devote most time and energy. It’s neither a classic nor a modern Rioja, but a wine which attracts attention”. ‘Loa’ is a single-varietal Tempranillo made from over 40-year-old vines that the oenologist describes as: “A wine that is aged for more than two years in French oak, which once in the bottle needs regular tasting in order to know exactly when it’s ready to drink. ‘Loa’ boasts exceptionally complex aromas full of nuances which incite you to discover them, and where you will find dried fruits, ripe red berries and brioche. It’s elegant, sleek and yet potent in the mouth, with a very long aftertaste. This wine is made to be enjoyed, a wine to take your time with so as to appreciated its aromas, a wine to drink with a meal in a relaxed atmosphere”.
In addition to the ‘Loa’ and ‘Spes’ brand names, which are made and aged exclusively at Bodegas Loa, Casalbor also makes a second wine range in Rioja under the label ‘Picardo’. Two red wines are produced under this label – a Crianza and a Reserva – as well as a rosé made from Garnacha and a white single-varietal made from Viura. One of the most exceptional wines is ‘Picardo Tinto Reserva’ a coupage of Tempranillo and Garnacha which is ruby red in colour with a russet border, it boasts very strong balsamic and leather aromatic notes, and toasted sensations. Being aged for 18 months in American oak barrels and for another 18 months in the bottle gives this wine immense complexity and structure. Smooth and round in the mouth, it boasts a long, pleasurable aftertaste where the balance acquired during the ageing stage predominates.
Casalbor makes the ‘Hizan’ wine range under DO Ribera del Duero, where it owns around 70 hectares of vines located in Quintanilla de Arriba, in the province of Valladolid, next to the River Duero. The vineyards are planted mainly with the Tempranillo grape variety. The wine range includes three reds, a young wine, a Crianza, and a Reserva, all single-varietals made from Tempranillo, and are famous for their fruity flavours and smooth tannins which become more complex the longer the wine is subject to ageing. The latest vintage released on the market is from 2010 and is surprising many customers due to its freshness and elegance.
The only white wine made by Casalbor is endorsed by the DO Rueda stamp of quality, and is also sold under the ‘Hizan’ label: ‘Hizan Blanco’ is a single-varietal Verdejo, pale yellow in colour with green highlights. Exuberant on the nose this wine boasts tropical and citric fruit aromas as well as apple notes, and a fresh, acidic and pervasive flavour.
In January this year, Casalbor launched an international expansion project after having strengthened sales on the Iberian Peninsula. The bodega aims to target the US, Asian and European markets, and is working towards creating a network of importers and distributors on each individual market which will enable it to carve a niche at the high-end of the hospitality sector and specialised stores. According to Paul Kerstens, export manager for Casalbor: “It’s a strategy based on the quality of our wines, which we aim to roll out slowly but surely, and with maximum dedication”.