Nivarius: Rare White Wines from Rioja

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The first winery we visited in Rioja is a very new one: Nivarius. The first vintage produced was only in 2012. It is unique in Rioja because it is the first and only winery in Rioja that only produces white wine. This is possible because of the unique terroir after which the winery was named, because “nivarius” is Latin for “ice box”. The vineyards are located on north-facing slopes at 800 meters (2600 ft) above sea-level. This place is so cold that for centuries it has been used to store snow to be used in the summer. Because of that, the white grapes retain their acidity and take long enough to ripen to let the aromas develop fully. The harvest starts in the second half of September and lasts well into October, which is very late for whites in Spain. The winery and vineyards are located near the town of Naldus in the Rioja Baja subzone (although in this case, “baja” (=low) does not apply!) with sandy soils of sedimentary origin, not very fertile and with good drainage.

Apart from the terroir, Nivarius has another thing going for it and that is the rare grape varieties tempranillo blanco and maturana blanca. Tempranillo is the most common red grape variety of Spain, the main grape for red Rioja and (under aliases such tinto de toro, tinto del pais, tinto fino, and cencibel) for many other quality reds. Tempranillo blanco is not white wine made from red grapes, but instead a spontaneous color mutation of the original red grape that was discovered in 1988 and has been authorized to use in white Rioja since 2004. Nivarius is one of the few wineries that produces a varietal wine. It has 20 hectares (49 acres) of tempranillo blanco.

Even more rare is maturana blanca. Although it is considered to be the first grape variety documented in Rioja, in 1622, but it had nearly vanished when it was rescued from extinction in 1988. It is now authorized for white Rioja. In 2008, there were only 3 hectares (7 acres) of maturana blanca in Spain.

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Nivarius uses modern equipment to maintain the freshness and aromas of their white wines. The fermentation starts in stainless steel. Each variety from each plot is vinified separately to maximize varietal expression by choosing the best fermentation temperature and maceration time (skin contact, between 4 and 12 hours) for each.

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The premium wines are aged in large oak casks of 3,500 litres (foudres) of French oak from Normandy. To add roundness and complexity, the lees are stirred regularly (batonnage). After 7 months of oak, the wines are aged in the bottle for a year until they are brought to the market. Old vine viura is aged in 500 litre barrels of lightly toasted French oak.

 

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Tasting notes

Nivei 2014

  • Blend of tempranillo blanco and viura, complemented with verdejo, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, malvasia riojana, and maturana blanca, made in stainless steel with 2 months of aging on the lees before blending, 13.5% ABV
  • Color: pale straw yellow
  • Nose: fresh, citrus, minerals
  • Taste: dry with nice acidity
  • Price at the winery: 4 euros
  • Conclusion: good for every day drinking, ***1/2

Nivarius tempranillo blanco, 2014

  • 100% tempranillo blanco, 7 months large oak on the lees, 14% ABV
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: complex with white fruits and flowers, lot of minerality (hint of rubber)
  • Taste: round with good acidity
  • Price at winery: 8 euros
  • Conclusion: good, will become better with age, ***1/2

Nivarius 2014

  • 65% old-vine viura (over 80 years old), 30% maturana blanca, 5% tempranillo blanco, 7 months large oak on the lees, 14% ABV
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: perfumed with mineral notes
  • Taste: complex, structured
  • Price at winery: 9 euros
  • Conclusion: very good now but with great aging potential, ****

Maturana blanca 2014

  • 100% maturana blanca, 7 months large oak on the lees
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: ripe peach
  • Taste: complex and structured, very well balanced fruit and acidity
  • Unfortunately this wine is not yet for sale
  • Conclusion: excellent with great aging potential, ****1/2

Nivei semidulce

  • 30% viura, 30% tempranillo blanco, 20% verdejo, 20% sauvignon blanc, late harvest at 15.5% potential alcohol and then vinified until 11% ABV so that about 50 grams/litre residual sugar from the grapes remains
  • Color: straw yellow
  • Nose: fruity
  • Taste: good balance between sweetness and acidity
  • Price at winery: 4 euros
  • Conclusion: better than average for this type of wine, ***

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We toured the winery with manager Philippe (on the left) and wine maker Pablo (in the middle). They told us that they think of Chablis as an example as they are looking to make wines that are fresh and structured with good minerality. From the tasting I’d say they are on the right track. This is a winery to watch, especially when they release a varietal maturana blanca. This rare grape variety has great potential, and Nivarius is the perfect winery to show the world how good it can be.

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4 thoughts on “Nivarius: Rare White Wines from Rioja

  1. Since I have been a ‘white-wine-girl’ [I know, I know 🙂 !] all my life and love it dry to very dry, this has been quite a lesson for me! Would have thought the terroir would produce more sweetish wines . . . Hate the labels, cannot quite believe and love the prices . . . interesting . . .

    Liked by 1 person

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