Wednesday Wines – Episode 199 – Valentine’s Day Special An Epic Bunch of Rosés

It’s pretty cool when you meet your heroes, and I met one of mine yesterday. I have been obsessed with Lalomba Rosado since I published an article on the second-ever release, the 2016 vintage, in my MoneyWeek column in 2017.

The current release 2022 vintage made the grade in my Finest Fifty 2023, and here is part of its entry – 2022 Ramón Bilbao Lalomba Rosado, Finca Lalinde, Rioja, Spain (£25.00, reduced to £22.50 each by the case, www.greatwine.co.uk).  This is the finest Spanish rosé I have ever tasted. I have followed this estate and its journey into rosés for a good few years, and it was inevitable that a wine of this pedigree would arrive before too long.

The Finca Lalinda vineyard is situated at 520m on the Yerga mountainside, and is blessed with persistent Westerly winds. The Garnacha bush vines were planted in 1976 on calcareous, stony soils, and it is this setting that was always destined to make elite rosé. A refreshing 10% Viura is added to the Garnacha core, and fermentation and ageing take place in concrete tanks. Considering the price, this is a world-class wine that deserves to sit on the most discerning tables in the land!

Rosana Lisa, Lalomba Winemaker, was in London to attend a Rioja event when I managed to grab some of her time to walk through the evolution of Lalomba and taste a few curios with her.

There is no doubt in my mind that she is a prodigiously talented winemaker, and her restless mind and pursuit of perfection have seen this label skyrocket of late. Please indulge your senses and track down some of the 2022 vintage mentioned above – it is, pound for pound, the finest rosé on earth right now.

Here are some musings on the wines that Rosana opened this morning.

2017 Lalomba de Ramón Bilbao Rosado was the third vintage of this wine, and it followed the 2016 that captured my interest seven years ago. While the colour was starting to bring in bronze tones and faint amber hints over the once-pink hue, this wine is still hanging on remarkably well. Faint wild garlic aromas mingle with the more formal rosado palette of red fruits and spice, but there is well-balanced creaminess throughout, and it manages to hold itself well, with nods to its once luxurious past and enough crispness on the finish to maintain an upright stance throughout. The 2018 Lalomba Finca Lalinde Rosado ‘Oak’ sample was drawn from an experimental batch of two 500-litre barrels. Any apparent oak influence was channelled into mid-palate presence and almost imperceptible spice notes, and given this was a higher acid vintage, the overall balance is spot on. Knowing that oak is not a factor in making the glorious 2022, it seems to have emboldened this wine magically, suggesting that this experiment might be worth recreating! The oak used was identical to those barrels used for top-flight Loire white wines, so this goes a long way to explaining how subtle the resulting flavours are and how interesting this wine is from a textural point of view. The 2019 Lalomba Finca Lalinde Rosado was the classic release, and it looked heavenly. In its sweet spot of semi-maturity coupled with the last vestiges of brisk acid punchiness, at four years of age, this looked every bit a couture wine and restaurateurs need to bear this in mind because no matter how alluring the 2022 is right now, there is every reason to over order and build a discreet back catalogue of older vintages because there is so much more depth and complexity that arrives with gentle ageing.

I said to Rosana that I wouldn’t mention the 2020 that she decided to bring along, but I have changed my mind if only to demonstrate just how restless and experimental she is and how every ‘test’ informs her of even more information about her vineyards and the potential they possess. The 2020 Lalomba Fina Lalinde ‘Sparkling’ incarnation was a sparkling wine made in the traditional method and finished as a Brut Nature. It was not something I needed to taste again, even though it was completely correct and made from her prized Garnacha grapes. It was pretty raw and racy, and I felt it was like a top sportsperson being told to turn their hand to an alien discipline – Maro Itoje riding in the Gold Cup while Frankie Dettori takes his place in the second row. Loads of hilarious job swops came to mind as I tasted this wine, and while I didn’t love it, I will not forget it. As expected, the 2022 Lalomba Finca Lalinde Rosado was stunning, classy, controlled and elegant, and it fits perfectly into this evolution of style and confidence. I was fortunate to taste an unfinished sample of 2023 Lalomba Finca Lalinde Rosado, which looked incredibly enticing with a little more mid-palate heft countered by a keen acid edge. This wine will be released in the Summer, and I cannot wait to see the bottled version.

Rosana also makes a pair of red wines that were first launched in 2016.  2018 Lalomba, Finca Valhonta, Rioja, Spain (£110.00, reduced to £99.00 each by the case, www.greatwine.co.ukis a pure Tempranillo, fermented in concrete tanks and aged in 500-litre French oak for a year followed by 15 months in concrete. This is a slippery, silky-smooth wine with prominent florals and fruits of the forest flavours, and it is drinking now on account of its creaminess. By contrast, 2019 Lalomba, Finca Valhonta shows more intensity, tannin and structure while still demonstrating the pristine fruit notes from this vineyard.

It is a profound success, and will drink well in a couple of years. This is a prime example of modern Rioja, which is not just a cleaning up of oak and oxidation (two huge faults still existing in many styles today) but also a focus on drawing out the priceless elements of terroir that make these wines unique. This vintage is one of the most impressive examples I have seen recently. The second wine is 2017 Lalomba, Finca Ladero (the 2016 vintage is £110.00, reduced to £99.00 each by the case, www.greatwine.co.ukmade from Tempranillo and Garnacha from a vineyard situated at 720m.

Fermented in concrete and then aged in 500-litre French and 225-litre Hungarian oak for 18 months, followed by a further 26 months in concrete, this is a superb wine with a bright oak theme and lashings of spice. Funnily enough, I like this wine even more than Valhonta because it shows attitude and punch. Young and firm and needing a couple of years to settle, it looks like it has all the ingredients of a future classic.  2018 Lalomba, Finca Ladero spent 14 months in the combination of oak and then 28 months of refinement in concrete. Blunt, powerful and dry, it is too early to tell if this vintage might blossom like the 2017, but there is no reason to bet against it. Finally, Rosana opened a micro-production Amontillado! Yes, I was flabbergasted, too. Using yeasts from Jerez and making only 10 litres in total, this was a unique experience that was spellbindingly delicious. I have never tasted a Rioja Rosado Amontillado before, and it managed to capture all of the essence of this great rosé and layer it with tremendous yeastiness and epic acidity. I do hope I will taste this wine again one day!

Many thanks to Ali Mann at Emma Wellings PR for setting this up this amazing rendezvous!

FIN