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Ramón Bilbao brings ‘forgotten grapes’ to life

Published:  02 September, 2021

Rioja’s Ramón Bilbao has launched Limite Norte and Limite Sur – a red and white duo from viticultural extremes of the region designed to show the richness and diversity of the DO by bringing Rioja’s “forgotten grapes” to life.

Limite Norte is a blend of Maturana Blanca and Tempranillo Blanco from Cuzcurrita del Rioja Tiron in the north of Rioja, while Limite Sur is a 100% Garnacha from Ramón Bilbao’s parcel of vineyards in Monte Yerga in the south.

“In my 22 years with Ramón Bilbao, I’ve explored all four corners of my home region and am still doing so,” said head winemaker Rodolfo Bastida.

“So much has changed in that time, particularly the climate. What was once impossible for grapes in the north now gives freshness and zest; where Garnacha was a lost grape in Rioja, it now makes elegant, fruit-driven reds when grown at altitude,” he said.

About the Limite Norte, which is a 50/50 blend of Maturana Blanca and Tempranillo Blanco from a plateau at 450m altitude where the climate is so extremely continental that it is one of the last places in Rioja to be harvested, Bastida said: “Spring frost is less common here now thanks to climate change, so we saw potential for these grapes to actually make a wine with freshness and acidity.”

The Garnacha focused Limite Sur 2017 wine is made with grapes selected from vineyards at 560 to 600m altitude in Monte Yerga in the south-east of the region where the climate is fully continental.

Bastida said: “Recovering ‘lost’ varietals is a way of creating wines with personality. Until the 1970s, Garnacha was the grape for Rioja but now Tempranillo accounts for almost 90% of plantings because it has been so reliable in the plains and valleys. But we grow our grapes at altitude and have developed a bit of a manifesto for winemaking with Garnacha: lower temperatures for fermentation to preserve floral character, and only a gentle extraction with shorter pump overs.”

The duo was Ramón Bilbao's way of showing that Rioja still has “lots of possibilities to explore beyond the traditional classification,” he added.

Labels for the pair, which are being launched globally now (rrp: £19.95), have been designed to look like pages from Snr Ramón Bilbao’s notebook with his jottings and thoughts about the climate and vineyards, and how to make the wines.

Limite Norte & Limite Sur are available to UK indies and the on-trade from Enotria & Coe.