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Bodegas Bilbaínas, though known today mainly by insiders, was historically one of Rioja’s greatest traditional houses, their sterling reputation built on the stunning richness and ageworthiness of their flagship wines Viña Pomal and Viña Zaco.
The brilliance of these elite cuvées was not limited to the reserva bottlings, a fact made strikingly clear at our Rioja dinner at San Francisco’s Piperade several year ago, where a glorious 1964 Viña Zaco Crianza easily held its own among the Reservas and Gran Reservas of such heavyweights as López de Heredia, CUNE, Riojanas and La Rioja Alta.
The key to the glory of Viña Pomal and Viña Zaco are uniquely great terroirs. Viña Pomal is one of the finest sites in all of Rioja, a plateau of gravel lying at the confluence of the Ebro and Tirón rivers which produces complete wines of great depth and power.
As for Viña Zaco, its classic Haro alluvial silt and calcareous clay soil results in a clarete that is the essence of Rioja Alta finesse. And in keeping with the traditional Riojan practice of fashioning two prestige cuvées in defining bottle shapes, Viña Zaco is in the high-shouldered Bordeaux bottle connoting elegance, while Viña Pomal is in the Burgundy-style bottle that indicates more richness and power.
That Bilbaínas owns both of these revered sites is due to the desire of Bilbaínas’ founder, Santiago Ugarte, to secure his own nearby sources of supply for the bodega he established in Haro’s Barrio de la Estación in 1901.
While the firm continued to acquire land, the fine Pomal and Zaco terroirs were kept separate, ensuring that their singular characters were captured in their own special bottlings.
And for most of the twentieth century Bilbaínas made them by the traditional methods, defined by the Tempranillo grape, gentle extractions and long, slow aging in old barrels of American oak, that defined classic Rioja. As a result, old vintages Viña Pomal and Viña Zaco are exemplars of old school Rioja, as viewed through the lens of their unique terroirs.
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