Riojas del pueblo Ábalos

[Abeica is the 6th century roman equivalent of the name of this village, which is called Ábalos in contemporary castellano]

Abeica wine co is right now a blend of 4th and 5th generations: brothers-sisters Isabel (currently the titular winemaker), with Pachi and Raul; working with two of their nephews, cousins Ricardo and David. Their wines are basically a generational mix, Crianza-Reserva-GR from Gen 4; less oak-focused village and single vineyard expressions from the young’uns (pictured below, photo by Scott Wasley).

Ábalos is a little village above Laguardia and is home to 250 villagers who work in wine. The village is at 590m, with vineyards on its municipal tread between 530-670 metres. There are 14 wineries here, but the industrial jackals like Muga and Rioja Alta are at the door trying to buy vineyards – even now, only 50% of the land goes to genuine Ábalos production. The photo at right shows the patchwork nature of the village’s viticulture – all small-scale, hand-worked mixed plantings within a Rioja-typical crazy-complex matrix of soil-orography-aspect.

Abeica were growers for the co-ops until 1982, then made corrientes until 1987 after building their own winery in 1986 (a nice underground concrete bunker cellar which gives constant ageing at 17 degrees celsius). They have a classical mix of old vines field blends up to 150yo, and 20yo plantings mixing at most 2 varieties. Overall, their varietal composition is roughly 80% Tempranillo, 10% Viura, Garnacha 8% and 2% Mazuelo, with scatterings of Garnacha Blanca, Torrontes, and others. About 60% of their holdings are bush vines, the rest trellised. Viticulture is organic, non-certified. All parcels are turned annually, using small hand-held ‘electric mules’. Up here in the north, the soils are shallow calcareous clays with as little as 20cm soil over sandstone bedrock.

  • There’s a vino del año (carbonic) called Chulato. Chulato is the name of one of their vineyards, but this entry wine is not strictly a single vineyard ‘Chulato de Chulato’.
  • There’s a brilliant Rosado, based on Garnacha from the next village to the west, San Vicente.
  • Abeica’s village red, blends three old bush vine parcelas as a Tempranillo del Puelbo Ábalos.
  • Not yet shipped to Australia, there’s a range of varietal parcela wines, one of which is actually from San Vicente, not Ábalos.

Key Vineyards

Las Cruces is a 0.5 hectare of 100+ year old vines planted to Tempranillo and Viura, just south of the village (pictured here)

Nearby Peña Caída is deeper soil with less structure, more of both clay and sand. It’s a vineyard in three parts with mixed plantings and lots of mother-daughter layering (Acodo).

Larrumbe is a 30-40yo parcela of Mazuelo, very hard to ripen.

Santa Ana is very windy, on an exposed slope hanging off the southern ledge of the village on the N-232a between Labastida and Laguardia.  It’s another mixed vineyard, with very small vines of Viura in shallow soils atop the parcela and Garnacha below.

All wines are fermented in inox, except for the single vineyard Viura which ferments in 500L french hogsheads. Ageing is in transition from barricas to 500L and the only pressing in play is for the polar opposites of the young carbonic wine and their Gran Reserva.

The taste of ABEICA

Essentially, these are cold soil wines, from shallow, low nutrient limestone/sandstone enriched by a little clay. Sweet and sour, or agrodulce is a common thread. The wines ripple with acidic energy and feature the soft smell of sandstone. Fruit teas - think Russian Caravan and Bergamot are common flavour metaphors.

ABEICA Garnacha blend Rosado de Garnacha

Sangrado de Garnacha fermented in inox after 12 hours of soaking and then rested 3 months on lees in stainless, 32.5 pH. The fruit comes from parcelas in villages of the northern foothills, Ábalos included. 

The soils reflect in the cold juniper and cold clay dirt on the nose, with faded strawberry, waxflower, pistachio and dusty sandstone. The palate features intense white cherry and cape gooseberry, is soft, earthy and savoury with enough fruit brightness to march along in the mouth. Excellent, gentle acid definition.

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ABEICA ‘Chulato’ Tempranillo Maceracion Carbonico

Whole bunch Tempranillo with tiny proportions of Garnacha and Viura from ‘younger’ vines, a mere 50+ years old. Temperature-controlled (26C) 8 day fermentation in stainless after 3 day carbonic maceration, pressed to malo then into bottle. Unfined. ‘Chulato’ is a parcela (single vineyard) within a paraje (equivalent to a lieu-dit) called Chulato de Ábalos. This is not quite a single vineyard wine however, as the yield from Chulato is augment with some fruit from neighouring pueblo, San Vicente. Chulato was planted in 1972.

2022 was an ‘interesting harvest’ … very dry during ripening, but with a  jolt of freshening rain late … the pink was picked Sept 17, while Chulato hung until October 12.

Brightly-fruited but with no sense at all of tutti-fruity confection. Gentian, wild cherry, lots of mountain herb; orange tea, bergamot, rose musk, rhubarb. The palate is similar, tea-inflected little tart berries carry spice and flesh, nice and lively. Chalky, papery, talcy tannins, acid-fresh.

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ABEICA Tempranillo Rioja del pueblo Ábalos

‘Coleccion’ is an assemblage of old bush vines (more than 60yo) from three parcelas, Peña Caída, Centenales y los Trepados, planted to Tempranillo with 10% each of Garnacha and Viura. These are field blends grown at just below 600m, yielding 4 tonnes/ha. Open tank fermentation of destemmed fruit, after a brief cold soak, 14 days fermentation and maceration, then malo transformation and ‘aged’ in raw concrete and 500L French oak casks for six months. Unfined. An incredible bargain!

Plums and mulberries in the cherry and blackberry fruit mix signify the presence of non-temps, most welcomely. The sense of cold, damp earth rings clear. Floral and herbal notes (think blackberry bush) join the aromatic mix, along with a delicate stony-mineral note of the earth. Tannins glove without blocking and release into fine natural acidity, with a touch of spice in the structural mix. Roses, bergamot, Russian caravan, persimmon. There’s an almost truffly sandstone earthen depth, delicate and rounded. Violets and spice linger out back in a sandstone-acid mingle, after a palate brimmed with wild bramble berries which have great ripe skin tension.

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ABEICA ‘Abaris’ Viura de parcela Santa Ana

Santa Ana is a vineyard more than 50 years old, shallow, poor and chalky, planted en vaso to Viura. After three days of cold maceration skin contact, the must is pressed to barrel for fermentation, no malo. 11 months ageing on lias finas after 5 months batonnage, 0.8 micra filtration, no fining.

This wine has lovely immediate impact, savoury, expressive, with acacia florals, excellent tannin grip, chew and release, beautiful spice, and mineral fresh end of nose and mouth. There’s cereal (lightly toasted puffed rice) and honey, and you can smell the sandstone; white flowers and a nice primary line of green grape showing the barrel fermentation has not become what it’s about, as is too often the case. Acidity really circles the wagons here and the wine expands inwardly from its marshalling rim. Dominated by agrodulce and within this sweet-sour pulse is finely controlled richness. Beautifully round; highly alert. Lemonade fruit inside, granny smith outside and lashed with dry florals, herby, and scrubby, like boxthorn flowers.


ABEICA Garnacha de parcel Santa Ana

Garnacha from the lower part of Santa Ana, grown in deep clay sand. Open tank fermentation;, maceration 17 days punched down, then malo in 500L french 2-3yo and racked to age 9 months. This is very Riojan Garnacha, from vineyards 60km in a straight line from the Atlantic, and in no way reminiscent of Rhôney styles.

Layers of aroma: game, juniper and red fruit scents, geranium and tuberose floral, deep clay-limestone minerality. Cuban cigarillo, not tightly wound, rosehip, bergamot. The palate is super-light on glycerol and pulses with an agrodulce roll. If you like acidity in reds, this is for you!


ABEICA Mazuelo de Parcela Larrumbe

Larrumbe is a tiny 0.3 hectare west-facing parcel of difficult to ripen Mazuelo (elsewhere, Caranyena/Carignan, but in Rioja virtually un-related, gastronomically-speaking). More than 50 years old, it’s a vineyard of poor shallow and chalky soil, planted en vaso. After fermentation in open tank, there’s 20 days of maceration and after malo it ages 11 months in 8yo neutral oak.

This is as blue as the Garnacha is red, but equally a cold soil artefact. While the Garnacha bolts and slices with tight fruit purity, here’s a little more rustic breadth, with baking spices, leather, wild mediterranean herbs, and a titch of flint-smoke. Four-square, round and open but perfectly structured, giving and releasing without running all over the place. Really lingering, lip-smack wine.


ABEICA Tempranillo de Parcela Carromillo

Carromillo was planted in the late 1960s to 88% tempranillo, with 8% garnacha and 4% viura. The vines grow en vaso, with steel posts and wires to secure the canopy against the winds. Soils are calcareous clay under sand, planted in 1968.  The wine is handled similarly to the other single vineyard reds with 12 months resting in neutral oak.

House style of inky-meaty-spicy; leathery almost pruny, hibiscus flower. Nice roundness, good flow, a little firm in back, agrodulce sweet-sour again.


ABEICA Clarete de Parcela el Bardallo (San Vicente)

Tempranillo with about 40% Viura, from the western-most slopes of San Vicente, bordering on Labastida.

Gracefully meaty, and as much about the smell and feel of the high and wide open skies under Sierra de Toloño. Game, leather, baking spices and all those mountain flank herbs - juniper, rosemary and thyme. Excellent harmony, a wine of character and poise, finishing beautifully tart.