Back in November 2021 we fell under the spell of a special project undertaken by winemaker Carlos Rubio Villanúa from Don Jacobo (Bodegas Corral), centring around a mysterious grape called Maturana Tinta de Navarrete. This was an anomalous grape considered lost to history until modern DNA testing revealed it to be unrelated to anything else grown in Rioja. We explore the rare ancient variety here (in case you missed it), but did you know there is also an intriguing white Maturana varietal known sometimes as Ribadavia or Maturano, which is currently undergoing a renaissance?
It is likely that in the post-phylloxera era, the low productivity of the Maturana brought it to the brink of extinction but there is evidence it existed centuries ago in the region. The oldest historical reference available for the white Maturana grape in question dates back to 1622, when its name appeared in a letter (quoted in ‘History of Rioja wine’ by Dr. Juan Manuel Palacios Sánchez). It was recovered in later years in the region with more than 500 vines located in two different vineyards. Wineries began to experiment with producing the grape in 1995 on the Riojan estate belonging to Viña Ijalba but in recent years wineries such as Bodegas Corral (Don Jacobo) have really begun to explore the potential of the grape.
The best known white grape of Rioja is currently Viura (known as Macabeo outside of Rioja) which has long been the most popular white grape variety in the region, and due to its relative neutrality when young is depended upon as a principal constituent in white Riojan blends. Viura is a versatile grape, capable of producing long lived, rich and creamy quality white wines, but for some time now Riojan viticulture has been looking for an alternative without resorting to foreign varieties.
It seems that the Maturana might be the exact grape to deliver the promise of a new and exciting (yet ancient) variety with high potential. It is an early-ripening grape, with low yields, high acidity (it flourises in the Riojan climate) and is capable of achieving a very high alcoholic potential. The most notable characteristics of the Maturana Blanca variety are its low pH (high acidity), with a high content of tartaric acid and low levels of potassium, and the resultant wines are a pleasing greenish-yellow hue with fruity aromas of apple, banana and citrus together with herbaceous notes.
The Maturana Blanca vineyards at Don Jacobo are located in Navarrete, in the Moncalvillo region, at about 500 meters above sea level, on an east facing slope in green meadows with shallow clay loam soil responsible for imparting great minerality. This unique wine with deep complexity is a great showcase for what the grape can achieve; you can almost taste the history of the lost grape. Grapes are picked by hand, cool fermented in steel and aged for two months in French oak barrels with a further three months in bottle prior to release. Gold in colour, heady savoury notes of toasted nuts, caramel and honey marry with baked apple and dried apricot fruit notes. Full and concentrated on the palate, almost oily in texture with layers of dried and tropical fruits like apricot, banana and apple, there is honey, vanilla, floral and spice notes in abundance on a massively long finish.
As a sidenote, we at Curious Wines are obsessed with the origins of these forgotten or sadly unheralded grapes and envisage a future blog post just spotlighting the best monikered amongst them. My vote goes for indiginous Spanish grape ‘Bossy’ which originated in the Rioja region and is widespread throughout the Spanish Levant. Bossy is found not only in Rioja but also in Zamora and Teruel and is known variously as Mandó, Morenillo, Galmeta or Galmete. Here’s to bossy grapes… long may they dictate the wines we choose to enjoy.