It takes a brave man to make Rioja without Tempranillo and without American oak but Olivier doesn’t lack confidence.
When I met him in the Loire some years back and tasted the wines I asked if he used any American oak. He looked at me as if I was mad, (so did the group of Michelin Star Sommeliers tasting along side me), but at the time, that’s what I thought all Rioja producers used! Olivier was no ordinary Rioja producer. Firstly he is French and his wines shine through the murky waters of heavy oak use and over extraction like a ray of Spanish sunshine.
Olivier Riviere is a Native of Cognac and studied oenology in Montagne St-Emilion (Bordeaux region) and then worked at several wine estates before settling in Spain. Olivier first worked with Elian Da Ros in Marmandais, then at Domaine Leroy where his main interest was to learn about their biodynamic methods. Finally, he went on to Domaine de Chassorney to see how beautiful non-interventionist wines were made. With little money to get his own venture started, he bought a tiny 1 hectare vineyard in Arlanza, 1000 metres above sea level where day and night time temperatures differ by as much as 20 degrees. There he set about making biodynamic Tempranillo with a unique depth and freshness. A couple of years later, Olivier purchased a small vineyard in Rioja and now produces some of the most elegant examples of this very popular wine.
Ten years ago when we first came across these wines, they were virtually alone in a sea of over extracted oaky Riojas. However, even in Rioja, a movement towards a more sustainable and healthier viticulture is gathering pace. We have since added other natural wineries from the region like Bodegas Moraza and the little ‘Piggy’ wine, Gran Cerdo has become a natural wine institution. So, change is a foot although it isn’t moving that quickly as many producers and consumers still prefer the big nasty monster reds of 20 years ago.
The new vintages of Olivier’s wines are superb, as good as ever after being out of stock for a good while. Give them a try, for Rioja with drinkability and style these are your bottles.