Maturana Tinta – Saved From Extinction In Rioja

This article originally appeared on Palm & Vine.

I’ve always enjoyed discovering the lesser-known varieties of the world.

In America, we have such limited access to the vast diversity of varieties produced globally. And I love to support the producers working to preserve their autochthonous varieties. Thus, bringing diversity to the world of wine while preserving their cultural heritage. Rioja’s Viña Ijalba is such a producer. Backed by a passion for their Rioja heritage, Viña Ijalba worked tirelessly to recover many autochthonous varieties of their region. Maturana Tinta, a variety on the verge of extinction, was one of them.

Viña Ijalba

The story of Viña Ijalba began in the 1970s when the Ruiz Ijalba family planted their first vines in Rioja. In 1975, founder Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba traded in his mining career for a life amongst the vines. The family planted one of their first vineyards on one of his former open-cast mines. They placed just 50 cm of poor soils over the gravel-y soil of the mines, which together mimicked the soils of Rioja. Here, they cultivated vines with low production capacity yet high-quality fruit.

The modern winery was founded in 1991 with the capacity to produce 1 million liters of wine and house 1500 barrels in the underground cellar. Since its inception, Viña Ijalba has been dedicated to ingenuity, differentiating the wines of Rioja, and working with respect to the environment. The winery focuses on cultivating vineyards in poor soils, limiting production, recuperating varieties of their region, and implementing ecological practices.

In 1998, Viña Ijalba became the first ecological (organic) certified winery in Rioja. Actually, Viña Ijalba is a winery of many firsts. They produced the first single varietal wines from Maturana Tinta, Maturana Blanca, Graciano, and Tempranillo Blanco respectively in Rioja.

Saving Maturana Tinta

In partnership with the Regulatory Council of the D.O.Ca. Rioja, the Government of Rioja, and the University of Rioja, Viña Ijalba initiated a project committed to the quality, differentiation and defense of their Rioja wine heritage. The project began in 1988 while surveying vineyards of Rioja to identify minority varieties for recuperation. In 1993, the group planted an experimental germplasm vineyard around the Viña Ijalba facility. Subsequently, they cultivated 100 different varieties here, 70 of which were autochthonous to Rioja. Maturana Tinta, among others, was identified as a promising variety for recuperation.

By 1997, Viña Ijalba planted its first 100% Maturana Tinta vineyard while continuing to research the variety. The winery marketed Rioja’s first single varietal Maturana Tinta in 2003.

Prior to this project, Maturana was on the verge of extinction with only 40 strains remaining. A variety that once thrived in Rioja, Maturana Tinta was all but wiped out by phylloxera in the late 19th century. The vines that remained were either removed to make space for varieties seen as more viable on the market. Other Maturana Tinta vines died naturally and were never replaced.

As of 2019, according to the Regulatory Council of the Rioja D.O.Ca., there are 155.51 ha of Maturana Tinta planted in Rioja. Furthermore, in 2007, the Regulatory Council granted Maturana Tinta D.O.Ca. status and permitted the use of Maturana Tinta in the famed red wines of Rioja. How’s that for a comeback story?

The Variety: Maturana Tinta

As a testament to the uniqueness of Rioja, you will only find Maturana Tinta planted here. The variety is related to and a synonym for a French variety called Castets. However, Castets has disappeared in France.

Maturana Tinta is a variety with small compact clusters and small berries. These compact clusters make it very susceptible to botrytis in the vineyard. This variety has late bud break and early ripening yet follows a cycle similar to Tempranillo in terms of a quick accumulation of sugars. A high concentration of phenolic compounds, especially anthocyanins, produces wines with deep, high intensity garnet color. Maturana Tinta also has some pyrazines like French varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

This variety generally has high acidity and produces wines with medium to high alcohol levels. In the vineyard, Maturana Tinta likes limestone-clay soils and high altitudes, like those of Rioja Alta. This variety has a decent resistance to drought and a good resistance to powdery mildew, too.

Viña Ijalba, Maturana Tinta Rioja D.O.Ca., Vino Ecológico 2017

This wine fermented on native yeasts for 18 days in oak vats and completed malolactic fermentation in oak barrels on the lees with daily lees stirring for 3 months. Then, the wine aged for 10 months in oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

  • High intensity, deep garnet color in the glass
  • Medium+ intensity aromas of cocoa, vanilla, spice, cassis, black fruits like black cherry, black current, black plum, and a touch of a green spice aroma
  • Medium bodied with high acidity and medium tannin
  • The black fruit flavors, cocoa, and spice carry through on the palate and are concentrated on a medium persistent finish
  • A hefty bouquet gives way to an elegant palate with an exceptional round mouthfeel from the winemaking methods

Pairing Suggestions

Maturana Tinta is ideal for a chicken and chorizo paella, braised short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and crispy Brussel sprouts, coffee and mocha rubbed barbeque ribs or smoked ribeye, or soups of roasted fall vegetables. Try roasted butternut squash, garlic, and sweet potato soup. This is also a delicious wine to pair with a hefty charcuterie board with smoked meats, spicy sausages, and country pâté.

Viña Ijalba
Rioja Wine