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“B de Basilio” White bottle
“B de Basilio”
White
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“B de Basilio” Red bottle
“B de Basilio”
Red
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Basilio introduces
the 2009 White
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Basilio runs the basket press
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Basilio's Lab
Basilio's Lab
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Press & Tanks
Press & Tanks
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Basilio's Lab
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Basilio's Expressions
Basilio's Expressions
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Wine Culture Connection

Old Vines & Clones
Massal Selection and Acodadura Techniques

For those of us not trained in viticulture, talk about vine clones is pretty mysterious stuff. Presumably, you want to use clones of really good vines for new vineyard plantings. While this makes plenty of sense, what is not clear is what exactly makes for a good vine that is worthy of cloning. The tricky part lies once again in the difference between commercial/industrial wine production versus low yield, high quality wine production that expresses character of place.

Vine clones developed in commercial nurseries for the purpose high yields or disease resistance go back to a time when farmers were paid for their grapes by weight, so the more grapes you grew per vine the more cash you would get at harvest. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s when the wines of Rioja started to receive greater international success and demand, there was a big expansion of new plantings to keep up with the demand.

The government helped sponsor new plantings and together with growers and cooperatives many high yield and more disease resistant vine clones were planted, presumably to keep up with expected growth in demand and also for greater profits. Unfortunately, a key element that got lost in much of the shuffle was quality.

Ironically, the success of Rioja wines, which was due in large part to their quality was significantly undermined by the end of the 1970s because of a far too rapid expansion of production. Too often young vines, over-production and high yield vines led to weaker, lower quality wines. And Rioja's reputation went down as a result.


Basilio amid the 100+ year old vines of the Gallocanto vineyard, a mix of Garnacha Blanco and Viura white grapes.
Photo: Courtesy & © 2010 Gerry Dawes

Things have changed in Spain quite a bit since that crisis, although the old thinking still persists, especially in more rural areas. However, for quality focused wineries and top flight producers like Basilio, working with high quality clones is essential. Two propagation techniques to ensure quality clones are Acodadura and Massal Selection.

Old Vines & Low Yields
The primary reason old vines are preferred by top producers is that they normally have low yields, which means there are fewer grapes per vine, but they are more concentrated (and thus higher quality). Also, the deeper roots of older vines theoretically are able to absorb more of the minerals in the soil, which become apparent in the concentrated grapes of old vines. The flip side is that these vines don't produce much and require extra attention. This is why many great old vine vineyards have been sadly torn up before their time.


An Example of Marcottage
Acodadura
Acodadura, Marcottage in French or layering in English, is an ancient means of propagating a new vine next to an existing and proven vine. It is typically used for filling empty spaces in an established vineyard when an adjacent vine has died. It is done by training an aerial stem into the ground. Then, eventually separating it from the original vine. This ensures a quality new vine to replace the deceased vine and at the same time helps preserve the character of the plot.

In pre-phylloxera days, Acodadura could be used for replanting a whole vine, rootstock and all. Nowadays, it can only be used for propagating into soil not infested by phylloxera or for planting into those few areas that are naturally resistant to phylloxera. Basilio believes that although this method requires more intense effort than planting a nursery generated vine, it is definitely worth the effort to preserve the character of the vineyard.

Massal Selection
Massal Selection, Selección Masal in Spanish, is a way of selecting very high quality source vines to be used in the propagation of new vines. By taking cuttings from a selection of genetically different vines from the same vineyard or nearby vineyards that have all performed well in the past, a cluster of high quality, but genetically diverse clones can be made. Deciding which vines to select can be based on a range of criteria observed out in the field, depending on the desired results, such as better ripening, lower yielding, disease resistant, etc.

These diverse cuttings can be used for grafting onto existing rootstocks. This selection method ensures high quality new vines that are both well adapted to the area and offer complexity from diversity of source vines—rather than planting from a single master clone, which can result in sameness in the harvest.

One important caveat here: Massal Selection must take place from a source vineyard that is actually comprised of genetically diverse vines. Massal Selection from a vineyard planted with a single nursery created clone, or a few high yield nursery clones will not result in diversity and complexity. It will simply reproduce the nursery clone with its typical focus on high-yields or disease resistance, rather than quality.

This is why Basilio and other high-quality producers insist on working only with vines planted prior to the advent of high-yield, nursery created clones. Or for new plantings only from Massal Selection cuttings from pre-nursery vineyards. Preferably, pre-nursery vineyards that were propagated from Massal Selection themselves, according to criteria previously observed in the vineyard. This gives even greater assurance of quality, diversity and complexity.

Basilio believes Massal Selection allows the winemaker to significantly help determine the future character of the wine from the vineyard. It aids in both recovering and re-inventing the identity of the terroir and place of origin (especially in areas rife with commercial clones), and at the same time also stamps the personality of winemaker on the wine. We certainly find lots of deeply Riojan character and plenty of Basilio's artistry and personality in both "B de Basilio" wines.

   
Wines & Wineries

Bodegas Basilio Izquierdo
Jump to wines!

Basilio Izquierdo at the entrance to his winery
Basilio Izquierdo at the entrance to his winery

Basilio Izquierdo is one of our favorite winemakers. His knowledge, ceaseless curiosity and amazing problem solving abilities in winemaking are a wonder to behold. It also helps that he was the head winemaker at CVNE and Contino for more than 30 years and responsible for dozens of true classics that send Rioja aficionados to tears, such as the great “Imperial” and “Viña Real” Gran Reservas of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and the mythic Contino ’82 Reserva. Not to mention his understanding of many of the lost traditions of Rioja.

Simply put, Basilio is one of Spain's most brilliant winemakers—and a nice guy too! In 2006 he started a personal project of his own, Bodega Águila Real, in a garage style cooperative winery space in the town of Laguardia within the Rioja Alavesa section of Rioja. His goal: to explore some of the lost art of Rioja winemaking in conjunction with his knowledge of the latest techniques and materials. In that first year his white wine production consisted of one new French oak barrel. Since then he has expanded to an annual production of about 5000 bottles of barrel aged red and 700 bottles of barrel fermented white.

Basilio's 19th Century, soft-action basket press, modified from steam engine to electric power
Basilio's 19th Century, soft-action basket press, modified from steam engine to electric power

Years of study and research on the old ways of Rioja led Basilio to the belief that many Rioja wines in the old days employed a much higher percentage of Garnacha (Grenache) than in today’s typical blend of roughly 85% Tempranillo, and the remaining 15% a mix of Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignan), and/or Graciano.

To make his new wine Basilio sought out prime vineyards. All the grapes used in the wines are from vineyards planted prior to 1985, and were planted employing massal selection of the best old vines—at least as far as records go back. The red grape plots are Tempranillo from Rioja Alta (80-100 year old vines) and from Rioja Alavesa (50-70 year old vines), Garnacha from Rioja Baja (33 year old) and Graciano from Rioja Alta (100 year old vines). The white grape plots are Garnacha Blanca and Viura from the 100+ year old Pago Gallocanta in San Vicente de la Sonsierra (Rioja Alta).

With the success of "B de Basilio", Basilio began plans for a second wine named Acodo, to be a more forward, fresher wine than his flagship "B de Basilio". Basilio's goal was to make Acodo less structured than "B de Basilio", with an earlier drinking profile, particularly in comparison to the long-lived "B de Basilio" red. At the same time he strove to maintain a similar roundness, suppleness and purity of fruit on the palate that has become a hallmark of his "B de Basilio" wines.

The grapes for "Acodo" are sourced from the same vineyards as "B de Basilio", contributing to the character similarities between the two. The primary difference between "Acodo" and "B de Basilio," his top wine, is different grape selection, but also tank selection after fermentation and barrel selection to determine the ideal final blends for each wine.

The name "Acodo" refers to a traditional technique used in old vine vineyards. When an old vine becomes weak or damaged from any number of vineyard hazards and is no longer able to produce quality grapes, this technique is employed to maintain the character of the vineyard. Rather than abandoning the problem vine, or pulling it up and planting a new vine from a nursery in the middle of an old vine vineyard, one branch of an immediately adjacent old vine is run to the ground, and looped over to the location of the uprooted problem vine. There with this acodo technique, it will take root and become a grape producing vine. Importantly, this allows an old vineyard to keep producing grapes of similar old vine character, rather than dwindling down significantly in productivity over the years from loss of vines.

WINES FROM BASILIO IZQUIERDO

"Acodo" White 2010, Rioja DOCa SRP $30
Tech Details:
Blend: 80% Viura 20% Garnacha Blanca. After alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel, the wine is aged on lees in tank mainly, but during the summer months is racked to 225L French oak barrels (previously used for "B de Basilio" white) and the wines ages there on lees for the three summer months. Bottled May 2012.

"Acodo" Red 2009, Rioja DOCa SRP $30
Tech Details:
Blend: 85% Tempranillo 15% Garnacha. After alcoholic fermentation in stainless steel, approximately half is aged in special glass-lined concrete tanks and the rest is aged in 225L French oak barrels (previously used for "B de Basilio" red). Bottled May 2012.

"B de Basilio" White 2010, Rioja DOCa SRP $56
Order Now from retail Merchant Vintry Fine Wines
This outstanding blend of old vine Garnacha Blanca and Viura is a deep pale straw color, and displays one of the most deft touches working with French oak you will find coming out of Spain today. The effusive nose begins with fine hints of pineapple, pear, hints of vanilla and chalk followed by deeper aromas of yellow plum and nectarine. The palate is rich, supple and fresh with flavors of ripe pear, tangerine, nectarine and sweet white peach. Lemon-lime tones, leesy notes and soft chalk-laced minerality add definition. The finish is bright, full and long with lingering hints of sweet peach.

Tech Details:
200 cases produced. Blend: 65% Garnacha Blanca, 35% Viura.
Oak Treatment: Barrel fermentation in new French oak for 6 months. Batonnage every two weeks.

"B de Basilio" Red 2007, Rioja DOCa SRP $56 Order Now from retail merchant Vintry Fine Wines
Displaying a brilliant, purple-hued ruby color, this suave, fruit encased red is super fragrant. Effusive scents of strawberry and black cherry immediately greet you on the nose, followed by hints of clay and loam. Supple, silky and juicy on the attack, additional notes of strawberry, black cherry and mixed berries unfold. Fine oak tones emerge, adding roundness to the supple mouthfeel. Seamlessly integrated acidity and very fine ripe tannins provide structure. The long finish is capped by soft hints of spice and chewy strawberry tones. Suave and simply a pleasure to drink.

Tech Details:
Less than 364 cases produced. Blend: 62% Tempranillo, 32% Garnacha, 6% Graciano.
Oak Treatment: Malolactic fermentation in new French oak for 6 months; 10 additional months in barrel.

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