Bodegas Palacio is located in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa, at the bottom of the road leading up to Laguardia, a spectacular fortified hilltop village set against the backdrop of the Sierra Cantabria. The original stone-built bodega, now a small hotel, has been superseded by a rather four-square winery that is visually unprepossessing in a landscape increasingly dotted with striking modern architecture. Here, however, the really exciting stuff happens on the inside.
Palacio was founded in 1904 by Don Cosme de Palacio, an entrepreneur from Bilbao, who went on to establish the legendary Vega Sicilia estate in Ribero del Duero. After a period under French ownership in the 1980s, during which Bordeaux guru Michel Rolland consulted here, Palacio was acquired in the 1990s by Hijos de Antonio Barcelo, one of Spain’s largest winemaking conglomerates, itself part of the giant Acconia group. Thanks to a high level of investment, Palacio has been able to expand, modernise and thrive.
This is an unusual enterprise in many respects. It buys in most of its fruit from a long-established network of contract growers, effectively controlling 255ha of vineyards, all in the Alavesa. It concentrates almost exclusively on tempranillo and viura, though in the new alta expresión white, Cosme 1894, there is a touch of malvasia. 3.5million bottles are produced, a third of which are exported, the USA being the major customer. A number of distinctly different bottlings reflect the bodega’s historical French bias, from the almost bordelais El Portico (named after the ornately carved door of the church of San Bartolome in Logroño), to the high-definition prestige cuvée, Cosme de Palacio developed by Rolland.. More true to regional style is Glorioso, though its maturation – six months each in French and American oak – is hardly typical. This is an outfit which does its own thing, to be sure, and does it well, if the medal tally from international fairs and shows is anything to go by.
Bearing little resemblance to any of these in style – Glorioso is perhaps the closest – is The Socety’s Rioja , which is also made here., The head of winemaking, forty-something Roberto Rodriguez [Martinez] has worked here since the tender age of 18: his deep understanding both of his craft and of the plots at the bodega’s disposal enable him to preselect, in anticipation of the buyer’s final blend, a range of appropriate component wines that he knows will both appeal to members and maintain the consistency and quality of this best-seller.
A last word about Cosme Palacio 1894, Palacio’s newest prestige project, named in honour of Palacio’s founder and year of establishment, and developed with input from consultant winemaker Sam Harrop MW. The white is a remarkable viura-based blend, with a little malvasia and garnacha blanca, from very old, low-yielding vines grown at up to 800m, The red is 90% tempranillo with 10% graciano. The inaugural 2007 vintage was released in 2010 and has already won critical acclaim.