“In the Top 10 of modern-style Rioja Producers”

says Tim Atkin MW

View from the entrance to Bodega Luis Cañas

We discovered Bodegas Luis Cañas many years ago while researching wines in the Rioja region, and were struck by their quality. The Bodega is located In a beautiful part of the Rioja Alavesa, in Villabuena – population 300 plus 42 Bodegas!

The moment you enter the Bodega you get a strong sense of the family behind it, and this picture of the three Cañas generations taken in 2018 to commemorate founder Luis Cañas 90th Birthday sums up their ethos of pursuing excellence in their wines. Luis retained his hands-on role well into his late 80s, and could always be found at the head of the sorting table during harvest – and in the Bodega’s Tapas Bar every lunch time!

Jon Cañas (Grandson of founder Luis): Luis Cañas at 90: Juan Luis Cañas – The boss!

Luis Cañas made history 1970 when he was the first Alavesa winemaker to bottle his wines, rather than sell them in bulk. His son, Juan Luis Cañas, took over in 1989 and, like his father, he had the vision and energy to grow their thriving business, opening a further Rioja Bodega called Amaren and investing in Bodegas Cair in Ribera del Duero.

Chrissy with Carmen Pena outside the Tasting Room overlooking Luis Cañas vineyards

When we last visited we met Marketing Manager, Carmen Pena, who took us to the newly opened Tasting Room with a fantastic “mirador” overlooking their vineyards. Here we learnt more about what Juan Luis describes as “rational viticulture” using organic practices and creating a healthy farming environment for the longer term.

The Tasting Room

According to Tim Atkin MW, Juan Luis Cañas grows some of the best grapes in the Villabuena area in Alavesa. This is praise indeed in an area that is blessed with limestone/clay soils favourable for vine-growing and is at a higher altitude than many parts of Rioja.

View from the Tasting Room

The Bodega now has around 1000 plots making up 450 hectares of vineyards, some directly owned and some that are controlled by their team of 8 vineyard masters. Their mature vineyards are sheltered below the Sierra Cantabria.

Some of Luis Cañas mature vineyards in Rioja Alavesa, sheltered by the Sierra Cantabria

The team are meticulous in everything they do. The grapes are hand-picked into small containers and moved quickly to the Bodega where they go through a Double Selection process. The first is to sift out any damaged grapes and the second takes place on Mistral Tables with several people either side who cut into the bunches to ensure only the best grapes to into the fermentation process.  We were told that Luis Cañas could identify the vineyard where the grapes on the Mistral Table had come from!

The Harvest – Sorting the grapes as they arrive

The Bodega is equally stringent in its winemaking processes and selection of their oak barrels. At any one time they have an amazing 6.500 oak barrels, 60% French and 40% American and with constant stock renewal the average barrel age is 3 years.  This represents a significant investment but makes a real difference in the quality of the wines.

One of Luis Cañas Barrel Rooms!

Some 90% of Juan Luis mature vineyards are grown in the traditional way of “untrained” bush vines. During the year they are hand pruned to increase ventilation, which promotes healthy grapes. These mature vineyards produce low-yield, but high quality fruit and result in the full and pure flavours in Luis Cañas wines.

Luis Cañas vineyards of bush vines

The Wines!

The wines we tasted in the lovely Tasting Room and in their Tapas Bar are still on our list today and they are well worth discovering. You can find them in The Wine Shop links for each wine.

White Rioja forms only 7% of the total wine production in the area, but they should not be overlooked because the best, like this one, can be a good alternative to Burgundy at a fraction of the price.

This is an elegant white with aromas of citrus fruits, hazelnuts and hints of flowers; the oak touch is very light and subtle. What makes this wine special is the grapes from 60+ year old vines and the combination of the vibrant, citrussy Viura and the elegant, slightly richer Malvasia.

Rich blackcurrant and raspberry aromas with hints of creamy oak and enticing balsam lead you to the concentrated, black fruit flavours.  A refined Crianza with good structure, smooth tannins and great length. It is made from 30+ year old vine fruit and after fermentations it is aged in 60% French and 40% American oak for 12 months. 

A Reserva with the wow factor!  Complex aromas of leather, rich black fruits, oak, and hints of balsam, liquorice and spice. It has wonderful concentrated dark berry fruits and is complex smooth and it has excellent structure and length. After fermentations it spends 18 months ageing in 2 year old oak barriques.

A step-up on the excellent Crianza, this is a special treat. In comparing this with other wines in The Wine Shop, it sits between the lighter Urbina Reservas and the full-bodied Muga Reserva Especial.

Last Words

Writing in The Wine Advocate Magazine, Neal Martin, wine critic summed up the wines from this Bodega better than us:

“These wines are imbued with wonderful purity and sophistication, managing to tread that fine line between modernism and classicism and embracing the virtue from the two. Moreover, I found that these wines evoked a sense of place, something that not all Rioja wines do. Highly recommended.” 

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