10/6/2023 — First time in MN, and a highlight of our Rioja trip: VALDELANA!

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Hi everyone –

One of the most impactful and significant days in our wine life happened one month ago today, on September 6th, 2023, when we spent our first full day in Rioja, Spain.

We’ve taught classes about Rioja for over twenty years, but we had never been there. We needed to solve that problem and better understand things from the terroir to the history. We tapped our friend Danny Adler of Adler and Marlow Tours to organize the first day for us, including a driver. We had a specific list of requests:

  • Taste a range of wines in a range of styles.
  • Get a deep sense of the history of Rioja.
  • See old vineyards and old vines, preferably over 100 years old.
  • See and touch the different core soil types to be found in Rioja.
  • Have a traditional lunch of the region.
  • Walk through caves, tunnels, and old cellars.
  • And NO tours of big warehouses full of stainless steel tanks with winemaking 101 explanations.

Danny reached out to one of his main contacts, Alvaro of Around Tours San Sebastian, and Alvaro reached out to his sources in Rioja, explaining who we were, what we did, and our list of requests.

Alvaro picked us up at 9:00 am, and after a stop to overlook the whole region of Rioja and get our geographical bearings, we headed into what would prove to be an amazing experience.

The amazing view from the observation deck over Rioja.

With our list of experiences I wanted on our first day, I fully expected to visit a half dozen wineries, pinballing around Rioja. Much to my surprise, Alvaro found one winery that could check all the boxes and then some: Bodegas Familia Valdelana, located in the charming town of Elciego (best known as the home of the Marquis de Riscal Hotel).

We arrived at Valdelana and introduced ourselves to the staff in charge of us for the day. I quickly opened my WineSearcher app to see if Valdelana was available in the United States, and it turns out it was in Florida and California, but that was it. Not in Minnesota (yet) but if they were already exporting to the US that meant much of the paperwork was done. There was hope!

I will fast-forward this story before discussing the wines because something incredible happened.

At the end of the day, while sitting in our Airbnb in Longroño sipping Valdelena Rioja and reflecting on a fantastic experience, Angela and I started scheming how to get Valdelana into Minnesota. Spanish music played on our phones while we sipped Valdelana Crianza Rioja, with the streets of Logroño four stories below our deck.

AT THAT EXACT MOMENT … I’m not kidding … I received this email from Marcus Hanson, import director for Small Lot in Minnesota (and better known as the Wine Opera Singer from past wine classes), who was responding to our trip update email of September 6th.

September 6 at 3:40 pm:

“Dude and Dudette – I actually got teary just now, knowing you are in Logroño! I miss northern Spain so much. Mostly my (exchange student) daughter, Leire, and her family. But that narrow street, the tavern, all so familiar.

If you’re going to take a little drive, I was absolutely enchanted by Laguardia. And no doubt that Elciego (or Eltxiego) has all the cache of Haro with Riscal, Muriel, and our new Rioja producer, Valdelana.

Keep posting, I’m living vicariously over here.

My best,
Marcus Hanson
Small Lot Wine

We couldn’t believe what we read. This incredible winery we just spent the whole day with is about to be distributed in Minnesota? We started cheering joyfully, clinking glasses of Crianza while texting with Marcus, asking him to double the opening order out of Spain.

That leads us to today’s offer.

Fire the starting gun: The first offer of Familia Valdelana in Minnesota!

We’ll return to some stories, history, and photos of the winery and the old vineyards in a bit, but let’s get right to the wines.

Five wines from Valdelana arrived in Minnesota last week. The importer has held the inventory for us to have the first crack at it. There is more than enough inventory to go around, and we fully expect to see these soon on wine lists and at the better wine shops around town, but for right now you can only get it here.

Each of these wines punches way above their weight class. All are finessed, polished, and pure. And all will make you happy. On the ordering page, you can get the wines ala carte or as a five-pack at a significant discount.


This is a stellar lineup that is also a simple wine education. Same producer, same winemaker, same vineyards, three vintages (all two years apart), and three different aging regiments.

Valdelana Rioja Joven 2022

The Joven designation refers to the younger wines of Rioja, often showing freshness and bright flavors. This one is 100% Tempranillo from 35-year-old vines in chalk-clay soil, sustainably farmed and hand-harvested.

The color is primary and purple, as expected with a Joven. Aromas are sassy, spicy, and punchy. Loaded with peak season plum and briary blackberry. Yum! The flavor is seamless and balanced, without the aggressive flavors that most Jovens suffer from. Super smooth tannins with acid integration. I’d have this every night with a burger off the grill and be a very happy person.

Valdelana Rioja Crianza 2020

Being a Crianza, this is aged a minimum of one year in oak (in this case, 50% American and 50% French) plus one year in the bottle before release. 100% Tempranillo from 35-year-old vines, sustainably farmed and hand harvested.

Color is still very young but not as primary as the Joven. In other words, it is exactly as it should be. Aromas are showing that magical dance of Tempranillo and oak, but without either beating up the other. The taste is spectacular, with complete flavors that roll in a super interesting way. The finish holds and lingers, and at the very end is a whisper of black olive that is super cool. Yum.

Valdelana Rioja Reserva 2018

The Reserva designation is one of my favorites, indicating a minimum of two years in oak (like the Crianza, it’s 50/50 American and French), plus one year in the bottle before release. This wine comes from a separate parcel with a minimum 50-year-old vines; of course, it’s hand-harvested.

The young color streak continues into the Reserva, showing this can age another 5-10 years without breaking a sweat. Aromas achieve the same balance as the Crianza, with no oak elbows sticking out (a problem of many a Reserva). This wine has a sensible subtlety about it, and it’s not screaming at all. It’s reserved, perhaps a touch closed from the recent travel across the ocean. Still, the flavor showcases everything this wine will blossom into: loads of cloves meet blackberry and raspberry, with a mellow flavor harmony. It just rolls and rolls on the palate, making me happier with every wave of flavor.

These are not loud wines, or overtly traditional or modern … they are right down the middle of the tracks awesome.


The Agnus de Autor line comes from the oldest vineyards, all over 70 years old (and some are 100 to 120 years old). These incredibly special wines offer huge bang for the buck for the consumer.

Valdelana Agnus de Autor Joven 2021

95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano, aged without oak. This is a pure expression of old-vine Tempranillo, which is rarely done with the oldest vines … almost all producers skip doing a Joven with their top fruit. It’s just one of the many things that makes this wine special.

Color is as expected: young, with loads of purple hues. The aromas are SO forward and sassy on this wine. They scream out of the glass, with wild blackberry and Aleppo pepper framing the power-packed smell. The taste is grippy, with fine tannins and a puckery finish. This needs some food, preferably slow-roasted red meats off the grill.

This wine is awesome. Rarely do I sense this much care put into a Joven, which I often find quite a fast-to-market castoff wine from most producers. This may be the most serious Joven I’ve had.

Valdelana Agnus de Autor Crianza 2020

95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano from 70+ year old vines, aged 12 months in oak.

This is soulful wine. The first pass on the aromas immediately made me think of a smoky jazz club in New York in the 1960s, with the cool cats hanging out sipping whiskey and listening to Miles Davis. It has a wine cellar aroma (not dank, not wrong, by no means a fault, but an aroma that reminds me of underground or caves). Loads of raspberry and blackberry … which I’ve found is a trend in all of these wines … along with complex hints of clean butcher shop and spicebox. The flavor and finish, like all the wines from Valdelana, have no “dip” in the middle but rather are even-keel across the flavor profile. That’s the sign of some good winemaking.

What makes Valdelana so special?

The story of Valdelana Winery begins in the 16th century when Pedro Valdelana first planted grapevines in the soils of Elciego, making Valdelana one of the most historic wineries in Spain, especially in Rioja. Few wineries can trace family ownership back that far, and even fewer can claim over 13 generations of family leadership.

One of the defining features of Valdelana Winery is its remarkable underground caves. These cellars are carved from the region’s distinctive limestone and testify to the winery’s historical significance. In the caves below the tasting room and hotel, they have amassed a wonderful collection showcasing the history of Rioja, from old winemaking equipment and farming tools to photos and paperwork that bring the visitor back in time. Touring their museum was a highlight of our entire Europe trip.

While preserving age-old winemaking techniques that emphasize the significance of terroir and grape variety, the winery has also embraced modern advancements in viticulture and winemaking technology. This harmonious blend of the old and the new has allowed Valdelana to create wines deeply rooted in Rioja’s winemaking heritage yet reflecting a contemporary finesse. This is a rare combination in Rioja, where many wineries can be quickly categorized as “traditional” or “modern.”

In an era of environmental consciousness, Valdelana Winery has also emerged as a torchbearer of sustainable viticulture. The winery’s commitment to eco-friendly practices, such as organic farming, water conservation, and energy efficiency, underscores its dedication to preserving the natural beauty of the Rioja region for future generations.

Some highlights of our visit

The front entrance to the winery/restaurant/hotel. It’s just down the street from modern architechual gem of Marquis de Riscal. Hint: if you want to stay at Marquis de Riscal it will cost you $500+ per night. But you can stay at Valdelana, spend only $80 per night, and have a perfect view of Riscal. Now, of course, Riscal is a five star experience and Valdelana is only two star (super basic accomodations but good with me!).
More info on the Valdelana accomdations.

Our tour guide and winery ambassador, Jennifer, showing the family lineage going back to 1615.

The winery museum is an excellent showcase of the history of wine, Rioja, and the Valdelana family. It was a PERFECT start to our first full day in Rioja!

Jennifer and our driver/organizer Alvaro, deep in the wine cellars of Valdelana. The cubbies full of wine are the private stashes of top clients, who can use the cellars for meetings and gatherings.

This is neat. These are ancient concrete fermentation vats that are now used as part of the displays for the museum. Look at how little room there is above them. There is a hole in the top where the juice was pumped to fill the vat (via the pipe in the ceiling). But the most incredible part: these concrete vats were still used up to 2009! This is where the entire production of Valdelana went through fermentation until then. Wow!

In the vineyards, walking amongst the century-old vines. Valdelana was good enough to tour us to three vineyards to experience three different soil types while tasting the incredibly rare single-vineyard wines produced at each location.

From far to near: the Sierra Cantabria mountain range, the village of Elciego where the winery is located, the famous Marquis de Riscal hotel, and a 110-year-old Malvasia vine. So cool!

Terraced vineyards came in handy to hold up this old Yoda-like vine.

This neat picture shows the old-school Massal Selection process of reproducing vines. You take a young and pliable branch of the vine you want to reproduce, bury it underground, and put a flat rock on top. The vine keeps growing, produces roots, and pops up on the other side where it’s trained into being a new vine. Angela has heard me talk about this for decades, but she’s never seen it in person.

This is one of the uber-limited (only 300 bottles produced) single vineyard wines from the most ancient vines. Available only at the winery (and in our cellar!). It was so generous of the winery to pour these gems for us during our visit. Notice the new “Viñedo Singular” designation on the front. This is the first wave of Rioja’s new officially designated single vineyard wines. So exciting!

Angela took about a million photos of the old vines.

Ahead of lunch, we were lucky enough to bump into Isidoro Valdelana, the fourteenth generation of the family. Born in 1937, he led the family winery through the era of Francisco Franco and expanded the family’s landholdings to poise them for success in the 21st century. He was humble, funny, and extremely down to earth.
A true living legend in Rioja!

Buying advice

This is a very special offer, and as you can tell we are over the moon for these wines. I am so happy they are now available in Minnesota, and I look forward to helping our market become the number one state in the USA for Valdelana.

As mentioned, the wines will be hitting the broad market shortly, and you’ll be able to find them around town. But I doubt any store will stock all the wines, so this is your best opportunity to collect the full range.

The five-pack is at a particularly sweet price, and consider it for stocking up a bit as well. We will not be able to offer that price in the future, it is just for the launch of the brand in Minnesota.

Learn more about the winery, see some amazing photos, hear stories about the family, and more at their website: https://www.bodegasvaldelana.com/en/.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer and special pricing are available through Monday or as inventory lasts

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