Ramón Bilbao Rioja Norte & Sur

The Rioja house of Ramón Bilbao is one of the region’s most innovative. Though established almost 100 years ago by Don Ramón Bilbao Murga, the appointment of Rodolfo Bastida as winemaker in 1999 heralded a period of change. Not only did the company join the burgeoning movement away from the oak-dominated style to a fresher, more expressively fruity Rioja, but Bastida (pictured) introduced an approach much more focused on terroir.

This online tasting with Rodolfo introduced two Rioja wines called Límite Sur and Límite Norte, from two extremes of their vineyard locations, South and North of the region. In the north, vineyards around Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón sit at around 550 – 660 metres altitude in one of the coolest spots of Rioja. The pebble-strewn vineyard is on the edge of the ripening zone, and produces the white wine, Límite Norte. It is a blend of the more herbal, high acid Maturana Blanca, and Tempranillo Blanco, a white mutation of the dark skinned Tempranillo first discovered in the 1980s.

The red wine from the south also has altitude, sited in the Sierra de Yerga. The Alto Cidacos vineyards here lie between 500 and 750 metres, but with lower rainfall and more sunshine hours than the north. The wine is made from Garnacha grown here.

So, site and grape variety were part of the DNA of the wines being tasted here, but the tasting also looked at winemaking, and specifically at how components aged in three different types of vessel affect the wine.

As well as the finished wines from the 2018 and 2019 vintages, we would taste three separate components that will make up the final blend of both the white and red wines from 2021: one aged in amphora, one in concrete tank, and one in 600-litre french oak barrels. For the finished wines, these components are assembled after six months, in different proportions, before a further ageing period of around six months in smaller, French oak barriques of 225 litres.

The Samples

Límite Norte (Rioja Blanco) 2021 components
Aged in concrete tank. Clean, relatively neutral stone fruit and lighter floral and creamy aromas. Juicy blend of citrus and nectarine fruit.
Aged in amphora. A little more reserved than the concrete, less floral but feels quite concentrated. Tangy dry and quite citrus-pithy on the palate.
Aged in 500-litre barrel. No overpowering oak aroma, just a slightly more open feel to this, creamy pear and citrus. Sharply-defined citrus finish.

Límite Sur (Rioja Tinto) 2021 components
Aged in concrete tank. Fresh, floral, but also has a sense of meatiness. Spices plus red and black fruits. Fully expressive, rich palate.
Aged in amphora. A slightly more bittersweet, liquorice character perhaps. A little leaner and possibly fresher, more grippy feeling.
Aged in 500-litre barrel. The vanillin oak marks this more obviously than the white, fruit sweetness seems to be enhanced with chocolaty underpinning.

The 2018 and 2019 Wines

(2023) A 50/50 blend of Maturana Blanca and Tempranillo Blanco from vineyards in Cuzcurrita with an extreme Continental climate, planted on shallow gravel soils. Fermentation with some solids, the Maturana slightly cooler than the Tempranillo to retain its floral character. Roughly equal proportions aged on lees in concrete, amphora and 600-litre barrels for six months, before the blend was assembled and spent another six months in 225-litre French oak barriques, and 14 months in bottle. Beautifully creamy almond and hazelnut refinement. A little buttery character and stone fruit aromas. The palate has a very nice balance of juiciness suggesting lemon and orange, and a weightier feel in both texture and creamy, nuttier character. Long and very elegant. Price and stockist quoted at time of review are for the previous vintage.
(2023) The blend is 50% Maturana Blanca and 50% Tempranillo Blanco, with similar winemaking to the 2018 and the red variant: fermentation and lees ageing in concrete vats, amphorae and 600 litre casks before blending and ageing a further six months in French oak barriques. The oak adds a vanillin creaminess that is quite apparent on first sniff of this golden-green wine, with yellow apple and lime aromas, a little spiciness too. In the mouth creamy textured, with a whisper of tobacco spice, more fleshy white fruits and a real tang of pithy citrus in the finish. Rich but fine.
(2023) 100% Garnacha, from north-facing vineyards in the Sierra de Yerga. Fermentation was in concrete with a proportion of stems, followed by six months ageing in amphora, 600-litre barrel and concrete before assembling the blend from a further period in 225-litre French oak barriques. Relatively pale-to-medium colour. Smoky, grilled-meat, and savoury, black fruits seem dry and quite serious, the oak sitting gently. Those florals and more herby red fruits do come through. Delightful palate, quite a lot of espresso and chocolate comes through, but there is agility, a fresh, spicy and lemony edge that gives lovely freshness. Long and very fine. Price and stockist quoted at time of review are for the previous vintage.
(2023) Again, 100% high altitude Garnacha like the 2018, made in a combination of concrete tanks, amphorae and 600-litre French oak barrels, blended and aged a further eight months in 225-litre French casks. This expresses a svelte, floral-touched creaminess on the nose. Really quite a pretty red wine, the creamy but subtle oak not masking the buoyant red and black fruit flavours. Nicely balanced, the finish has smooth tannins and a good level of acidity, just a little coffee and spice, and balsamic edge, all showing through.


  1. Wines sound worth exploring given their price to scoring ratio. Are they not following the usual classifications of Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva?

    1. Paul, I’mm 99% certain they are classified as generic Rioja, not Crianza, Reserva, etc. but I don’t have a bottle here to double check and the producer web site doesn’t mention.

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