Discovering Rioja’s Most Fascinating Wines with Sandra Bravo at the Sierra de Toloño Project

By | 13 March 2024


Sandra Bravo is creating some of the most intriguing wines in Rioja, with a deep concentration on the vineyard. Part of her roots trace back to Rioja (due to her birth in Logroño), while the other part is in the Basque country.

In her early wine-making days, she gathered experience from various places before proceeding to make her own wines. She worked in Entre deux Mers (Bordeaux), Chianti (which she mentions that the flying winemaker Goffredo Agostini was a significant inspiration) and later spent seven years in Priorat. In Priorat, she was greatly influenced by Ricard Rofes of Scala Dei. ‘In this place, I imbibed the artisan way of wine-making and resolved to return home to begin my own venture.’

So, in 2012, Sandra returned to Rioja. ‘I started from scratch, renting a vineyard in Ribes de Tereso.’ After the first vintage, landlords started offering her age-old vineyards and she progressively expanded the project, keeping the focus on viticulture. At the moment, she rents 3 hectares and owns 7 hectares. The winery is rented. ‘All my investment goes into the vineyards,’ she says, ‘otherwise, making this type of wine would be unattainable.’

Returning to these old, lofty vineyards was an incredible journey for Sandra, who compared it to working in a unique setting filled with ancient vineyards, bushvines, and vast biodiversity. ‘The place is amazing,’ she says. ‘It’s a Mediterranean ambience with rosemary and thyme growing freely among the vines, and you can literally taste them in the grapes.’

Sandra employs biodynamic methods in her work, holding a certification in the same. She has noticed improvements in the balance between the acidity and alcohol in her wines since she adopted this approach – the acidity has increased, and the alcohol content has decreased.

While the winemaking process might not seem mystical, it’s sensitive and it allows the vineyard’s natural character to be the star. ‘I emphasize a lot on the vineyards,’ Sandra shares, ‘but my approach has gotten simpler in the cellar over time.’

Sierra de Toloño Blanco Rioja, Spain, 2023
Alcohol content – 11.5%. This is a Viura variant grown in calcareous soil and fermented in stainless steel containers. A marvelous aromatic medley of fresh citrus, pear fruit, some grape-like richness, and a touch of honey tease the olfactory senses. The palate is crisp, clean, mineral-rich with a beautiful precision and a pleasant acid line. Fruit expression is something this wine does exceptionally well – It’s distinctive and delightful. Score: 93/100

Sierra de Toloño Nahikun Blanco 2023 Rioja, Spain
A mix of vintage varieties from five micro-segments that were sowed by grape sellers who planted wherever they could acquire land, atop mountains, on the rock where others didn’t want to cultivate. Sandra says, ‘This is the legacy I want to leave here.’ The wine is vibrant and intense with a charming precision and purity, featuring bright citrus with a hint of steel-like acidity and a truly mineral element in the finale. It is fresh and concentrated, but with a real depth and complexity. Rating: 95 out of 100

Sierra de Toloño Tempranillo Tinto 2021 Rioja, Spain
Bush vines from high altitude in Ribes de Tereso. Sandra has adopted a passive approach to harvest by the end of October while preserving the freshness. Maturation period in neutral small oak is 8 months. The taste is vibrant and fresh with ripe, sweet black cherry and berry fruits intermingled with notes of cured meat and olives. It has the freshness of sour cherry on the finale. This wine is bright but maintains a serious edge with a resolute focus on fruit. Rating: 94 out of 100

Sierra de Toloño Raposo 2021 Rioja, Spain
Originated from the valley, this wine has the influences of the river in its soil, providing it an alluvial character. It takes a longer time (one year) in 3000 litre casks for maturation. Concentrated and energetic, the wine strikes a chord with its freshness and delivers a well-struck balance. The flavour is layered with olive and pepper blended with a touch of meaty richness, but also, freshness is present. A structured wine with fresh acidity; it is both quaffable and complex. Rating: 94 out of 100

Sierra de Toloño La Dula Garnachas de Altura 2022 Rioja, Spain
According to Sandra, she acquired the skills to make Garnacha in Priorat. With its origin at 650 m altitude, ‘This is an ideal location for Garnacha, yielding ripe tannins and good acidity,’ as stated by Sandra. Matured in amphora. Thoroughly delightful with pleasant sweet ripe red cherry and black cherry fruit with smooth, silky fruit and pleasant tannins. Expressively beautiful with volume, elegance and finesse. It exhibits such purity and precision, not to mention its palatable nature. Rating: 95 out of 100

Sierra de Toloño Terseño 2021 Rioja, Spain
‘I discovered the potential of Garnacha with this wine,’ says Sandra. Like Dula, it’s also made in amphora, from 90 year old vines at 630 m. Calcareous rocks. Really floral and expressive with bright red cherries and plums, and nice spicy grip. Such personality here with amazing elegance to the fruit and then a remarkable tannic structure and a nice acid line. Offers silkiness but also grainy, grippy structure. A remarkable wine with great precision and purpose. 96/100

Sierra de Toloño Nahikun Tinto 2022 Rioja, Spain
Field blend of local varieties, harvested together and cofermented. ‘They were so clever planting all these varieties, in the right place and the right proportion,’ says Sandra. Ripe and sweetly fruited with a nice silkiness and some depth, showing raspberry and cherry fruit with a smooth texture to it. Generous and ripe, but still remaining fresh, this offers pleasure with purpose. Fine and expressive with lovely weight, and some fine tannins on the finish. 95/100

Sierra de Toloño Rosado 2023 Rioja, Spain
‘I started making this wine in Covid when I had lots of time.’ It’s from the coolest plot she has (where some grapes were still green even in November), with some bits skin contact and others direct pressed. Full pink/red in colour, this has lovely cherry and raspberry fruit but also nice structure and freshness. There’s a purity here with some smoky, spicy, grainy character adding interest. Nice grip on the finish. 93/100

UK agent: Lea & Sandeman

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