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Details for Quinta Milú, La Bicicleta Voladora

AppellationRioja DOCa
Tempranillo / Tinta Roriz
(click to find out more)
Macabeo / Viura
(click to find out more)


Sprawling for 120km along both sides of the bank of the Ebro river in northern Spain, Rioja’s name is derived from a combination of the words Rio (river) and Oja, the name of a tributary of the Ebro.  The Ebro has its source in the Cantabrian Mountains less than 40km from the Bay of Biscay, but it turns its back on the Atlantic and instead flows 930km east-south-east across northern Spain to the Mediterranean.
Rioja is the name of the wine; La Rioja is the name of the region, which is divided into three distinct sub-regions as one follows the Ebro downstream: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja.  The climate varies considerably; the highest vineyards in the west are almost 800m up and receive 500mm of rainfall a year, while the lowest in the east are at 300m and much dryer, with just 300mm.
Although Rioja Alta extends further east, Rioja Alavesa runs parallel with it, occupying the north bank of the Ebro while the south bank is part of Rioja Alta.  The two have similar clay on limestone soils and a broadly similar climate; their differences are largely administrative and cultural, with Alavesa being part of the Basque Country.
Rioja Baja is warmer and dryer, with fertile alluvial soils composed largely of silt.  Its wines are often much higher in alcohol, and are used to add colour and strength to blends with the pale, fragrant wines produced further upstream.
Tempranillo is the main black grape variety (over 75% of vineyard area) but is almost always blended, usually with Garnacha and often with Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) as well.  The rather less well-known white Rioja is mostly based on Viura (Macabeo), with Malvasía and Garnacha Blanca playing supporting roles.
Rioja is classified according to how long the wine has been aged: Crianza wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, one of which must be in oak; Reservas must be aged for at least 3 years, one of which must be in oak; and Gran Reservas, which are usually only produced in the best vintages, can only be released after ageing for 5 years, 3 of which must be in oak.
The oak barrels must be small 225hl Bordeaux barriques, though in Rioja they are not usually made from French oak but from (much cheaper) American oak, which imparts more obvious vanilla flavours to the wine.

Quinta Milú

The ‘micro-winery’ tag is apt; Quinta Milú is a one-man show.  Germán R. Blanco is the man, helped out occasionally by his young family.  The winery is named for his baby boy, Lucas, whose nickname is “Mi Lu” or Milú.
A fervent believer in minimal-intervention, natural winemaking, all Germán’s vineyards are farmed organically and worked by hand.  This being Ribero del Duero, they’re all planted to Tempranillo (called Tinto del Pais locally).  In these unirrigated, high-altitude vineyards (around 900 metres up), most of the vines are over 50 years old and some over a century.
Despite the small size of his operation, Germán produces five different wines, all unfined, unfiltered and with only only minimal use of SO2 just before bottling.  He also has two side-projects in Bierzo, San Estaban and Casa Aurora, the latter from vineyards that belonged to his grandmother.
His latest venture, La Bicicleta Voladora, is in Rioja where he has partnered with Navarran winemaker and old friend Javier Colio.  2015 is their first vintage.

about this wine About this wine

When I first saw this wine’s name, La Bicicleta Voladora, I read it as “the stolen bicycle”… perhaps a sign that I’ve lived in London too long.  It’s actually “the flying bicycle”, which may well be a reference to the likelihood of finding a fresh-tasting unoaked red Rioja like this.
Rioja is the best-known of Spanish reds and, especially if you’re my age or more, probably the first one you ever drank.  It’s been on our off-licence shelves for so long that we even know how to pronounce it.  (It’s “ree-o-Ha”, with plenty of gutteral, back-of-the-throat rolling on that last syllable.  If you can’t manage the Spanish ‘J’ then “ree-ocker” comes pretty close.)
And we know how it tastes, too.  Old, soft, warm and above all oaked, filled with vanilla, caramel and sweet spices derived from long barrel-aging.  Fresh it isn’t.
But there is a tradition of unoaked Rioja for local consumption.  Especially in Rioja Alavesa (the middle bit, between Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja) small producers sell young red wine at the cellar door to locals.  This is unoaked and usually produced by carbonic maceration (the same method used in Beaujolais) which makes very fruity wine for drinking young.
This wine has been inspired by that tradition.  But it isn’t from Rioja Alavesa but from Rioja Baja, the least fashionable part of the region.  This lies further downstream; it’s lower, hotter and dryer, with a consequent tendency to produce huge alcoholic wines (15% and up) that are used to beef up the blend with the fragrant, finer but lighter wines produced further up the Ebro.
It isn’t made by a local, either.  Germán Blanco is the winemaker (and owner, and pretty much everthing else) at boutique producer Quinta Milú in Ribera del Duero.  Not content with that workload, he also has two side-projects in Bierzo: Casa Aurora and San Esteban.  This wine is the result of another such side-project, though at least this time he has some help in the form of his old friend Javier Colio, an experienced Navarran winemaker.
They went looking for certified-organic vineyards in Rioja (all Germán’s wines are organic) and found them near San Adrián at the northern edge of Rioja Baja, close to the border with Navarra.  They made an agreement with the grower, J. Félix Arriezu, and rented a cellar in San Adrián to use as a winery.
These vines are not just organic but also unirrigated; low yields are key to preserving quality for the main variety here, Tempranillo.  Yields were further reduced by a “green harvest”: picking and discarding some of the immature grapes in order to increase the concentration of those that remain.
Being on the northern edge of the Ebro valley, these vineyards benefit from stony clay over limestone soils much like those of Rioja Alta and Alavesa, rather than the fertile silt of the valley floor.  They’re planted mainly with Tempranillo, but there’s also some Viura, the main white grape of Rioja.
The two were harvested together, by hand, on 25th and 26th September 2015.  Tempranillo ripens early while Viura ripens late, so the relatively underripe Viura grapes contribute fresh acidity to the ripe Tempranillo, which can suffer from low acidity in the heat of Rioja Baja.
The grapes were de-stemmed but not crushed, so lots of whole berries went into the concrete fermentation vat along with those that inevitably got broken in the process.  The broken ones were sufficient to start fermentation with the aid of a wild yeast starter made by the “pied de cuve” method.
The fermenting must was kept at 21°C, which is decidedly cool for a red wine, with some gentle pumping over.  In the CO2-rich environment the remaining whole berries undergo carbonic maceration, where the still-living cells inside the grapes continue their metabolism by converting grape sugar into alcohol and CO2 using enzymes rather than yeasts.  This process emphasises aromas and fruit flavours while leaving the tannins in the skins.  It stops when the alcohol concentration reaches just a few percent, but by then the generated CO2 has usually burst the grape anyway, allowing the remaining sugars to ferment normally.
The wine was gently pressed while still fermenting, so that fermentation was then completed off the skins.  This short maceration further reduces the extraction of tannins in a wine intended to be drunk young.  It was then aged for seven months in a mixture of concrete tanks and ‘Flextank’ eggs.  These egg-shaped polyethylene tanks are slightly permeable to air, so wine ages in them much as in a conventional barrel but without the cost of cooperage and without acquiring any oak flavours.
The wine was very gently fined with clay before bottling, but not filtered.  A small amount of sulphur dioxide was added as a preservative just before bottling – the only chemical used in the whole process.  This is very much a ‘natural’ wine, as the winemakers make clear in their data sheet, which reads more like a manifesto:
“We want fresh, fluid and vertical wines!  Made from happy grapes, with no chemicals and no wood!”

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