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When Rioja is White.

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

Spotlight on our producers - Bodegas Bhilar - Elvillar

When scanning a wine list do you find your eye inextricably drawn to the words "White Rioja"? We all know about Rioja, it's probably the "go-to" wine if you are unsure about the other, less renowned, regions of Spain and feel secure in its familiarity.

White Rioja, therefore, almost feels exotic, like an albino peacock or a mysterious, yet-to-be-named, sea creature. The truth is that vinos blancos de Rioja are certainly not rare and form a substantial quota of the region's wine production, commonly made using white grapes Viura Garnacha Blanca or Malvasía.

You can find three white Riojas on The Tapas Room wine lists, Bodegas Manazanos, Bodegas Ondarre and Bodegas Bhilar, the latter of which we are introducing you to today.

Bodegas Bhilar

Every vineyard tells a story; the generations that have worked the land, the land itself and not forgetting those gnarly vines that hold history in their roots. But a story is only as good as the storyteller, and there's none better than Melanie Hickman of Bodegas Bhilar. She and her husband David Sampedro are quite the team, when Hawaii met Spain to bring their combined skills to the terroir of Elvillar, Rioja Alavesa.

You've heard of low-intervention, biodynamic, organic, and all those buzzwords around wine and viniculture, well here at Bodegas Philar those words come in bucket loads and from a place of passion and respect for the land.

"Our goal is to make terroir-driven wines with soul and to share them with good people".

A fine intention indeed and one that leaves us hoping that we are those good people! The collection of vineyards nurtures old vines, in the belief that great wines are born in the vineyard itself. Vineyards have dominated the landscape of Elvillar for hundreds of years due to its poor soil conditions. Consequently, this region is known for having some of the oldest vines in all of Rioja.

The rejection of mechanical harvesting and even the humble tractor, in favour of horse-drawn agriculture, is just one demonstration of the philosophy of Bodegas Bhilar. The love and connection of land, human and animal.

"Struggling Vines Make the Best Wine"

We urge you to read Melanies blog Struggling Vines, if you are interested in inspiring adventures and of course wine, then it's a wonderful read.

In the meantime please do pop into a Tapas Room and ask for a glass, or a bottle why not? Of Bodegas Bhilar's Phinca Hapa, named after Melanie's American Bulldog, Hapa.


Type:White Wine

Appellation: D.O.Ca. Rioja (sub-region: Rioja Alavesa)

Varieties: 82% Viura, 12% Garnacha Blanca, 6% Malvasía

Number of bottles: 2,300


A west-facing vineyard located in the village of Elvillar, Rioja Alavesa, perched atop a hill at 2,100 feet (646 meters). A 2.9 ha parcel of white chalky limestone soil planted in 1967. We farm the land by horse and follow Biodynamic tenets.

HARVEST AND PRODUCTION Hand-harvested in 10 kg cases following a rigorous selection in the vineyard. Whole cluster grapes are placed in a concrete vat and sealed. The fermentation starts with native yeasts. After the fermentation is 80% finished, the wine is then pressed and placed in 2000-litre French foudres to finish the fermentation and age for one year. A small amount of sulphur was added prior to bottling but at no other point during production.


Smoky, orange peel, tropical fruit and ripe apricot - we could go on... On the pallet, bags of complex lingering flavours with insane texture and creaminess. Long finish and certainly not your standard white Rioja.

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