Just a little over a week in Rioja and its not enough

About how hard it is to be second and how advantageously to buy from second's.

Going to Rioja for a week with a little, we knew that time would still not be enough.

Firstly we have planned to visit Aro, which in the XIX century was one of the most modern European centers of wine trade, along with London and Paris. Secondly, we were going to visit eight wineries, one more legendary than the other. And thirdly, it is always very difficult to get a group out of local restaurants on time, where you can buy wines from the 80s and older in free sale and for reasonable money. For example, we were lucky enough to try the legendary Grand Reserve Marques de Murrieta Ygay 1981 in a restaurant that has been operating since 1877.


In addition to stocks of old vintages, Rioja has another feature - the stunning architecture of local wineries, which was formed by the influx of European money after Spain's accession to the EU. We knew that one of the most spectacular wine trips awaited us.

The first day. La Rioja Alta и Marques de Murrieta.

La Rioja Alta combines tradition and innovation in its approach to winemaking. This is one of the oldest cooperatives in Rioja. They consider manual harvesting (450 hectares is not easy), independent manual production of barrels for aging wines and double sorting of berries - during harvesting and with the help of an optical sorter. Not suitable berries are sold to large wineries for simpler wines.


Oak raw materials are purchased in the United States and slowly processed in our own cooperage, including "aging" of boards in the open air for two years and burning of barrels. After visiting the cooperage, the basic principles of winemaking become clear: oak and time. At the tasting we were able to see this once again by trying Alberdi Crianza 2014 with aging as in reserves, two vintage Ardanza Reserva, one of which (2010) came out with a blue lable Special Selection - only the fourth time in 77 vintages, mini-vertical Gran Reserva 904 1997, 2004 and 2010, the last of which was just bottled and drunk so early that it's a pity, and Gran Reserva 890 2001 and Arana Gran Reserva 1994. Well, how was it to go somewhere else after that?


No matter how much we want to avoid letter-worship in our travel sketches, it is wrong not to say that Marques de Murrieta is the first winery in Rioja who bottled wine and exported it outside Spain. It was with Marques de Murrieta and Marques de Riscal that the history of serious winemaking in the region began. The new owners bought the old Murrieta castle in 1853 and carried out a complete renovation by 2014.

In the yard at the entrance to the tourist center wineries directly in the wine barrel grows a vine of the rare variety Graciano. The variety is considered to be a northern Spanish native, it is rarely found in blends of Rioja and Navarre wines and very rarely in sepage wines. Locals say it is so disease-resistant and low-yielding that it is named after the phrase "No, gracias".

День второй. RODA и Cvne.

Bodega RODA is a stranger among his own. The vineyards are two steps away from the famous "traditionalists" La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, but the style is radically different. In a nutshell, it can be described as ripeness and fruitiness. However, the wines do not fall into the common blockbuster jam. The winery has been operating since 1992. They were the first in Rioja to set up a sorting table, practice cold maceration to obtain color, but prefer a relatively short basic fermentation - in fact, do everything possible to preserve fruitiness.


We were especially impressed by the room in which the wines get malolactic fermentation - it is heated by a heated floor system, so heated not the barrels themselves, but a whole large room. Another feature of RODA - they use French oak instead of American. All the wines at the tasting were the latest vintage, but everyone really liked Roda I and we immediately bought a couple of boxes.


Another famous winery on our list - Cvne. In addition to a century and a half of history, Cvne is also known among tourists for its winery building, which was designed and built by the same Eiffel. In 2013, Imperial Gran Reserva Cvne became the best wine in the world according to Wine Spectator. At the winery we were waiting for one of the most memorable tastings of this trip: Cvne 2008, vertical Imperial Gran Reserva 1976, 1988, 1995, including the monumental Real de Asúa, the taste of which we will remain silent, because it's like a smile Mona Lisa - indescribable :)

The third day. Desert. Knowing what mercilessly dense wines await us ahead, we planned a day off in advance at the equator of the trip. And we went to the real desert. The desert of Navarre - Bardenas-Reales. Stunning views, complete absence of people, plants and a special desert wind. Somewhere in the middle of it, climbing a picturesque hill, we had a small picnic with fresh olive oil bought at Roda winery (yes, they also make very good oil from Mallorca plantations), ham and fresh bread. Of course, drinking all this with some old vintage Cvne. It turns out that the desert horizon for all 360º around works better than any flavour enhancer, it was almost the most delicious lunch of the whole trip.

Fourth day. Remirez De Ganuza и Urbina.


The second "modernist" in our list of visits turned out to be quite special. The winery, very traditional on the outside, turned out to be stuffed with modern shiny equipment, among which the most memorable was the vertical pneumatic press. We were even more impressed by the description of the winemaking process, starting with the fact that different wines are produced from different parts of the bunch and ending with washing the berries with their own juice and replacing the barrels every two years. Half of the total volume of wines is a reserve, most of which is exported, the rest is supplied only to fine dining restaurants, they are not available for free sale. A separate reference is the vertical tasting of the "grand reserve" from 2011 to 2006, which left the impression of a cheerful but heavy truck with chocolate, jams and oriental spices on board, which passed through the our receptors.


Urbina is, in a good way, an old-school winery that works like in the good old days. Only its own harvest is used for production, and the winery building is located just among the vineyards. The berries are harvested mostly by hand and fermentation is going on wild yeast. The quality of raw materials is taken very seriously and if the grapes are not good enough - they sell it to other producers. For example, in 2003 they had to sell almost everything, except for a small plot of berries, on which botrytis appeared that year - it was used to make a rare reserve «raisins». At the tasting we have tried Crianza and reserve vertical until the 90s, the best impression was left from 1991, 1994 and 2001 vintages.

Fifth day. Muga и Lopez de Heredia.


From the extravagant modernism of Remirez De Ganuza to Muga, we are once again in the embrace of respectable conservatism. And we were glad: verified proportions of wines, own cooper with a permanent staff, the highest vineyard of Rioja - familiar arguments reassured and convinced us that we are back in Rioja and we are again waiting for a stylish classic. We were most impressed by the process of clarification wines, which is done in the old way with the help of egg whites. 60,000 eggs, which are broken by hand, are used to clean the annual batch of wine. Another impressive - the amount of oak used on winery. Wooden containers are used not only for ageing, but also for fermentation of all wines, including white. The only exception is an experiment with the fermentation of some rose in concrete tanks.


Visit to the Tondonia Lopez de Heredia winery we specially planned for the last day of the trip. Well, because the final chord must be the most dramatic. The peculiarity of this winery is that they seem to despise time. Judge for yourself, for example, the wine category "Crianza" in Rioja is allowed to release after two years, and Lopez de Heredia aged their for 8-9 years, so that it goes on sale totally ready. Now there are 8 million (!) liters of wine in the cellar. Another feature of the winery - its white wines, whose style is without exaggeration unique. Forgotten oxidative style of white wines with a very long ageing in oak, which can be compared more with sherry or French vin jaune. Also Lopez de Heredia own the longest wine cellar in Rioja. In a nearby store, we were lucky enough to find a rare rose Tondonia, which is sold for such harsh allocations that many Burgundian winemakers have never dreamed of. We bought all bottles)


And then ... then we had picturesque road to San Sebastian with its Michelin-starred restaurants, cliffs above the Bay of Biscay, fresh fish and evening walks through the narrow streets of small towns ... Rioja, eight days is not enough!


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