Rioja makes white wine?

 

Rioja wineIf you’ve like Spanish wine, you undoubtedly love Rioja.  The backbone of Rioja was build on Tempranillo, and is dominated by rich, red wines, but did you know that Riojo also has refreshing and lovely white wine?

While there actually is a Tempranillo Blanco grape, the shining star among the allowed white varietals in Rioja is Viura.  A mildly acid white grape, it is often used as a blending component, and was nearly wiped out by phylloxera.  When they replanted, much of it was replaced by Malvaia and Garnacha Blanca.  Viura is also one of the most im . portant grapes in Cava production, where it is known as Macabeo.

Viura is an excellent alternative to Chardonnay, and if you see the Lopez de Haro Blanco in your wine travels, be sure to check it out.

100% Virua, these grapes were hand harvested and spent a short 3-4 months in oak, keeping the vibrant and fresh flavor.  A low 12.5% ABV (Hallelujah!) this is a wonderful choice for brunch or lunch, wit tropical flavors, peach, fresh citrus, and a lush mouthfeel.  Yum!

 

Thanks to another great selection from Vintae and Lopez de Haro!

 

 

 

Lopez Haro – an instant classic from Rioja

Hacienda López de HaroI love Spain.  In fact, I have had the good fortune to have visited five times in five years.  In the heart of Spain’s most well known wine region, Rioja, Bodegas Classica brings you Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Vintae project.  Focusing on revolutionizing the world of wine while still focusing on the small family feel, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Vintae on my first visit to Rioja in 2011.
With Lopez De Haro, the region of the Rioja Sonsierra is the focus.  Located within Rioja Alta, it is nestled at the foot of the Toloño Mountains.  This moderate climate is perfect for making Rioja wine.
 Hacienda Lopez de Haro map
From a youthful red blend, to the age worthy La Reserva, these wines are a great example of how Rioja can be affordable but luxurious at the same time.
2015 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Tempranillo – made from fruit from 50-70 year old vines, this weeknight treat is earthy with dried cherries, tobacco and herbal notes.  Simple but not boring, there is a kiss of oak to finish this is a delicious $8 wine for your pizza or hamburger.
2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza – the youngest of the classified Rioja wines, this luscius blend of Tempranillo, Garnaca and Graciano is a mouthwatering treat.  Soft and pleasing to the palate but firm in structure, dried orange peel, mulling spices and fresh strawberries jump out while Herbs de Provence and cracked pepper layer of subtle vanilla.  At $12, this is a steal.




2009 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva – surprisingly elegant at this price point, this wine is full of chocolate and chili spice, with lush dark fruit and balsamic notes.  The finish is is full of smoked meat, and it just gets better with time.  At $13, the selection of low yield Tempranillo and Graciano is elegant and silky.  With 20 months in oak, this wine will just get better and at this price point is an excellent introduction to the higher escalations of Rioja.

With wines of this quality for less than $20, make sure some Lopez de Haro is on your Thanksgiving table, or wherever you are celebrating this season!  I can’t wait to go back to Spain to visit this special place.

 
Special thanks to Rebekah Polster of 401 West Communications for introducing me to these excellent wines will killer QPR.  Yet again, Spain is proving that wines of exceptional quality do not have to be exceptionally expensive.

Bodegas Izadi – a collective quest for Rioja

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One of my favorite stops on my tour of Rioja was Bodegas Izadi, a small group of producers established 25 years ago.
A striking 5 story winery is tucked behind the small house that holds the tasting facilities, and is the centerpoint of the gravity feed operation.
 
Bodegas Izadi, located a stone’s throw from the Basque country is Basque for nature, and the wines reflect that in the wines and properties.  While most of Rioja is widely known for the red wine made from Tempranillo, Bodegas Izadi is more famous for thier whites, which are refreshing and beautiful on a hot Rioja day.
Bodegas Izadi
The calcareous soils of Rioja Alavesa look like a moonscape, with dried, cracked calcium rich soils holding strong to the bold Tempranillo vines.  Known for wines with a fuller body and higher acidly, the hard scrub soils produce vigorous vines that fight for nutrients creating some amazing wines of bold character.
First up, the 2012 Blanco F.B. is a blend of Viura and Malvasia.  This bright and clean wine has notes of flowers, specifically daisies, and a aromatic vanilla finish.  Full of peaces and musk melon, this fresh and fruity white is barrel aged for 3 months, and a steal at $20.
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The 2009 Crianza is made with fruit from 40 year old vineyards and is the flagship wine of Bodegas Izadi.  This fresh, fruity, friendly wine has dried figs, fruit compote, violets and molasses.  Yum!  A pinch of Graciano is included from the field blend, although they are unsure how much is actually planted in there as it has intermingled with the Tempranillo for so long.  The firm tnanins in this wine are great with food and will maintain it’s structure for years to come.
 
Regalo, or “The Gift”, Reserva is made from a small selection of low yield vineyards that are averaging 50 years old.  Primarily Tempranillo, there is also 1% blended in with Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignane).   The rich smokey blackberry fruit, blue fruit and chewy dense red fruit really shine through in this special wine.  The finish oges on for days, and is perfect for a classic Rioja steak en plancha (meat on a stick, grilled)!
The Orben brand was started with the intention of introducing new ways of winemaking in the old world regime of Rioja.  With careful sellection of fruit and modern winemaking techniques, the Orben wines are appealing to the New World palates.  The 2008 Orben Tempranillo is made the modern style, with a selection from 72 plots around Rioja Alvesa.  These very old vines produce a single bunch of grapes each, full of bigger, bold fruit expression and personality.  This chewy and dense wine still holds a beautiful bright acidity on top of the brooding bramble berry fruit.  A declassified Rioja (green label), this gives the winemaker freedom in style and expression and this shows in the Orben.  The name Orben stems from orb, or circle, but an imperfect circle; always striving to be better, the Orben is delicious and a great expression of the region.
 
Bodegas Izadi is a must stop on any tour of Rioja Alvesa, where you can taste tradition and modern winemaking in a single stop, while exploring the gravity flow winery behind it all.  Bodegas Izadi is located in the Rioja Alvesa region, int he Basque region, in the town of Alava.  Stop by and stay a while!
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Bodegas Bilbainas – Classic Rioja

IMG_2283Meandering through the country side of Rioja, Bodegas (wine cellars) are dotted along the back roads like farmhouses in Iowa.  Bodegas Bilbaninas is in the heart of Rioja, in the Haro district of Rioja Alta.

Luscious Lushes Vina Zaco

Vina Zaco

With 250 hectares (615 acres more or less ) of vineyards, they have been known for excellent wines since 1859.   Never content to sit back and let change pass them by, Bilbanianas recently added the modern and upstart Vina Zaco to it’s line up.   Currently owned by a French company, the family of brands also produces cognac and champagne.Bodegas Bilbainas has the oldest bottling registration in Rioja, which is unique among such an old wine tradition.  

IMG_2277As we toured the winery, we were greeted by a visual history of the bodega, which is a living piece of history.  When wine first became the economic center of the region, as today, there were many attempts to counterfeit true Rioja.  To combat this, Bodegas Bilbaninas and others, began the process of adding the net over the bottle that we can still see today (though now it’s decorative in nature).  Why you might ask?  As our host explained to us, if you put a net over the bottle after the label is affixed, you can’t slap another label on top.  Genius I say!

As the largest vineyard owner in the Haro area, Bodegas Bilbaninas believes in the importance of the estate vineyard.  With 250 hectares of contiguous land, this is unusual and unique in Rioja and sets them apart from the competition.

Having experienced the smaller bodegas and the larger bodegas, Bodegas Bilbaninas runs regular tours and tastings to educate the enotourist on the special aspects of Rioja Alta.

Make sure you taste the young, fresh and fun Vina Zaco.  Make of 100% Tempranillo, the Vina Zaco is a fruitier expression of Rioja that is indicative of the newer wine movement in the region.

For a more traditional approach to winemaking, Bodegas Bilbaninas also produces Vina Pomal, and La Vicalanda wines.

Be sure to include Bodegas Bilbaninas on your trip through the region!  You won’t be sorry.

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Where in the world is Rioja?

spanish wine, spanish wine regions, spainRioja is a vast region of Spain, and one of the most well known wine regions from that country.  While you can make similarities to Sonoma County, as La Rioja is also a community (or county), the wines from that area can be from Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Baja, and even the surrounding regions of Navarra and Alava.

Located in a north east pocket of Spain, Rioja can be mountainous, lush, dry, desert, or anything in between.  First recognized as a wine growing region in the middle ages, it has evolved to be a world renowned and diverse wine region.

The three regions within La Rioja are microclimates, each with specific soil types and terroirs that differ, while holding a similar continental climate.  Rioja Alta, where I spent most of my visit, is on the western edge and has the highest elevation.  Known for old world style wine, the higher elevation makes a cooler climate.  Rioja Alavesa is similar to Rioja Alta,  but tends to make bigger, bolder wines.  Poorer soil quality means that vines have to struggle more, producing stronger wines.  Finally, Rioja Baja is less of a continental climate are more of the warm, balmy, Mediterranean climate.

The most common varietal planted in Rioja is Tempranillo, though Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignane) are alos allowed and are commonly used for blending.  There are a few rebel wineries that are doing some single varietal bottlings of these grapes and are really very interesting.  While they are the same grapes as their French neighbors in the Rhone valley, they are quite different and more powerful.  The more rare and special Rioja Blancas are usually Viura (Macabeo, which is often used or Cava), Malvasia, and my favorite – Garnacha Blanca.

One of the keys to understanding Rioja, beyond the sub regions, is understanding the classification system.  Much like Bordeaux and it’s first growth Chateau, Rioja has rules around what can be a Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Rerserva.  But it’s not what you think!

Spanish wines are labeled based on how long you age the wine; while there is a newer classification that is simploy “Rioja”, or declassified wine, you can classify most wines in three categories.

  • Crianza red wines are aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Crianza whites and rosés must be aged for at least 1 year with at least 6 months in oak.
  • Reserva red wines are aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak. Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 2 years with at least 6 months in oak.
  • Gran Reserva wines typically appear in above average vintages with the red wines requiring at least 5 years aging, 18 months of which in oak and a minimum of 36 months in the bottle. Gran Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 4 years with at least 6 months in oak.

Confused?  Yeah me too; so Crianza is what most people drink on a daily basis, and what you’d order in a bar.  Reserva is probably what you’d bring to a dinner party or to your parent’s house, while Gran Reserva is what you’d save for a special dinner.  Of course the interesting thing is, there are often Crianzas that are better quality than Reservas, as it’s simply a matter of age.

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Look for the green Rioja label if you want to try wines from the region that don’t play by the rules, and simply needs sto be from La Rioja.

Red is for Crianza.  Think fun, glass of wine at a bar.  With up to 2 years in oak, these are silky and soft, and ready to go.

Burgundy is for Reserva.  This is a food wine, can have a lot of tannin and works with food.

Purple is for Gran Reserva.  With 2 years in oak, and another 3 years of bottle age, they can be a bit over powering and benefit from a good swirl in your Soiree or Vinturi.

Of course the rules for white wine and rosado vary but these are the basics.

And now that you know, go out and find some Rioja for dinner tonight!

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A Spanish Castle stands guard over Rioja

Bodegas Castillo de SajazarraOn a bright early summer day, as our jet lagged bodies were drug out of bed to meet Rioja sun, we were off on our first visit of the trip, to Bodegas Castillo de Sajazarra.

This beautiful castle was purchased in the 1960s and restored by the Libano family as their family home.  Investigating the property, they realized that there were remnants of wine productoin facilities, and they set out on an adventure to impart their own stamp on a new, IMG_2215modern winery.

The 700 year old original fortress was situated on the border of the Moorish Muslim territory and the northern European Christians, which – as you can imagine could be quite a contested region during the crusades.

Enter the current owner and his family, who are Basque.  Again, a hotly disputed territory, they moved to the now tranquil region of Rioja Alta to escape persecution from the separatist movement in Basque country.

After restoring the wine making facilities to modern standards, the first vintage was produced in 1973 from the the rich chalky soils of the region.  Here, the bold wines of Rioja are front and center, along with the lesser known, delicate and delicious whites.  Today, 250,000 bottles are produced, and aged an average of 3 to 4 years.

While the castle isn’t open to the public, I highly suggest making the time and arrangements to view this piece of history in Rioja!  You wont be sorry, and you might get lost in the dungeon!

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A trip to Iberia within reach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain.  As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals.

With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry.  With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals.  When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals.

The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, whereCapturethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings.  In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes.  Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released.

Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine.  With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy.

I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service.  I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come.

Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings.  On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999.  While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish.

Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product.  The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs.  The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping.  Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture.

The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo.  Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira.   In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely grown in Rueda.  Confused?  Well, taste them side by side and you can see the differences.

 Moving on to the reds, Garnacha (once again) holds a special place in my heart.  Whether it’s Grenache, Garnacha, or GSM, the varsity of styles it can be made in – let alone Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and Grenache Noir (or Tinto), the diversity is delicious.  Tracing its origigans to the Aragon region of Spain, the Bokisch Garnacha fils your mouth with blackberries, boysenberries, and dark red fruit.  A finishing touch of blood orange and forest spices tease the palate as vanilla vapors envelop your senses.  I love to serve Garnacha with a slight chill, and of course, anything is better with fresh Manchego cheese.
IMG_0267A bolder red wine, Graciano is one of the grapes commonly used as a blending component in parts of Rioja.  It’s also thought to be the oldest variety commercially grown in Spain.  A deeply purple black wine in the glass, bittersweet chocolate, Mission figs and cherries, with a hint of fresh violets tempt you, while tobacco and old saddle leather round out the palate.  Graciano is a meaty grape, and this is a fantastic wine for steak and a classic Rioja cookout.
And now:  Mourvedre.  Mataro.  Monastrell!  Depending on where you are in the world, this blue hued grape is called different things.  In France, Mourvedre.  In Spain, it can be either Mataro, particularly in the Catalan dialect, or Monastrell.  The 2013 Belle Collne Vineyard Monastrell is classically blueberry, bergamot, and baking spices.
The passion and dedication of Markus and Liz are infectious.  His single focus of making Lodi a top wine destination of distinction, and their dedication to sustainability is second to none.  Keeping these wines affordable is also of critical importance, and with prices between $18-32, the QPR on these wines is outstanding.
If you are in Lodi, a stop at Bokisch is a must do ! The sweeping view from the picnic tables to the seven oak tress in the gently rolling hills is bliss, and it is less than two hours from the Bay Area.
Cheers!

 

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Coco Frio – Modern Veneuzualan in the heart of San Francisco

I love food.  If you take one look at my Instagram account, or follow me on Facebook, you can probably figure that out.  I’m very fortunate that I live in a food capital, where there are literally dozens of world class (Michelin starred or not) restaurants to choose from.

There is a problem however; new restaurants open and close like a revolving door.  It’s no secret that opening a new restaurant is a challenge – something like 80% or more fail within the first year.  Even established restaurants can close their doors in twist of the economy.

But I’m not here to talk about the negative, I’m here to talk about the positive!  Last fall, I was introduced to a new restaurant in the heart of our Latin Quarter, The Mission.  A blend of many different Latin American culture, The Mission has a plethora of both ethnic and uniquely American food choices.

Enter Coco Frio.  Coco Frio Restaurant and Bar is uniquely Caribbean, based on the food culture of Margarita Island, located off the Venezuelan coast.  Using the freshest seafood and a Venezuelan flair, the food is taste tantalizing fusion of Caribbean and Latin cultures.  Topping it off, unique cocktails and a pretty stellar wine list will set off the cuisine.

On our visit, we opted to start with a cocktail, before having the tasting menu, with wine pairings.  In addition to the classic tasting menu, Chef Manny Torres Gimenez added in a few extra dishes to ensure that we were fully immersed in the Margarita culture.  The wine fishlist, curated by Katie Brookshire, focuses on affordable, unexpected, and unusual pairings.

First Course:  We started with the Fish Fume (Siete Potencias) a delicious fish soup, with
fresh mussels and clams.  This paired perfectly with the Kerner, which was fresh and unique with a mineral finish.

Second Course:  Scallops on the half shell.  Sadly not pictured, the scallops were perfectly cooked with fresh tomatoes and spices of the region.  I think this might have been my favorite.

meatThird Course:  Meat!  This amazing steak was so tender, you could have cut it with a spoon.

Fourth Course:  Free Range Chicken (Pollo Frito) with Yuca, downloadwhich paired surprisingly well with Austrian Zweigelt.

 

 

 

With many additions to the menu, we lost track of what came next, but suffice it to say we were stuffed.  With so many delicious wines and experiments to try, I highly recommend you take time to visit Coco Frio when you are in San Francisco.

The large by the glass selection of wines ranges from Vino Verde and Gruner Veltiner, to Rioja and Garnacha.  Most glasses are $8, and the wine pairing for the $30 – 3 course prix-fixe menu is only $15, which considering the large half glasses, is a steal.  Additionally, there are several beers if you want to have an inventive beer paring for some of the spicier dishes.

The final component of Coco Frio is the lengthy and creative cocktail list.  With Chef Manny’s recent acquisition of Santa Teresa Rum, the oldest rum in the Caribbean, the cocktails are, naturally rum based.    From the party packed Pisco Punch to the Venezuelan classic El Coco Frio, served in a coconut and meant for 2, this is not your mother’s Pina Colada.

I look forward to a return visit to taste more of the cocktails and dishes!  With a menu that focuses on fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, it si sure to be different every time you go.

Special thanks to Natalie from Bread & Butter PR for not only setting this up, but hanging out with us for a drink!  

 

Wine Folly’s Essential Guide to Wine – Books for the wine lover

wine-folly-book-cover-best-sellerA few years ago, I was lucky enough to experience an amazing cultural experience in Rioja, Spain, exploring, food, and lifestyle writers.  While I wine, food and lifestyle options the region has to offer.  Our small group of compatriots didn’t know each other before our trip, but we quickly became a tight knit group meandering the countryside in search of delicious wines.

Among those intrepid explorers were the dynamic duo behind Wine Folly, Madeline Puckette, and Justin Hammack.  Puckette, a talented graphic artist and Sommelier, is known for creating unique, easy to follow, and creative infographics that help us understand wine.

This year, Wine Folly compiled those infographics and extensive wine knowledge in to a guidebook on wine, Wine Folly:  The Essential Guide to Wine.  Using simple techniques that yield complex results, Wine Folly provides a guide for over 50 wines, and helps the reader create their own ranking system by reinforcing basic building blocks of flavor, origin, and classic terroir.

The clean layout is divided in to easy to understand fundamentals, styles of wine, and wine regions of the world, allowing even the newest wine drinker the ability to understand complex styles and regions.

Not sure what wine glass is best for Chianti?  There’s an infographic for that.  How do you pair Riesling?  Check out the wine pairing consideration diagram.  My favorite part of the book is the in depth profiles of the most common varietals.  The clear flavor wheel is color coded and grouped by major flavor group and the dominant olavors are clearly outlined.  The facts at a glance makes it an excelelnt study guide, as you can see on one page, where it grows, how much grows, and hte average price per bottle.

Wine Folly’s Essential Guide to Wine is available for $25 on Amazon as well as WineFolly.com.  I highly suggest you pick up a copy or two!

 

 

A promotional copy was provided by the PR agency for review, but my mad love of the cool images is all my own!

 

 

Alicante – Southern Spain’s Best Kept Wine Secret

Last month, I was among a small group of bloggers invited to visit some special regions in Spain by the luxury wine group MG Wines Group.  MG Wines focuses on wines of distinction from various regions in Spain, and this fam trip was all about the unique, the sublime, and the special wines that MG owns. From the far southern deserts of Bullas, and Jumilla, to the cold, wet north Bierzo, we visited three wineries that were tied together by their dedication to sustainable agriculture, wine making techniques and culture, and yet very different in style and taste.

I love Spain; each time, I come away more enamored than I was before.  I was excited to be included in this small group of wine writers, not only because they were all good friends and people whom I consider talented writers, but also because it was my first time experiencing Jumilla, Bullas, Alicante, and Bierzo.

We began our trip in the southern Costa Blanca city of Alicante.  More well known for it’s beaches, seafood, and sun seeking Brits than it’s wine, Alicante is a bustling town newly connected to Madrid with a high speed rain link that makes travel a breeze.  Nearby, there are several wine producing regions that focus on Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Alicante Bouchet (known as Garnacha Tintarero here), and are delicious alternatives to the more widely known Rioja.

As you might have guessed, Alicante gives it’s name to Alicante Bouschet, the red skinned, red fleshed grape that was so popular in Italian field blends in California’s wine history.  BUt this wine is so unique that you pre-concieved notions will go out the window.  Alicante is it’s on DO, or Spanish Demoninacion de Origen, and is currently in ti’s 75th year as a DO, even though winemaking traditions can be traced back to the Roman times.

Here, Monastrell and Alicante are king among the bold, dark red wines that are growing in popularity and elegance.  After settling in to our hotel in Alicante, the intreped Ole Winos cast out for a tapas crawl on the waterfront.  While it was still late winter / early spring, we bundled up and enjoyed some local wine, cava and delicious eats before our adventure began in earnest the next day in Jumilla, home of Bodegas Sierra Salinas.  Stay tuned for more on that one of kind experience!

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Eguren Ugarte – getting lost in history

Before we finish my tour of Rioja with the ultimate wine experience in Haro, I have one last (and favorite) stops was Bodegas Eguren Ugarte, in the Paganos area.  Situated high in the hills, with the mountains looming behind it and the stunning expanse of Rioja below, the Ugarte property combines old world charm and new world hospitality with a luxury hotel, winery, and restaurants.
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Three generations of the family have made wine here since 1870, in the Basque countryside or northern Spain.  With over 120,000 hectares of grapes, it’s easy to see the influence that they have had in the region.
Eguren Ugarte is known for it’s 2 kilometers of underground caves, hand dug and sloping downwards farther in to the stone hillside.  Each side tunnel has private cages that can be purchased by wine lovers, and walking through the tunnels is walking back in time.  While my pictures didn’t come out, there nooks and crannies with private dining areas are a particularly unique experience that must be enjoyed on any visit to Rioja.
Eguren Ugarte
After a tour of the caves and the hotel, we tasted through the wines before enjoying a traditional lunch in their cozy restaurant.
2010 Crianza  – a young, fresh and lively blend of 92% tempranillo and 8% garnacha.  The goal was to create a fresh experience without as much oak influence, and the big, dark red fruit comes through with a touch of coffee.  A crowd pleasing friendly wine with a touch of anise and oak influence.
2008 Reserva – classic style, 90% tempranillo and 10 graciano, with bright acidity and firm tannins.  With 14 months in new oak, and another 2 years of bottle aging ,this is Rioja at it’s best, full of smok and lavendear notes.
2004 Grand Reserva – the Queen of the dance, with 90% tempranillo and 10% mazuelo (carignane).  I love the bright red fruit, currant, raspberry and tomato notes.  The darker black fruit and firm tannins will age for years, and are especially tasty with grilled meats and cheese.
Eguren Ugarte and Jean-Charles Boisset
Eguren Ugarte
Eguren Ugarte is full of character and is as diverse in it’s wine as it is in it’s offerings.  Step back in time in the caves; enjoy a luxurious getaway at the hotel and it’s spa; dine in one of the two restaurants.  This is a must stop in the mountains of Basque Spain, even on the shortest of trips.

Running up that hill – Cardiac Hill

Kramer VineyardsWe interrupt this armchair travel series on Rioja with a short trip to the Willamette Valley for two different Oregon Pinot Noirs, brought to you by Kramer Vineyards.

First up, the 2010 Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir, which is from the steepest part of the estate vineyards that Kramer sources fruit from.  Planted in 1995, with rich red soils and ribbons of clay running through the slopes.

Hand harvested blocks due to the steep slopes were treated to a 25% new French oak treatment, and slept for 18 months, where it was then bottled unfined and unfiltered.  The resulting wine is bright and slightly cloudy, with tangering, cranberry, wild strawberry and brilliant acid.  I love the woodsy note on the nose, and the earthy violets in the glass that opens up to tart cherries and cinnamon spice on the finish.  I loved having the comparison to the next wine, but the Cardiac Hill can go on for days, and belies the more traditionally bolder, bigger style of many 2010 wines from the region.  $40

In contract, the 2010 Rebecca’s Reserve comes from just over the field from the Cardiac Hill, but was planted with a higher density.  The grape clusters here are smaller, and tighter, creating wines with more depth and complexity.

Also harvested by hand, the fruit is given the same oak treatment as Cardiac Hill but had an extra month on oak before bottling.  The result is bright red fruit on the nose, with strawberry, crushed raspberry, berry jam, and rich brown sugar.  It is more lush and rounded, with a burst of lemon zest and blood orange on the finish.  I love the baking spice on the palate along with vanilla and cola, with a long lingering finish.  $35

Check out Kramer’s Wines for great examples of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton region.  Small and mighty, winemaker Kimberly Kramer continue to impress with each passing vintage, be it still or sparkling.

Cheers!

These wines were provided by the winery for a live twitter tasting, always a raucous good time.  Check out #drinkkramerwine and #tastekramerwine for off the cuff commentary!

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Risky business at the Marques de Riscal hotel

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After spending a leisurely morning horseback riding in the high tableau above La Rioja and her vineyards, the intrepid travelers were treated to a luxurious after noon at the Marques de Rical Spa.

Opened in 2006, this stunning art piece stands high on a hill, well hidden from the prying eyes of road warriors, in the town of Elciego, Spain.  Master architect Frank Gehry, who is well known for his work on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, designed the building in a similar style – with a waving metallic roofline, and soft, unctuous features.

Since the opening, the Marques de Riscal has become a famous retreat for the elite, as well asIMG_2334 the masses, with a focus on design, art, gastronomy and of course – wine.  For our group, we spent the afternoon relaxing in the spa, massaging away the horseback – behind, travelers aches, and other stresses.  The Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie Marqués de Riscal is tucked away in the lower levels of the hotel, with a peaceful outdoor sitting area overlooking vineyards and the hillside.  With an indoor pool and hottub, as well as a variety of luxury treatments, I could have stayed with my book all afternoon.

IMG_2361Special treatments at the spa were designed to highlight the benefits of essence of the grapes, from the surrounding wine culture, to sooth and invigorate the skin.  I had a massage with grape oil, and there is an option for a barrel bath, soaking in the grape pomace.  Ahhhh!

After our spa treatments, and exploring the hotel grounds, we headed to the restaurant for an epic feast.  Awarded with a Michelin Star in 2012, the traditional Spainsih fare is turned on it’s head with a modern twist.

From wine “caviar” to beer “soup”, our evening progressed in to a classic, and long, Spanish dinner, full of wine and laughter.  The dishes were magical a retelling of simple and classic traditional Spanish items, and we enjoyed them to the very last crumb of dessert.

Spa treatments start at 60 Euro for a 20 minute massage, with a Barrel Bath treatment at 110 Euro.  The pool area is open to hotel and spa guests, and is a fantastic way to relax on your trip to Rioja.  A full day of touring in the region and and access to the spa is a very affordable 80 Euro for you day trippers out there!

For those who are points collectors, the Marques de Riscal is a Starwood Preferred Guest program property, and I can envision myself saving up some points to stay here!  I highly recommend a visit to the Hotel Marques de Riscal, in the “City of Wine”, in the heart of Rioja.  You won’t be sorry!

This visit was provided by the good folks at:

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Cava cools you off…

It’s hot here in Spain, even though it’s only March. There hasn’t been much rain, and you can feel it all around. The rivers are dry, the air is dry, the vines are dry.

One critical observation about Spain is there is an inordinate amount of smog at atmosphereic gunk. While I belive most of this is organic smog, it makes for a rough go for anyone that is used to clear skies and easy breathing. I myself am suffering after 3 days of heavy smog, where you can barely see the skyline of Barcelona and you can only make the outline of the breathtaking Montserret mountain formation . Even today, from my hotel room less t

 

 

han 1 mile away, the giatn Gaudi Masterpiece, the Segrada Famila, is barely visible in the haze.
When i was in Madrid and Rioja last year, I noticed a simlar issue. With the contstant burning of organic waste (and quite probably inorganic) I wonder how long this city can continue to manage this level of pollution. However, I see steps that are postivie: the city busses are natural gas powedered; there are far more diesel fueled vehicles in Europe than anywhere else ( particular in gas guzzling US); Segura Viudas is making steps to become a green, closed ecosystem.

While in the vineyard in the Penedes region of Catalonia, we toured one of the old vineyards at the estate.  Segura Viudas is a pioneer in the area, practicing sustainable agriculture, as operates as organically as possible with out being constrained to the organic rules of operation. Currently, they are experimenting with reusing the biomass created by pruning, as well as other vineyard activities, and seeling this as fuel. Future plans include using the biomass fuel within

the winery system to becoming a self contained ecosystem.
Additionally, the vineyard manager Sebastià Raventós has been working with cover crops such as hay and oats, to provide a nutrient balance. Of course, this also protects the vineyards from erosion during the rainy season, and also provides another attraction for insects and animals to build a sustainable ecosystem in the vineyard.

Sebastià was born and bred in this small wine growing region, and has the soil in his blood.  His familiy has worked the vineyards in the area for generatiosn.    He belives that great cava or great wine begins in the vineyard, and that great wine cannot be made without great grapes.  He is part of the landscape here, born and bred in this small wine growing region of Penedes, and has the

soil in his blood.  His family has worked the vineyards in the area for generatiosn.    He belives that great cava or great wine begins in the vineyard.  To this point, he fiercly guards his vines, and has a particular reverace to the old, gnarly vines that are growing freely.  While there are advantages to head trained, neat, trellised vineyards, they are also more prone to diseases and pests since they aren’t allowed to grow naturally.  These old vines, planted 40+ years ago, producer less grapes, but grapes of an intensity that cannot be compared.

Sebastià is a lovable charmer, and his passion and lvoe for the vines is clear.  He is a fighter, and is dedicated to a more traditional way of growing grapes; this return to the past has a greater respect for the environment.  Even though he claims not to speak English, there is a glint in his eye when we get excited about talking about green practices.  He pulls out the seeds for the cover crop and grins when we recognize his efforts.

In effect, he is an ecologist who uses less invasive methods, and studies the history of the vineyards to predict future outcomes.  With 19 years of experience on the saem vines, he has been keeping track of weather patterns, including the global climate changes that are impacting all grape growers.  with this knowledge, he can predict down to the day, when the grapes will be ready to harvest.  Planning a trip on Tuesday?  Nope!  We harvest on Tuesday!

Using methods such as pheromone traps for moths, cover crops to stabilize the soil on erosion prone hillsides, and creating biomass from clippings, Segura Viudas has been a pioneer in these efforts.  They have even gone so far as to create a nature train within one vineyard, which explains the natural habit and what they are doing to assist in rebuilding the environment.

Sebastià has such a passion for the vineyards taht he has been taking care of for the last 19 years; it is clear that he is as much a part of them as they are him.  Teh excitement he holds for creating the best possible fruit, and ensuring that every possible action can be taken to take care of these gems is clear.

 

Since it was hot and dusty outside, it was a welcome sight to come inside and taste some of the delicious Cava that the winery produces.  Next up, a bit of history about the property, and some tasting!

¡Viva España!

Happy February everyone!  I can hardly belive it’s still “winter” here in San Francisco, given that it’s in the mid 70s, and the sun is shining.  Time to get out and enjoy some crisp sparkling delicious Cava!

Cava is Spain’s version of sparkling wine, traditionally made from indigenous white varieties – Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada.  Most Cava is made in Catalonia, a region at the north east tip of Spain.  Cava must also be made in the méthode champenoise, whereas sparkling wine made in other (shall we say, less than desirable in my opinion) methods may only be called vinos espumosos (sparkling wines).

I am so excited that in 3 short weeks, I will be spend a whirlwind week, learning all about this magical elixer, from the masters of Segura Viudas.

Some of the activities I will be participating in are:

  • An Assemblage master class, where we learn about the traditional cava grapes, terroir, region and climate.
  • A blending session, where we will learn to create our own special bubbly blend
  • A cooking class to learn about the regional cuisine
  • Meals paired with the wines of the region
  • A side trip to Priorat, one of my favorite regions.  Did someone say Garnacha?  Monastrell?  Garnacha Blanca?  Pack me a straw!

And did I mention, they are rather fond of jamon in Spain?

And now, a bit more about my hosts, Segura Viudas:

Segura Viudas has developed a reputation as a premium cava producer, with the property dating back to the 11th century.  The brand was born in 1959, and the wines were first released in 1969.  The Ferrer family of Barcelona, who owns brands like Gloria Ferrer and Frexinet, purchased the estate in the 1980s making it a global competitor.

I’m looking forward to learning more about cava and the Catalonia region of Spain!  As you might now, I was in Spain & Portugal last year, when I spoke at the International Wine Tourism Conference.  At that time, I took some extra time and explored Madrid, Rioja, and the northern regions, so this will be a great way to round out my Spanish adventure.  I wonder if I can accidentally miss my return flight and get lost in Barcelona?

Watch out for tweets and posts from the road!  Can I do this all with just my iPad?  I hope so!

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