Viura – the illusive white wine of Rioja

 

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!

 

 

 

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.
IMG_2491
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.

Bodegas Izadi – a collective quest for Rioja

Bodegas IzadiBodegas IzadiBodegas Izadi
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.
 Bodegas Izadi
 
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!
IMG_2676

Google

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.

Google

Risky business at the Marques de Riscal hotel

  IMG_2339    

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:

Google

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.

riojalabels.jpg

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!

Google

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!

IMG_2230     IMG_2210

 

Google

 

Barcelona is for…

Welcome back! Here we are, on day 1 or day 2, depending on how you look at it,of my whirlwind spin through Barcelona, Penedes, and Priorat.

Getting here was certainly enough of and adventure for anyone, let alone someone that is 5’11” and mostly legs, not to mention a tad wider than the last time she few coach.

To catch you up, I left my house at 11:00 PST on March 10th. After spending at least 1.5 hours in the check in line – which in itself i absurd for an international departure, it then took another 30+ minutes to clear security and enter the International Departures hall in SFO.

Lucky me, I somehow managed not only to score a middle seat, I also managed to achieve that travel mecca – the completely full but not yet overbooked plane. Now, I would have happily given up my fabulous middle seat if it had meant taking a flight that either was not sardine city, or that my possibilities of getting a coveted upgrade (ha fat chance!) were more than 1 billion to one.

So there I sat, in my spiffy middle seat. Luckily, I shelled out the extra fee for the extra leg room, because honestly if I had not, this would not have been pretty. As it was, my middle seat was the next to last row in Economy Plus. That would have been perfectly fine, because my seat mates were really nice fellows, until…

After watching the first movie and eating a rather unsatisfactory lunch, I downed two melatonin in the hopes that I could catch at least a few hours of shuteye, knowing that I arrived in Frankfurt at 9:30am. Well, that apparently was not going to happen.

I am pleased to report that the row behind me was occupied with three people who simply should not keep their traps shut. Even after multiple announcements by the flight crew to please close your window shades, be quiet and let people rest due to the very short night, what I heard for the next 13 hours (and I do not exaggerate when I say this) was the equivalent of 2 nine year old boys playing Angry Birds. Now this was not the soft lilt of a French accent. This was the percussive staccato of two — increasingly inebriated — Germans — who would. not. shut. up.

To add a sprinkling of joy to this situation, which could be heard through both earplugs and headphones, two older gentlemen were having a rather animated conversation in the emergency exit row immediately behind my German buddies. And what I mean by animated is loud. Why they felt that it was their right to stand there, in front of the people who lucked out and got the exit row who were also trying to sleep, is beyond me.

So here we are, in Frankfurt. No sleep. No brain cells. It’s really only 1am my time since we had just switched to Daylight Savings Time, but I was zonked. Of course, I had 3 hours to kill in the airport. Unbeknownst to me, once you exit the United/Lufthansa International Terminal, you kinda enter no man’s land. There was literally one cafe which was a mix of German airport food and Asian fusion. Hrm ok…After 2 coffees and 2 stale pretzels for lunch, and several tours down the A concourse, I discovered some additioanl shoping optinos, but at that point I had to board my second hop.

Would you like to make a guess as to how many school groups can fit on one Airbus 320? C’mon! Guess! I’m thinking about 100. The airport was teeming with mostly American school groups which were clearnly on spring break. It warmed my heart to hear the hacking coughs that were about to get on my flight.

Things observed to this point:

    • Travelling for just under 22 hours is less than desireable. Do whatever you need to to make it faster, more direct, or break it up.
    • Smoking cubbies are bizarre, tiny enclosed boxes where you walk in, light up and walk out with more smoke in your clothes than in yoru lungs.
    • While you are not allowed to smoke in the airports, you can smoke in cubbies, and everyone still smokes like chimmeys, particularly in Germany and Spain.
    • March is school group travel time. There are hundreds of French adn American stuhigh school students wandering around Barcelona
    • Get to the tourist sights EARLY or you will be in line fo rabout six years.

My feet hurt, and my still not reparied foot is about the size of a basketball. Remember your drugs when you are on a plane for that long!

More importantly, Barcelona is lovely. It’s in the mid-60s, the beer is great, and while there are crowds in the touristy sections of town, it’s also a wonderful old rambly city.

This afternoon I’m off to Penedes to learn about Cava. There will be a siesta in my very near future! Happy tavels!

I've been Vintaed!


Remember Wine Blogging Wednesday?

The one day a month where we all gathered our collective consciousness and blogged about the same topic?  Well the same theme anyway.  Well it’s BACK!  And I’m pleased to be participating because it’s a really great way to give me a shove in the right direction in my blogging efforts.  With my day job, life, travels, and wine stuff taking over and an alarming rate, it’s nice to have a topic that I don’t have to come up with.

Gabriella Opaz of Catavino, who was with me in Porto

This month, Catavino’s Ryan & Gabriella encourage us to blog about Spanish wines.  Fresh off the big ole jet airline from a trip to Iberia, where I spent some wonderful time with Gabriella, I am able to supply oodles of info on this topic!  Specifically, Catavino is asking us to look at Spanish wines we’ve never tried before, or something unusual for the area.  Since I recently blogged about Miguel Merino, my new favorite place in Rioja, I thought I’d use this opportunity to write about my new friends at Vintae.

is mixing it up in Spain, and starting a wine revolution of sorts.  They are a young company which focuses on 6 specific regions in Spain, but in a different way.  Vintae represents innovation and change in a wine region that has been very rigid in its ways, much like France, for years.  The avant-garde marketing and approach have shaken up the industry in Spain, and spawned the Spanish Guerrilla wine movement!

In Spain, wine suffers from a bit of a bad reputation.  There is some of a connotation that is is an old man’s drink, or an object ot mix with 7-up or other such items.  Although, when we were out in Logroño doing a tapas bar crawl, plenty of young folks were drinking wine – but it appears that might be a bit of the exception.  Since I have no real experience with the Spanish wine industry, you will need to take this with a grain of salt.

The company started with 5 wines, made in La Rioja, from grapes that are non-traditional to the region. Given that the wine laws in Europe are much stricter and somewhat archaic by western standards, they had a bit of a time introducing these wines to the market. They were, in fact, the first winery that was allowed to produce these varietals in La Rioja, and are guerrillas in the wine business here – stirring up the old ways of thinking, and trying to make wine fun. This is why their new brand is called "Spanish Guerilla". Kinda catchy don’t you think?

On this day, we visited the two different Vintae production facilities, starting wtih the white wine facility, Castillo de Maetierra, where the illustrious Spanish White Guerrilla wines are made.  Castillo de Maetierra is the only winery in La Rioja which specializes in making white wines.  The Castillo has been an upstart, focuses on unusual (for Rioja) wines such as Muscat and Malvasia, and introducing Spain to foreign varieties such as Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.  Currently, Castillo de Maetierra works with eight different white varietals, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Viognier.  Because these are so unusual in the area, the branding became the “Spanish White Guerrilla”.  Each of the fun labels makes a play on a character from the region – so the Gewertz has beer wench, the Sav Blanc looks a Little bit like Fidel Castro, etc.

Carmelo, our smiling host!

Because there really is a sense of terroir and micro climates in Rioja, the production facilities are separate and distinct to maintain this.  The white wines produced here are so delicate and fickle, that anything more than 30 minutes from field to crushpad would destroy some of the characteristics that make them unique, which is what the winemakers want to avoid.  This is somewhat difficult to grasp as a New World wino since we so often see grapes trucked long distances to production facilities. That said, it makes total sense – treat the wine like your first born child, and she will treat you like the king of the world.

The white wines are made here at Castillo de Maetierra, where approximately 500,000 bottles are produced. YOW!  Just a little bit of wine there folks.  Our hosts, Ana of Vintae and Carmelo Santos, the winemaker, showed us around and gave us a peek at the 2010 barrel samples as well as the current 2009 releases.  The Castillo is located in southern Rioja, where it is a high desert – think Reno folks, and it can get up to 35c in the summer. That’s about 110! Phew. Hot. Because of this, they harvest in August at night. This is crucial for the whites because the whites can begin fermentation spontaneously in that heat.

I must admit, I did a poor job at taking notes of what I was tasting, but you really want to know more about the story right?  Suffice it to say, they were surprising and delicious, and even though it was FREEZING cold outsidede, they were highly enjoyable.  The Guerrilla wines, coming in at about 5 Euro, are an absolute STEAL for budget minded quaffers.

Happy reading, and you should be able to find these wines near you soon!

So…you want to taste the wine?

It’s Wednesday, and I’m eager to get out of the city and out in to the countryside to explore. Today, we were going to the small hilltown of Briones, which is about 30 minutes north of Lagroño, where we were staying.

Bodegas Miguel Merino is a small, family run winery (and vineyard, and cellar) located in Briones, a small hilltown about 30 minutes north of Lagroño, Spain. It produces about 40,000 bottles a year, which – apparently – by Rioja standards is small! I guess California has some math to work on in that department. Even though it seems like a lot of bottles, it’s really quite a small winery and everyone is family or friends so it gives the feeling of the most welcoming small winery.

Miguel Merino does things differently, and I like it. All of the wines are produced from vineyards that were planted between 1931 and 1973, on over 11 hectares (about 27 acres).

Being in La Rioja, most of the grapes are Tempranillo, but there is a touch of Graciano planted as well which is used for blending with the Tempranillo. All of the grapes are hand harvested in small boxes, and brought to the winery, to prevent damage to the fruit, where it is hand sorted.

Jose S. Vergara, our guide and chief dude, likes to run things opposite to mainstream way of running wine operations in a very staid industry. Wines are aged until they are ready – adn that is decided by tasting and smelling, not by a number on the bottle or in a bank account.

One interesting thing that Miguel Merino does is that they use combination barrels that are made of American Oak staves, with French oak tops and bottoms. This gives the flavor of each, without the overwhelming characther of either. Traditionally, Rioja wine is aged in America oak, but they also use some Hungarian for variety. Josè also told us that they top their barrels every month, something that was very uncommon in Rioja but is becoming more popular.

We were lucky enough to get a private tour through the “bottle cemetery” or aging room, where we saw some very old and very large bottles that were sleeping, waiting for the right moment to be released.

Now, on to the important bit – the wine! I liked all of the wines here so much, we ended up taking some on the road. First up we tasted the 2007 Viñas Jóvenes, a 100% Tempranillo. I found lots of minerals and river rocks, which is not surprising given that they mine iron and chalk from the hillsides here. I also tasted olives, dried plums, red fruit, chewy leather, tobacco and dried cherries. It finished with some herbs and black pepper.

Next, we tasted the 2009 Mazuelo de la Quinta (a quinta is a vineyard) Cruz. Mazuelo is very unusual for Rioja, and this wine is special because it is also single vineyard. This is the same grape as Carignane, but tastes completely different than what you or I would expect out of a Carignane. It was elegant, refined, and delicious! There were blueberries, loganberries, juicy red fruits, cranberries, and baking specs hiding in there. With only 3000 bottles made, it’s going to be hard to find but was really lovely.

The 2005 Riserva had smokey dark red fruit with a touch of fig, juicy plums, dried cherries, more leather and tobacco, and lots of tannin. It was a baby, and really needs more time in the bottle to be fully appreciated but you can see the potential.

Last but not least, the 2008 Unnum was not yet released. It is also 100% Tempranillo, but is completely different than the others. It comes from 3 vineyard sites, planted between 1931 and 1946, a

nd is the best of the best. It’s aged 10 months in 85% new French& 15% new American oak, and then bottles. It was very meaty, tasting of stewed fruit, dark red fruit, peppercorns, and was quite herbacious. It was still tight and tannic but was really coming in to its own.

All of these wines were delightful, and Jose was an excellent host. I highly recommend you seek out the Bodega Miguel Merin

o if you are in Rioja, and if you are not – look for the wines in your local market! They are worth every penny and sip you can find.

By the way, I’m working on WordPress on my iPad and there are some bugs to iron out so…please bear with me!

Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…

And i’m here to teach you a little bit about Spanish wine.
Today we’ll be looking at La Rioja.

Rioja is both a state, and a DOC in Spain. Part of Navarre and the Basque province of Alava are included in the DOC, which is split in to three sub regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Balja and Rioja Alavesa. The total area is about 75 miles, which is about the size of Napa. There is a total of 123,000 planted acres, which is not a small feet in an area of high plains desert, with a rough looking iron soil which is mined for brick making.

Typically, in Rioja, you find Tempranillo, Viura, Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo – which is Carignane.

It seems that wine has been made here since ancient times, and archaeologists have found evidence tha the Phoenicians and the Celtiberians made wine here. OF course, the monestaries aslo kept a brist business in wine making, creating it as a cash business.

In 1926, a regulatory council was created to control the zones and quality of La Rioja, and who can produce wine in the DOC. In 1991, it was “Qualified”, and became Spain’s first Denominación de Origen Calificada, which was quite a feet. Rioja still suffers from the problem of being seen as an old person’s drink, but that is rapidly changing.

Located south of the Cantabrian Mountains along the Ebro river, Rioja has a continental climate. It feels a lot more like the desert, but is very reminiscant of Calavaras – hot in the summer (up to 35 degrees C, or 110 F) and cold in the winter (it was about 2.5-4 degrees C when we were there, which is the low to mid 30s. brrr). The mountains and mesedas (mesas in Latin Spanish) moderate the temperatures in the valley below, and protect it from the winds. I couldn’t really say that about one of the wineries we went to however, which felt very much like Wuthering Heights with the windswept escarpment on a hilltop.

There are three distinct areas in La Rioja: Rioja Alavesa; Rioja Alta; and Rioja Baja. Each area has it’s own expression of the wines, and is very much like Dry Creek vs Russian River.

Rioja wines are typically red, but there are some white varieties as well. Tinto, or red, can be a blend of varietals but it’s most commonly tempranillo, but also include Garnacha (my favorite) and a touch of Mazuelo (Carignane to you and me) as well as For Rioja Blanca, it is mostly Macabea (or Viura), with a touch of Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca. There is also a lot of Rose made here, and is primarily made from Garnacha.

The soil in Rioja has a lot of iron, giving it a charachteristic red color – possibly the reason it’s called Rioja? It also has a lot of chalk in the limestone and sandstone soil, which presents a minerality in the whites wines produced here.

Most of the red wines in Rioja are aged in Oak, weith a large influence of American Oak, as well as French oak barrels used for aging. Since American oak tends to be stronger and provides a bigger influence, it’s great for these bold red wines. The tintos (reds) can be aged for up to 15 years in some cases!

Tintas are classified in to four categories. The most basic is just called “Rioja” which is aged less than 2 years. Next, the “crianza” is aged at LEAST 2 years, with 1 of those in oak. Getting better, you have “Rioja Reserva” is aged at least 3 years, 2 in oak and one in the bottle. Finally, the best of the best “Rioja Gran Reserva” is aged at least 2 years in oak, and three more years in the bottle. Phew!

Wineries are known as bodegas, but you might also call a cellar or a warehouse a bodgega just to confuse you.

So now, that you know a little about La Rioja, you can follow along as I taste my way through!

Stay tuned…

Welcome to Madrid!

here it is, 6pm in Madrid, and the sun is going down. We arrived about 8:30am, blearly eyed and exhausted after a terrible flight to Philadelphia, and a mediocre one to Madrid. But in Madrid we are!

Sadly, with the time change and the early morning arrival, all we could do was take a long nap and then invest in what was probably the best hotel meal ever. A plate of cheese, some jam on croquettes and a bottle of wine soon restored me. Sort of.

I was awake enough to wander the back streets of the Barrio de Aeropurto to find the local Farmacia – bascially a local Walgreens, in order to recuse my poor, dry, cracked and split hands from their nasty fate. Yes kids, the first thing I bought in Spain was Neosporin and Band-Aids. Excited yet?

Now, I’m back in my hotel room, with VERY expensive wifi, looking forward to 9pm when I can safely go to bed and not feel like a sloth. But first, despite the very late lunch at 4pm, we will will venture out somewhere in the nearby vicinity for tapas and more wine. Because, well, that’s what you do in Spain!

Tomorrow we are off to Toledo, the ancient capital of Spain, which was occupied by Jews, Moors, and others for centuries before the capital moved to Madrid. Then, we are off to Rioja to drink lots of delicious wine and see the sights.

Pictures to come – genius me, in addition to forgetting my personal first aid kit neccetating the trip to the Farmacia, somehow forgot the really cool gizmo I got for Christmas that links my other cool gizmo (fancy pants new DSLR camera) to my iPad. Since I’m only using my iPad on this trip, it kind of screws up my master plan of sharing day by day shots with you but – I will find a solution!

Good morning, and good night, and see you in Rioja!

Posted via email from lusciouslushes’s posterous

Contests contests contests!

So here I was, minding my own business, when two very attractive emails came my way regarding contests which promote specific wine regions by attractive prizes like trips.  I don’t often post contests, but these two were things I actually entered myself, so against my better judgement, I’m going to share them with you!

The first is sponsored by Vacations in Austria, the Official Travel Guide.  This sweepstakes is offering a 7-day trip for you and a traveling companion to Austria, with one of it’s themed trips.  The options include an outdoor adventure, art & history, or…Wine & Food!  That’s right dear readers, you can win a 7 day vacation to Austria that focuses on wine!

Now, I have been to parts of Austria, and really enjoyed my time in the land of Mozart and The Sound of Music.  This could be an amazing adventure for some lucky winos.  To enter, you must fan them up on Facebook and be sure to read the official rules. You can increase your chances of winning by tweeting about the contest with the hashtag #itsgottobeaustria, once you fan them up.

This contest ends January 15, 2010.


I also came acorss this great offer from the Vibrant Rioja people.  If you join thier e-newsletter, you will be entered to win things like a case of Rioja, a wine party at your home, tickets to NYC Fashion Week, or – a trip to Rioja! The Vibrant Rioja site is a visually stunning informational resource that I highly recommend you take a look at if you’re interested in learning more.  I really want to go to Spain, so here’s hoping.

Good luck and think of me if you win!