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

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!


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…

Staycation in your glass!

Happy Thanksgiving, a few days late!  How are you holding up?  The big gobble fest has come an gone, , and you might be feeling the holiday rush upon you.  You know how it goes, the time flies by, the holidays are near, and you’re so busy you can see straight.  You need a vacation right?  Well I know *I* do.  Sadly, I can’t go anywhere for another few months, so I decided to have a staycation in my glass!

Today, I decided to head to the Navarra region of Spain.  I am totally unfamiliar with the area, and with most of Spain in general, so this was a great opportunity for me to explore a bit.  Today, I am trying two different wines from the Navarra region


The first wine I opened was the Principe de Viana 1423, which is a tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and garnacha blend.  Think of it as a Spanish Super Tuscan if you will.

When I first opened this wine, I was struck by the bold fruit that jumped out of the glass.  It really smelled like it was going to be an average fruit bomb, but when I tasted it, the firm tannins and structure really made it lovely.  There were prunes, plums, blackberries and leather, but it was quite austere.  The 75% Tempranillo 7gives it a nice zippy flavor while keeping it chewy and interesting.  Toss in some Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Garnacha and you have  a pleasant blend that was fermented separately and aged for 18 months in American and French Oak.

This wine stands up to food, and full bodied without being overpowering.  Served with some yummy cheeses, this is a great buy at only $12.

The second wine I tried was the Bodeega de Sarria Senorio de Sarria no. 7, which is `00% Graciano.  Graciano is a Spanish red wine grape that is primarily grown in Rioja, but can also be found in wines by such rebels as Twisted Oak here in California.  These vines produce a bold, strong, and deep red wine which is suited to places like Spain and the Sierra Foothills, in the warm, arid climates.

This is a rich and spicy wine, with the flavor of salted plums and dark ripe berries.  It’s very different from the fighting new world varietals and is very interesting (paired with potato chips I might add).

These are great examples of Spanish wines at a great QPR.  Go ahead, experiment!  Take a staycation, you’ll be glad you didG. o ahead, have  a staycation in YOUR glass! It’s much cheaper than a plane ticket, and the TSA won’t give you something to talk about.

These wines were provided by Balzac Communications and the Wines of Navarra, but who’s asking anyway?