In late January 2014, we departed the hot Sydney Summer for a cold European Winter. We made two pit stops. One in Singapore for a quick hainanese chicken rice fix and the second a mandatory rest time in London before heading to Madrid, Spain.
We departed London at 7:30am from Gatwick Airport (seriously dislike early morning flights) and got into Madrid around 11am. We picked up the trusty rental car and headed straight for La Rioja. The drive took approximately 3.5hrs and soon we arrived into Logrono, where we will be staying for the next 3 nights at AC Hotel La Rioja.
Logrono is known for the densely populated tapas/pintxo bars within a 4 block area. It was roughly a 10min walk from our hotel and boy oh boy the food was super duper. You can never go wrong with tapas. We didn’t spend much time in Logrono as it was cold, wet and miserable. However, there was a massive Zara sale which made up for the weather!
The next couple of days were packed with cellar door meetings and sampling Spanish’s finest wine region – Rioja.
Rioja is a well known wine region in Spain. The region is divided into 3 zones; Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Traditionally, the grapes are blended together across the 3 zones to produce the wine. A trend for single zone wines are beginning to grow. La Rioja currently has over 57,000 ha cultivated producing 250million litres of wine per annum where by 85% is red. Amongst the red wines, Tempranillo is the most widely used grape as well as Garnarcha Tinta, Graciano and Mazuelo.
Established in 1973, Bodegas Olarra is located in the outskirts of Logrono. Bodegas Olarra is commonly known as the Cathedral of Rioja due to its unique Y-shaped ground plan and its 111 hexagonal domes. The group has several brands in the market and each wine is produced has it’s own identity. The top wines produced are reds in aged oak barrels. The overall production was approx. 6 million bottles per year.
The wines were good, especially the award winning Erudito Reserva Especial 2008 where Decanter awarded 97 points. To us, it had structure, tight tannins but needs a bit more ageing.
Our first visit on Day 2 was Bodega Ontanon, a multi-generational, family-owned winery located in Rioja Baja. With 250 hectares of vineyard land sit high in the Sierra Yerga Mountains outside of the township of Quel, which has been one of Rioja’s outstanding winemaking centres for three centuries. “Passion for the vine, passion for wine and passion for art” is their motto, as we believe that each of these elements contributes to the human experience and illustrates the vital connection of the land to people and culture.
The winery was modern and sleek, it even had its own museum! We met with Jesus and Raquel, 5th generation to the winery. Both were really nice and friendly and guided us through their wines.
We really enjoyed the wines on offer at Bodegas Ontanon, a few stand outs. The Vetiver, made with 100% Viura grapes was crisp with floral and fruity notes. Definitely a must try, perfect with seafood or wine by the glass on a warm summer day. The Crianza and Reserva was also very good. Both had good structure, complexities with full fruit flavours.
Another early start, we drove to Fuenmayor to visit Finca Valpiedra, owned by Familia Martinez Bujanda. Here, we met with Marta, great-grand daughter to Joaquin Martinez Bujanda who founded the winery in 1889. The family currently has 5 different wineries with its own brand. Finca Valpiedra, Finca Antigua, Vina Bujanda, Cosecheros & Criadoresa and new project in de D.O Rueda. Finca Valpiedra is located in the best area of D.O.Ca Rioja overlooking the river Ebro and one of the great single estate vineyard in Spain.
By 11am, we had tasted over 10 different wines produced by the various wineries run by Marta. We definitely preferred the older classics compared to the younger and more modern wine techniques. The stand outs were both Finca Antigua and Vina Bujanda’s Crianza, crimson in colour, dark berries, easy tannins and long finishes. The Vina Bujanda Reserva was also good with more structure and depth, oakiness with slight leather and good aftertaste. The tasting room design was amazing, perfect for summer wine tasting.
It was lunch time by the time we arrived at Bodegas Bilbainas. Located in the town of Haro, it was housed in an old traditional building. They specialise in making vintage wines and is regarded as a leader in setting wine styles. Vina Pomal and La Vicalanda are both flagship products and are famed wines in the Rioja region.
We met with Mabel and she gave us a tour around the winery including the original cellar that was used long time ago. It was dark, mouldy and had a distinctive musk type smell. Luckily, they do not use this cellar anymore or it would be pretty scary when fulfilling orders at night. The winery was old school style compared to the more modern wineries we had visited over the last couple of days. Again here, we had at least another 10 wines to sample and if it wasn’t for Mabel providing us with bread sticks and cheese, no matter how much you spit, I think we would have passed out from drinking on an empty stomach.
With some outstanding wines, we picked a few that would be ideal for the Australian market. We enjoyed the Vina Zaco, a modern take on the Riojan Tempranillo, dark crimson with dark berry flavours perfect for everyday drinking. The Vina Pomal Crianza and Reserva were both great. Earthiness, tannic with great length. The La Vicalanda Reserva was superb. New French oak, it was well structured, full bodied with hint of spice and vanilla. Pricing wise, its not too bad, but we think it’s probably best saved for special occasions.
Overall, the trip was very productive. We learned a lot about Riojan wines and despite the weather being overcast most of our stay we really enjoyed meeting and sampling the wines this region had to offer. By far, Spanish wines is bang for your buck. Great wines at great prices!
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