Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Lighting tour of Northern Spain

This year’s European Wine Bloggers Conference was held in Logroño, Rioja, in late October. The most exciting part of it for me was the chance to visit some great regions which are all new to me. In the course of three days, and thanks largely to the sponsorship of Araex, a group of independent Spanish wineries, there were trips to various parts of Rioja and a winery each in Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Navarra. On the middle day of the trip, we did cover 600km!

This was a great experience but hardly constitutes an in-depth exposure to the vibrant, quality wine scene in Spain. The landscape was fantastic and I have posted some photos already here. As the travel was sponsored this is another limitation in breadth, however generous the hospitality to which we were treated and for which I am very grateful. Here are my reflections.

Trying too hard?

It is great to see how much new investment is being poured into prestige Spanish wineries and vineyards. The downside of this is that the predominant style appears to be modern and bold – big, extracted wines with lashings of new oak. These wines are well made and fairly obviously being made to appeal to the American market and, perhaps, to the assumed tastes of certain famous American critics. Tempranillo is not an overly fruity grape variety but it does respond well to oak. In some ways, it reminds me of a mild-mannered Sangiovese, all leather and earth, less the sharp tannins and acidity. But here it is being turned into a deep coloured, opulent wine, with vanilla, clove and smoke overlay. In this regard, there was a marked similarity of style between these new red Riojas and the supposedly more muscular Ribera del Duero.

A star white

After the substantial reds, it was a joy to visit and taste the wine of Val de Vid, Rueda.  This is classic, high plateau, inland Spain with bakingly hot summer days, chilly nights and cold winters. The winery is functional, rather than a grand statement, and the star of the show is the white variety, Verdejo.  The winemaking is meticulous, coaxing as much complexity as possible from the raw material. This extends to a rapid transfer from vineyard to vat, cold maceration of part of the production, differential fermentation temperatures of various portions of must and the final wine being kept on the fine lees for four months.

There is a basic white which blends Vedejo with Viura (Rueda DO 2012), a new line intended as a more commercial line (Condeca Eylo, Reuda 2012) and then the two top wines, both 100% Verdejo but respectively unoaked and oaked. Val de Vid, Verdejo 2012 has excellent freshness, with volume in the mouth and a fine combination of ripe apple and melon fruit with floral and aniseed notes.  It is marked by great length.   The final wine is a small production, 2,500 bottles only, of a version which spends six months in French oak barrels, which produces vanilla and creamy overtones to this wine: Verdejo Crianza 2011.

Old Rioja

Onomastia The highlight of the entire event was an informal dinner in a local restaurant in Logroño, El Rincon del Vino. The establishment opened specially for a group of 28 of us (and one baby) on a Sunday evening and produced a great meal. But the real draw was the wine list which offers old Riojas for what to us seem like great prices – Reservas and Gran Reservas from the 1970s on at €30 or so.   The sadness is that very few people want to drink these great old, brick coloured wines, redolent of strawberry fruit and soft with age.  It was such a good evening that I did not write down the vintage of the bottle I bought (left) but it was perhaps 1984.

Wineries visited

a) Araex group: Baigorri; Labastida – lovely old cooperative in Rioja Alavesa; Valtravieso, Ribera del Deuro; Pago de Circus, Navarr; Val de Vid, Rueda

b) Others – all Rioja:  Marqués de Riscal; Bodegas LA; Rioja Vega

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