Cuvinte despre vinuri incercate, degustari si evenimente, calatorii si retete
Last year I was writing the story of the three Turkish wineries, visited during the previous edition of the #EWBC12. This year have been only two wineries visited during the last day of e conference. Nevertheless, it was just as full of fun, exciting moments, informative sessions, gourmet meals, exciting wines, and spectacular vistas. The highlight of the entire event.
There are many choices of wineries to visit in Rioja. I dare to say too many, since and inexperienced and underdocumented traveler can be overwhelmed by the wide array of bodegas, dotting virtually each and every road. For sure, a warm welcome and an exciting winery tour will be offered by each winery, most of the times along with some wine sampling, and bits of tapas.
But for a bus full of wine passionates, a bit of discerning selection is necessary, to focus on specific aspects, styles or
selections of Riojan wines. We were offered the rare opportunity to visit two of the oldest and respected bodegas in Rioja, each with its own style and philosophy.
There is plenty of information available on the history of Rioja wines and wineries, going back to the mid 19th century. I just want to point out the enormous influence that winemaking has had of the region, changing basically not only the economic basic activities, but also the culture and social patterns. The founders of the main bodegas are only three generations away, still lively in the memories of the current winery owners, which are very proud of this heritage.
The first winery to visit was Bodega Bilbainas, in the town of Haro, Rioja Alta. This small and charming town is home to some wineries that ran probably among the best in Spain, and certainly in Rioja. They are well known names: Muga, Riscal, Heredia, Roda, CVNE, Vivanico, etc. Among them, just as proud and full of history, is Bodega Bilbainas, better known for its wine labels: Vina Pomal, Vina Zaco, and Vicalanda. Founded in late 19 century, to supply wine for the ravaged French wine market, it benefited from the nearby railroad, that facilitated exports. The bodega is also one of the few in Rioja that has the winery centrally located, in the middle of the compact vineyard plots. The main grapes cultivated are: Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano for reds, and Viura and Malvasia for whites. They are also experimenting with Madurana Blanca to diversify their white wines range. It is also interesting to note that they have the full line of wines and derivates: reds, whites, sparkling (cava), and brandy.
We had the opportunity to taste the refreshing cava, under the label Royal-Carlton during the welcome speech, and
visit of the really impressive old part of the winery: underground caves, tunnels and warehouses, barely lit, housing enormous oak casks or chambers for barrel storage, giving the impression of a WWII bunker… a very enjoyable bunker!
Back on the surface, we were invited into the modern part of the winery, having a change to witness the last stages of the fermentation of the 2013 Tempranillo. For the grapes that undergo barrel fermentation, the pigeage is performed manually, for each barrel at the time, as I had the opportunity to test myself! For the must that is fermented in stainless steel tanks the pump-over method is much more efficient.
Below are a few impressions of the wines we had the chance to taste:
Royal Carlton Cava Brut Nature, Cuvee Especial, Viura &Malvasia, 2011. Refreshing yet full bodied and creamy. ~ 7€.
Vina Pomal white 2012, Viura +malvasia, 30% oak fermented. ~7 € retail. Rich and pleasant, low acidity.
Vina Pomal Crianza 2011, 100% Tempr. ~ 7 € retail. Fruity, fresh, generous, high acidity.
Vina Pomal Reserva 2009, 100% Tempr, 18 month in oak and 2 years in the bottle. Complex, medium bodied, wide range of bold flavours, harsh tannins. ~15 €.
Vina Pomal Gran Reserva 2004, Tempr +10% Graci, 24 months in oak and 36 in bottle. Very low yield vineyards. Elegant, ripe yet young, good balance, full bodied, long astringent finish. ~25€.
Vina Pomal Alto de la Caseta 2008, 100% Tempr, 20 months in oak. Young traces, great balance, powerful and firm, balsamic aftertaste. ~ 60€.
The next stop, after an hour drive on the hills covered in vineyards, was at Bodegas Palacio, in the heart of Rioja
Alavesa. Founded in late 1870s, by the late Cosme Palacio, the entire winery is devoted to the memory of its founder., despite the fact that the new main shareholder is a large holding, with wineries throughout Spain. The name of Cosme Palacio, or its legacy, cam be found everywhere -from the labels, to the memorabilia, and the restaurant within the bodega.
The chic restaurant and the small hotel located in the very heart of the old winery, above the vaulted cellar, are certainly an attraction themselves. The cellar is not to be overlooked either: thin gravel on the pavement, the original stone fermentation tanks, large storage shelves in the walls made of brick, filled with an impressive collection of remarkable vintages -the oldest wine being a 1920 Cosme Palacio Gran Reserva. The entire atmosphere of the bodega speaks of a traditional and conservative style, which is imprinted in the wines -the epitomy of old-school Rioja. Although in the 1970s they build a new and larger winery, with modern technology, to accommodate the growing production, their style has remained remarkably stable.
We have tested this during a very exciting tasting: a vertical tasting of wines under the Cosme Palacio label, spanning from 1995 to 2010:
1995: vintage classified as „excellent”. Intense red with hints of brick, complex nose very lively, supple body with good acidity, cinnamon and anise, rum and toast notes in the aftertaste.
2000: intense and lively color, expressive nose with pure fruit, hints of black tea, full bodied, ripe tannins, lively acidity, smooth texture, spicy finish.
2005: intense ruby. Pungent nose, dark berries and black olives, rich, gummy structure, rounded and balanced tannins, astringent finish.
2010: excellent vintage. Deep, purple color, intense and pushy nose, fruity, full bodied and harsh, with intense tannins and spicy finish.
During one of the finest gourmet luncheons, we have tasted some more wines:
Bodegas Palacio 2009, white, Viura+ Malvasia, hand picked from 85 year old vines, reductive fermentation at very low temperature, oak matured. Very creamy, soft, balanced and elegant. Paired with arugula salad, with grilled goat cheese and nuts;
Millflores red, a simple and approachable 100% Tempranillo, was paired with a porcini mushrooms omelette;
Glorioso Reserva 2008 a full bodied, massive wine, with overwhelming dark flavors and pungent tannins, was a perfect match for a medium-well beef steak and red wine reduction;
Glorioso Tinto Gran Reserva 1978, an exquisitely aged wine, with terra cotta color, creamy consistency, lively acidity and surprisingly refreshing finish, was matched with a dark chocolate souffle and berries sauce.
The crowning of this trip was a short climb on the hill towards the ancient fortress of Laguardia, a charming medieval walled town, with a breathtaking view of the entire Rioja Alavesa and the spectacular Sierra Cantabrica mountains, at the finest sunset hour. Few words can describe this experience, so I will let the photos to speak.