Beans, beans, the versatile fruit

January is a miserable month in the Rioja region. The holidays have passed, most people’s bank accounts have taken a serious hit (in Spanish we call it ‘la cuesta de enero – ‘the January hillclimb’), we are trying to lose the weight gained over the holidays and get back into our exercise routines.

Our favorite food in January and the rest of winter is ‘comida de cuchara’, literally, ‘food you eat with a spoon’, especially all kinds of stews made with beans: lentils, chickpeas, red, white, brown and black beans. These legumes provide warmth on cold, rainy winter days as well as slow-absorbing carbs.

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A one kilogram bag of Anguiano beans, with a recipe and the seal of guarantee

I recently read a book (The Four-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss) that recommended eating a lot of legumes that provided slow-absorbing carbs as part of a diet. Ferriss wrote the book for Americans, who traditionally don’t eat a lot of beans, except for baked beans, with a sauce full of molasses, not the ideal diet food. He urged his readers to soldier through what he thought was an unpalatable diet of beans. After all, every American knows the rhyme ‘Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you f***!’ On the other hand, for those of us that live in Spain, this diet is paradise! All last winter and so far this year we have eaten lots of lentils, chickpeas, red, white, black and brown beans. And yes, we have Beano! Sadly, we haven’t lost any weight but we haven’t gained any either! Diets in an area like Rioja with so much good wine are hard to keep!

Recently we got a call from Wine Fandango, one of Logroño’s hip gastrobars, reminding us about a special dinner where each course from the pre-meal cocktail to dessert was made using red beans from the village of Anguiano. The dinner was part of a series of events (‘La Rioja a Bocados’- La Rioja Bite by Bite) at Wine Fandango, highlighting regional produce made in an innovative way by chef Aitor Esnal.

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The poster advertising the Anguiano bean dinner

Anguiano in the southwest corner of La Rioja is most famous for its ‘danzadores’, men who run and twirl around down steep village steps on stilts. No less famous are its beans, locally called ‘caparrones’, that have a quality seal from the Government of La Rioja attesting to their origin and method of cultivation.

The event opened with an introduction from Javier Llaría, a producer from Anguiano who explained the characteristics that made the local beans so special – the beanstalks are grown at an altitude of 650 meters (2132 feet) on stony soils that provide drainage and reflect sunlight back to the plants, with a large temperature difference between day and night, and selection of individual beans on sorting tables. 20% of the harvest is rejected and therefore not certified.

It could have been a wine grower talking. There were many other similarities between bean and wine certification, especially problems with certain producers who don’t like the fact that the certification process means control over their production and certain retailers that prefer to buy large quantities at bargain prices rather than in the one-kilogram package with the seal of guarantee. The bean producers from Anguiano have chosen to adhere to the fairly lenient demands of a product guarantee rather than the tight strictures of an appellation of origin. Mr. Llaría understood the fact that the Rioja appellation was founded in 1925 and has had almost a century to work out most of its problems while the Anguiano bean producers have just started working together.

The meal

Opening cocktail: “Alubión” (a play on ‘alubia’ – ‘bean’ in Spanish) made by Esnal’s wife Beatriz, the restaurant’s mixologist, with liquefied beans, rum, almond liqueur, sugar, and orange juice with a slice of orange peel as decoration. It was surprisingly good.

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‘Alubión’, the bean-based cocktail

Mains:

Capuccino from Anguiano made with liquefied beans, small pieces of spiny lobster and cacao. Served in an espresso cup.

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A waffle topped with beans, a red pepper sauce, collards and spicy sausage.

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Grilled baby squid in a sauce of mashed beans, with a mousse of scallions and leeks.

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Toasted filet mignon with a spinach leaf in a bean and garlic gravy and shrimps in tempura.

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Dessert: Bean pie with chocolate, ice cream made with young beans, an almond cookie and raspberries.

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The wine was El Buscador 2015 from Bodega Finca de la Rica (DOCa Rioja).

The verdict: Pass with Distinction

Before the meal we had some doubts about a meal made with beans as the main ingredient. Chef Aitor Esnal told us during his introduction that we shouldn’t expect a ‘caparronada’ (thick bean stew with pork rind – a Riojan favorite). The meal showed an extremely high level of creativity and tasted great!

Esnal and mixologist Beatriz Martínez’s next event will feature a cocktail and five course meal based on Riojan black truffles. We can hardly wait for that!

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Chef Aitor Esnal (Credit:  Wine Fandango)

Wine Fandango, General Vara de Rey 5-26003 Logroño (La Rioja)

Tel. +34 941 243910; info@winefandango.com; http://www.winefandango.com

 

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What can Rioja learn from wine tourism in Australia?

 

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We recently spent three weeks in Australia to attend the annual meeting of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network. It was a week of meetings and visits to wineries in South Australia.

The second reason for the trip was to visit Western Australia, especially Margaret River, to experience the wine tourism offer there.

It wasn’t our first trip to the Australian wine country. In 2005 we spent a week in and around Melbourne visiting the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula. Our feeling however was that wine tourism had evolved in 13 years and we wanted to check it out.

While in Perth we were fortunate to attend an open air Western Australian wine fair where we tasted wines from most of the wineries in the region. It was a fast, efficient overview of their wine offer. Our friends from Perth made lots of recommendations and pointed us to Howard Park in Margaret River, which had not been on our radar but turned out to be one of the highlights of our tour.

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We visited the Swan Valley, Perth Hills and Margaret River in Western Australia; Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia and the Bellarine peninsula in Victoria.

Coonawara in South Australia was also on the list but our flight was unexpectedly cancelled. We were disappointed but we’ll go next time.

Wineries we visited:

Swan Valley: Sandalford and Houghton

Perth Hills: Brookside Vineyards

Margaret River: Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, Voyager Estate, Xanadu, Vasse Felix, and Howard Park.

Adelaide Hills: Penfolds Magill Estate, Pike and Joyce, Longwood

Barossa: Yalumba, Hentley Farm, Seppeltsfield

McLaren Vale: Beresford Estate

Bellarine Peninsula: Jackrabbit Winery

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The cellar door and café at Jackrabbit Winery in the Bellarine Peninsula (the restaurant was closed for a wedding reception)

I don’t consider these wineries to be a representative sample of Australian wine tourism experiences. In fact, several friends in the wine business (from the UK, Hong Kong and Australia) and our friends in Perth and Melbourne recommended them to us specifically for their excellent wines and wineries.

That said, our main conclusions from these visits were:

  1. A cellar door (Australian for ‘tasting room’) with an enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff, several tasting options and the possibility for visitors to purchase wine and have it shipped, was a constant in all the wineries.

Most of the wineries we visited only sell their brands in a few Asian markets.  For us and other foreign visitors, visiting cellar doors was a great exposure to some fantastic pours that we could not purchase at home.

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The cellar door at Cape Mentelle in Margaret River

Cellar doors are not just an employee, a few bottles, a spittoon and a price list. They’re the centerpiece of the winery and are designed with utmost care. It surprised us to read in the James Halliday Wine Companion that the cellar door at Howard Park had been designed following the principles of feng shui. I’m sure this fact was not lost on the Chinese wine tourists who visit Australia.

Beyond the cellar door, the public exhibition areas at Penfold’s and Seppeltsfield were spectacular, as would be expected at these iconic properties. But they were the exception, not the rule.

2.  The wineries’ main objective was to encourage tasting and purchase. The option to join the winery’s club, providing opportunities to receive the newsletter, take advantage of special offers and members-only tastings are means to facilitate loyalty to the winery and its brands.

3.  Winery restaurants are popular, with great menu options. We were surprised to discover that these restaurants were packed, even in the middle of the week in Margaret River, a three hour drive from Perth. The food was without exception very good. In fact, at Voyager Estate, the head chef, Santiago Fernández (from Galicia in northwestern Spain) won the 2018 award for the top regional chef in the latest Western Australia Good Food Guide.

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The restaurant at Voyager Estate

In spite of its distance from Perth, Margaret River has done a great job marketing itself as a wine tourism destination. This accomplishment is even more amazing when you consider that Perth itself is one of the most isolated capital cities in the world and that the first wine estate in Margaret River – Vasse Felix – was only founded in 1967.

4.  The transportation infrastructure is well developed and caters to a wide range of consumers, especially in the Swan Valley near Perth. You can join a party bus – great for bachelor and hen parties, organize a chauffeured van or a limo with your friends, take a gourmet tour that includes visits to wineries, breweries and chocolate factories or even take a winery cruise down the Swan River from Perth City.

You can drive to Margaret River, but the area is also accessible by bus, train or a combination of the two. Once you arrive, numerous tour companies compete to take you on a standard, deluxe or customized tour.

Our first day of winery visits in Margaret River was with a tour company. We told them where we wanted to go and they called in advance to make the appointments for us.  Our driver, the owner of the company, was a treasure trove of knowledge about the region. We were able to visit four cellar doors and enjoyed a great meal at Voyager Estate.

On our second day of touring Margaret River, we drove ourselves, around visiting two wineries, with lunch at one (Vasse Felix). Even though you have more freedom driving yourself, I don’t recommend driving and tasting unless you have a designated driver. We could have tasted more, especially at Howard Park, so having a driver is essential.

5.  Wineries don’t always show the entire winery, although it’s an option for premium visitors.

What messages can we offer Rioja after our Australian wine tourism experience?

From the winery’s point of view, winery tourism is meant to create loyalty to the company and its brands. The Australian emphasis on the cellar door and direct purchase of wine leads me to believe that this could be given a higher priority at Rioja wineries. A typical Rioja winery tour takes you through the whole winemaking process – crush, destemming, fermentation, tank ageing, barrel ageing and bottle ageing. The tasting, often a bottle of red and one of white sitting on an upturned barrel, with little or no introduction from a greeter is at the end of the visit. In Australia, the order is taste first, then visit the winery if the consumer is interested in a tour and one is available (Australian industry statistics indicate that tours are not popular). In my view, Rioja wineries invest a lot of time and money showing tourists the winery with no idea if the investment will pay off in terms of sales.

Currently in Rioja there are more than 600 wineries, many recently founded with little history and an unspectacular physical plant. This discourages them from opening to wine tourists. But many of them, to paraphrase the rock group Three Dog Night, “have some mighty fine wine”. These wineries could open a tasting room even if they can’t offer a tour. It will undoubtedly get them visibility and some extra income.

Another important weakness in Rioja is transportation infrastructure, not necessarily how to get here, but how to get around once you’re here. The Rioja region is a similar distance from Madrid as Margaret River is from Perth (4 hours by car), by bus or train, with more or less the same intensity of public transportation. And Haro is only an hour from Bilbao, so getting here is not that much of a problem.

I always have trouble finding, much less recommending, a good Rioja tour operator.

Private enterprise here seems to be hesitant about taking the risk to start a wine tour business. Maybe it’s because individuals find it hard to compete with regional governments that offer wine tourism services at bargain prices. But the fact that over 800,000 tourists visited La Rioja in 2017 is a powerful incentive for entrepreneurs to start  wine tour companies.  But until then, the best option for wine tourists in Rioja will be to drive themselves around.

Winery restaurants? We have a few, but in my opinion, we don’t need many more to attract wine tourists.  Rioja offers a wide choice of affordable restaurants serving delicious food throughout our wine country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues to cure the September blues – Rioja and the Five Senses

 

IMG_2797It’s the beginning of September. Vacation’s over but you still have to endure a flight delay or a monumental traffic jam most of the way from the coast back to your house. The kids are complaining because they have to go back to school. You have to go back to work. You’ve gained five pounds in three weeks. You’re irritable and can’t sleep. Sound familiar? It’s what Spaniards call ‘el síndrome posvacacional’ or post-vacation stress.

Fortunately in Rioja, The ‘Rioja and the Five Senses’ program has the cure. Throughout September, your sense of hearing is stimulated by a range of musical activities around the world of Rioja wine. It puts you in a good mood and gets you thinking about wine again after a summer of drinking beer.

Inside Rioja attended two of these activities recently: a concert of popular music from the ‘30s and ‘40s held at Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha in the small village of Baños del Río Tobía in the southwestern corner of the Rioja wine district, and a rock/blues/pop combo at Bodegas La Emperatriz a few miles north.

Round One – Swing

Saphie Wells and the Swing Cats, a four person combo made up of a tenor sax/clarinet, an upright bass and a guitar, led by a talented young singer, Saphie Wells. The band played songs made popular by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt and others, including ‘Let’s call the whole thing off’, ‘All of me’ and ‘C’est si bon’. Ms. Wells really put her heart into the songs, and her audience responded by snapping fingers and clapping in time with the music.

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One of the buildings in the winery was converted into a nightclub for the event, with soft lighting, and tables for two or four with candles scattered in front of the stage. During the concert, the winery served one of its red wines with glasses frequently topped up. Fortunately most people came and went on a bus provided by the organizers! https://swingcatsbarcelona.com/

The winery

Juan Carlos Sancha is not only a winery owner but also holds a Ph.D in viticulture. A professor at the University of La Rioja, he is one of Rioja’s foremost experts on local grapes. In the 1990s he led a movement to rescue little-known grape varietals from extinction and then fought to get the best ones approved for use in Rioja wines. You can thank him and his colleague Fernando Martínez de Toda for the addition of red and white maturana and turruntés (no relation to the torrontés grown in Argentina) and helping to develop white tempranillo, a natural mutation of the red variety, discovered in 1988.

Sancha has also fought hard to develop the concept of singular vineyards in Rioja and old vine garnacha at high altitude above the Najerilla river valley near Baños. https://juancarlossancha.com/

Round Two – rock and roll

The following Saturday we traveled to Bodegas La Emperatriz, a winery surrounded by over 200 hectares of vineyards divided into 22 plots. Some of these are in the process of being certified as singular vineyards. The property used to belong to Empress Eugenia de Montijo, wife of France’s Napoleon III, with grape and wine production dating from the mid-19th century. The property’s current owners are Eduardo and Víctor Hernáiz.

Both Juan Carlos Sancha and La Emperatriz are members of Provir, an association of family-owned wineries in Rioja. Eduardo Hernáiz is the association’s current president.

http://www.bodegaslaemperatriz.com/en/

The musical date was with Confluence, from Bilbao, a band made up of weekend musicians who in “real” life are lawyers, statisticians, civil servants and members of other professions. ‘Confluence’, as the name suggests, specializes in a combination of rock, pop, country, jazz, blues and spirituals.

Led by the inimitable Irrintzi Ibarrola on vocals and acoustic guitar, the band is made up of a Hammond organ, electric bass, drums, electric guitar, and harmonica with an occasional riff from an alto sax.

If Saphie Wells and the Swing Cats reminded me of the music my parents used to listen to, Irrintzi Ibarrola and Confluence was my music – the USA and UK from the 1960s and early 70s, with songs from Ben E. King (Stand by Me), Otis Redding (Sitting on the Dock of the Bay), the Beatles (I’ll Get by with a Little Help from my Friends) – although sung in the lusty Joe Cocker version, Johnny Cash and of course, Bob Dylan.

Hearing the Cocker song took me back to 1970 when some friends and I jumped a curfew imposed  because of the riots caused by the Kent State murders to go to a Cocker concert in downtown Columbus, Ohio.  It was well worth risking getting arrested!

The band also played some of Ibarrola’s original songs. My favorite was ‘Mitad hombre, mitad sardina’ (Half man, half sardine) inspired by the moment Ibarrola looked at himself in the mirror wearing a wet suit.

Clearly, Ibarrola’s inspirations are Cocker, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Cash and Motown (Ibarrola introduced himself as a native of Detroit). His number one hero, however is Bob Dylan. For the group’s second encore, Ibarrola sang ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ as Dylan in the 60s, 80s and the 21st century.  Pure genius!

It was a swingin’, swayin’, foot stomping performance.

After the concert I introduced myself as a real native of Detroit. Ibarrola laughed and asked me if I had understood his singing. “Every word”, I replied, although I have to agree with Ibarrola’s statement from a recent article in Bilbao’s El Correo: “You can perform rock and roll in any language”!

Right on, brother!

 

 

Taking Wine Education Home – Bodegas Paco García’s ‘Experiences’

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An increasing number of Rioja wineries have embraced receiving visitors but only a few have made a visit to the winery an experience rather than just a tour. Bodegas Paco García, a small, family-owned winery in Murillo del Río Leza in Rioja Oriental has gone a step further by offering consumers experiences that they can enjoy at home with their friends.

To date, the winery has launched three experiences. The first was to discover the garnacha grape. The second was a crianza (≥ 12 months aging in oak casks) made exclusively from graciano grapes.

The third experience, called duelo de robles (duel of oaks) offers consumers a box with two bottles of Paco Garcia crianza 2014, one aged in American oak and the other in French oak, but you don’t know which is which. Before opening each bottle for tasting, there’s a detailed explanation on the inside of the box explaining the differences between each type of oak.

According to the winery:

American oak (Quercus alba)

  • Indigenous to the East Coast of North America;
  • The trunk is cut with a saw, not split. The entire trunk can be used.
  • Extremely hard wood, almost impermeable, making it difficult for air to pass through the staves, making for slower evolution of the wine;
  • Wine aged in American oak is powerful on the palate;
  • Typical aromas include vanilla, coconut, coffee, cocoa and tobacco.

French oak (Quercus petraea)

  • Found in western, central and southern Europe, mainly in France)
  • The trunk is split, not sawn. Consequently a lot of wood is wasted.
  • Wine aged in French oak has a silkier texture. The most characteristic aromas are honey, vanilla, dried nuts and sweet spices.

Following this explanation, the experience suggests opening each bottle, asking consumers to guess which wine is aged in French and which in American oak.

After everyone guesses, participants peel back a corner of the back label on each bottle to discover the secret.

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What an idea! We tried it at home with friends a week ago and had a great time! I’ve tasted other Rioja brands aged in both types of oak but none of the wineries have made the comparison so much fun.

I’m looking forward to the next Paco García Experience and am sure it will be both entertaining and instructive.

Bodegas Paco García www.bodegaspacogarcia.com

Rioja ‘rosados’ and ‘claretes’ are taking markets by storm

Summer is just around the corner, so it’s time to stop thinking about red wines for a few months and begin to savor whites and rosés.

Given the explosion of sales of red Rioja it can be easy to overlook what’s happening with white and especially, rosé. In the short time since Inside Rioja last explored rosé in Rioja, a lot has happened.

At that time I wrote:

Rioja actually produces two styles of pink wines: rosado and clarete. At first glance, the difference is merely color, with rosado a medium reddish pink and clarete a very pale orange.

 At the end of the article was a comment about some possible changes:

I was also surprised to see a bottle of Muga rosé with a much paler pink color than in the past. Maybe clarete or at least pale orange-tinted rosés have an international future.

 

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Benchmarks-the old (Mateus rosé from Portugal) and the new (Pure from Provence)

 There have indeed been changes here, but first, let’s review how pink wines in Rioja have traditionally been made. One style, called rosado, is vinified with tempranillo and/or garnacha with skins in contact with the juice for a few hours to extract color but no skin contact during fermentation. The other is clarete, where both red and white grapes are fermented with the skins, producing a very pale pink wine. The regulations of the Rioja DOC require that at least 25% of a clarete blend must be made from red grape varieties so a clarete could have as much as 75% of white grapes.

Originally, claretes were made mainly in the upper valley of the Najerilla river in Rioja Alta around the villages of San Asensio, Cordovin, Badarán, Azofra and Alesanco. This style has become so popular in northern Spain that clarete lovers just ask for “un Cordovin”. The area around the Najerilla valley celebrates its relationship with clarete by organizing a ‘Batalla del clarete’ that takes place on a Sunday in the second half of July in San Asensio.

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A clarete from Bodegas Ontañón (Photo: Tom Perry)

Today we can say that pale orange tinted rosés and clarete are gaining in popularity both in Spain and internationally. Probably the first sign of change came as a consequence of the increase in worldwide sales of rosés from Provence with their characteristic pale pink color.

Sales of Provence rosé (Source:  Wine Market Review based on statistics from French Customs)

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Rioja wineries wanted to take advantage of this increase in demand for very pale rosés but were forbidden from doing so because the Rioja Regulatory Board defined rosé as having higher color intensity. It took some time before wineries were able to get the definition changed. Today, the rule for the minimum color intensity of a Rioja rosé is .1UA/cm, measured as the sum of A420+A520+A620. This allows very pale rosés to be made.

For the non-tech minded, basically it’s using photospectrometry to measure the wine’s capacity to absorb light at three wave levels: 420, 520 and 620 nanometers. A lighter intensity will have a lower number and vice-versa. For example, in Rioja, the minimum color intensity for a red is 3.5 UA.

Now, Rioja rosés are available from very pale pink to light red to meet demand in different markets. Some wineries like CVNE and Barón de Ley make more than one style.

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(Photo:  Tom Perry)

There’s a huge range of rosados and clarets from Rioja in the marketplace. Try a pale rosé, a clarete and a darker-hued rosé. I’m sure you’ll love the comparison!

 

 

 

 

 

Bars, bars, bars

There are 985 bars in Logroño, according to Jorge Alacid, author of the blog Logroño en sus bares. Alacid cites data from the division of analysis of the Spanish bank La Caixa revealing that there are 6.4 bars per 1,000 residents of our fair city. The highest density in Spain? Not according to the study. Santander has 7.5 and Bilbao 7.3. San Sebastian, famous for its tapas scene, has 6.6, the same as Barcelona. Madrid comes in at a relatively paltry 5.3.

The fact that ‘density of bars per capita’ is included in studies of Spanish lifestyle habits is a testimony to the importance of bars in our country. Bars are where we have breakfast, our midmorning snack, wine, beer or a cocktail at all times of the day. It’s where we watch soccer matches and read the newspapers. And most important of all, it’s where we catch up on gossip and argue about politics.

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Bars, like every other densely populated sector of an economy, need to have a competitive advantage to survive. Most attempt this with their selection of wines and innovative or traditional tapas. Others put on events to attract customers. Still others have positioned themselves as places Logroño’s beautiful people go after work to see and be seen.

My favorite bar stands out for entertainment. It’s Vinos Murillo, about halfway between our house and downtown, so we often stop there on our way to and from the old town. From the outside, it’s pretty nondescript. It has a narrow frontage, a weatherbeaten door, and a picture window filled with a huge sign that says “For sale: anisette for making pacharan”. When you go inside you find a bar running from the front door back to the kitchen, stacks of cases of wine on the floor, old bottles of Rioja on the back bar, posters plastered haphazardly on the walls, several plates of quail egg, olive and hot green pepper tapas, a karaoke box and microphone sitting on a table in a corner, a tiny barking chihuahua running in and out and two very outgoing brothers running the place.

In other words, it has everything going for it.

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Owners José Mari and Carlos (nicknamed the Dalton brothers after the bandits in the French comic Lucky Luke) try to encourage the different groups of customers clustered at the bar to engage with one another. Sometimes to get people to drink a certain bottle of wine, they will sometimes yell out to my embarrassment, “Try this Tobía garnacha. That’s what Tom is drinking!” Or they will tell you, “Hey, come and meet so-and-so’s brother. He’s in the Spanish Secret Service!”

The other day the brothers tried to train their chihuahua to climb over a maze of wine boxes to reach a plate of food. Of course the whole bar was watching.

Besides this crazy atmosphere, the bar is known for one of Logroño’s most original tapas: a baked potato. It’s delivered to you on a piece of newspaper with a spoon, a bottle of spicy olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika. The only drawback is that José Mari only makes them in the wintertime and only when he feels like it. So the first question most people ask when they walk in on a cold evening is “Hay patatas?” (Are there potatoes tonight?)

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Vinos Murillo is much more than a bar. It’s theater, with an original act every night. The next time you’re in Logroño, check it out. If you’re lucky, José Mari might sing for you.

Vinos Murillo

Avenida de la República Argentina 26

26002 Logroño (La Rioja)

 

 

 

Inside Rioja Visits the Navarra Vinofest

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Navarra holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of Spain’s most beautiful regions, from the rolling green hills of the pre-Pyrenees in the north to valleys carved by rushing rivers and dotted with picturesque villages and the muted green and ochre landscape on the banks of the Ebro river.

My love for the place is enhanced by the magic of the “fiesta” of San Fermín in Pamplona from July 6 through the 14th that I first experienced in 1971 and have been returning to almost every year.

No one can say they’ve experienced Navarra without tasting the wines produced there. For many years Navarra wines lived in the shadow of their southerly neighbor Rioja and sales stagnated. The Navarrese took a bold step a few years ago by approving the use of several international grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and syrah for reds and chardonnay, muscatel and sauvignon blanc for whites to differentiate themselves from Rioja. Another smart move was to keep the old vine garnacha that grew in the Ebro valley while Rioja pulled theirs up to plant more tempranillo.

Several weeks ago, the DO Navarra organized a wine festival in Pamplona to highlight the wines from 29 producers. It was a great chance to see what Navarra was up to wine-wise.

It would have been impossible to taste everything so I concentrated on whites made from “international” varietals and garnacha-based reds (plus a few others that caught my eye – or should I say, nose).

These are the wines I enjoyed most:

Bodega Inurrieta

For me, the clear winner of the day.

  • Inurrieta Orchidea sauvignon blanc 2017
  • Inurrieta Mimao garnacha 2016
  • Altos de Inurrieta reserve 2013

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Finca Albret

  • Albret La Viña de Mi Madre 2013

Bodegas La Casa de Lúculo

  • Lúculo Origen crianza 2016

Bodegas Lezaun

  • Lezaun tempranillo 2107 (carbonic maceration)

Bodegas Ochoa

MDO Moscato frizzante (a slightly sparkling moscato – a category that’s taking Spain by storm!)

Bodegas San Martín

  • Señorío de Unx garnacha blanca 2017

Tándem

  • Inmune tinto 2017

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Bodegas Castillo de Monjardín

  • Castillo Monjardín chardonnay 2017
  • Castillo Monjardín chardonnay reserva 2015

Bodegas Máximo Abete

  • Guerinda La Abejera tinto madera 2014

Bodegas Nekeas

  • El Chaparral tinto 2016

Bodegas Pagos de Aráiz

  • Pagos de Aráiz roble 2015

After the tasting we had a pintxo at the Café Roch (Pamplona’s oldest bar), lunch around the corner at Catachu and a gin & tonic (the best ones in town!) at the Bar Baviera. We slept on the bus back to Logroño. It was a perfect day!

I urge you to take a look around your favorite wine shop or check out Wine Searcher for wines from Navarra. They deserve wider recognition.