Baron d’Anglade – a glimpse at Rioja’s past

Sunday is the most relaxing day of the week at our house:  sleeping in, cooking breakfast instead of coffee and juice on the run, enjoying a couple of glasses of wine at the conveniently located bar next door, a late lunch, reading the papers and then the tube or a book.

I don’t know if the same thing happens to you, but once in a while instead of trying to find a bottle to go with lunch or making lunch to go with a nearby bottle, I just grab one from the cellar – the first one that I see.  Yesterday was one of those days.

It turned out to be Barón d’Anglade reserva 2001 from Bodegas Franco-Españolas, one of Rioja’s century-old wineries and in this case, the label has an interesting story to tell.

Franco-Españolas was founded in 1890 by a Bordeaux businessman, Frédéric Anglade, at the peak of Rioja’s booming export trade with France after phylloxera attacked French vineyards in 1867, prompting French wineries and brokers to buy wine in Rioja, helped by a reduction in import duties levied on Spanish wine by France in 1882. The name of the winery is a reminder of this important relationship, which encouraged the use of small oak casks for aging here.

Several Rioja wineries in existence today were founded during this boom with the help of the French:  among them were López de Heredia, whose founder’s first business partner was one Armand Heff,  Bodegas Bilbaínas, originally named Sauvignon Frères, and Bodegas Carlos Serres, founded by Alphonse Vigier and Charles Serres, whose son ‘hispanicized’ his name to Carlos.

If you look carefully at the crest on the label of some of Franco-Españolas’ wines, you can see that is is divided in half, with ‘Bordeaux’ on the left and ‘Logroño’ on the right.  You can see this in the image on the left.FrancoEspanolas escudo

The winery calls Barón d’Anglade its modern wine, but I found it to be more classic, in spite of its alcoholic content (13,5%).

My tasting notes:

Barón d’Anglade reserva 2001.  13,5% alcohol.  Made with tempranillo, mazuelo and graciano.  Aged in allier oak casks.  Bottle 13.513 of a limited edition of 14.000 bottles.

Medium garnet.  Raspberries and smoke on the nose, elegant.  Good acidity, smooth, mature tannins and a medium mouthfeel.

We enjoyed half the bottle with a lunch of roast chicken, vegetarian pasta, and a salad and finished it two hours later while watching a bullfight on TV.  After being open for three hours, smoke and leather notes prevailed, proving that an eight year-old wine will benefit from decanting, not necessarily to remove the dregs at the bottom of the bottle, but to allow it to breathe.

Bodegas Franco-Españolas, Cabo Noval 2, 26006 Logroño La Rioja


Tapas Fantásticas – join Rioja for a tapas crawl in the UK!

If you ask  Riojans what their favorite leisure activity is, chances are they’ll say “going for a stroll and having some tapas”.  I wholeheartedly agree.  A tapas crawl is exercise, a meal, enjoying several glasses of wine and the chance to meet friends all rolled into one.  The only downside is that Spain is the only country, as far as I know, where you can do it .  Well, unless you’re in London on June 27 and 28, or in Manchester on July 25 and 26, because the Rioja Regulatory Council is organizing two tapas crawls in the UK!

Following the success of ‘Tapas Fantásticas’ in London in 2008, Rioja is once again taking wineries and tapas bars to the UK to show consumers how much fun a tapas crawl is, and at the same time offer Rioja seminars by UK RiojaTapas Fantásticas_edit ambassadors Olly Smith and Susy Atkins.

A number of Rioja wineries have partnered with their UK distributors to pour, and London’s and Manchester’s best tapas bars will serve tapas and Rioja by the glass.  An added attraction will be the participation of  three northern Spanish tapas bars at the London event.

Tapas Fantásticas London will take place in the Brick Lane Yard, while in Manchester, the venue will be Albert Square.

For 2 pounds, visitors will be given a tasting glass and six tokens to sample wines.  Tapas and Rioja by the glass will be available for purchase.

If you haven’t ever been on a tapas crawl in Rioja, this is your chance to try the next best thing and as an added attraction, learn about Rioja from two of the UK’s most knowledgeable experts.  ¡Salud!

For further information, visit the Rioja UK website on

Castillo de Maeterra – a great niche marketing concept

img_botellaLibalisI’ve often observed that one of the most striking differences between millennials in Rioja (young adults under 30) and their parents is the younger group’s thirst for knowledge about wine. For their parents, drinking rioja has always been a patriotic act – they wouldn’t be caught dead drinking wine from anywhere else.   On the other hand, young adults in Rioja today act like young people from their age group all over the world and are willing to experiment.  This message is driven home to me every month at a wine tasting sponsored by our local newspaper LA RIOJA, where the 80 available seats are filled mostly by enthusiastic young consumers along with a sprinkling of the old guard, yours truly included .

The tasting on April 26 featured wines from a family company called Vintae, run by two young brothers. Their approach to winemaking and image is refreshing because it’s clear that they are marketing to consumers in their own age group, a strategy that wineries in the DO Rioja would be wise to imitate.

Vintae owns a winery, Castillo de Maeterra, that along with another company make up a vino de la tierra region (Vino de la Tierra Valles de Sadacia) located in the province of La Rioja – more specifically, in Rioja Baja –  but not included in the DO Rioja. These two wineries specialize in whites made with small berry muscat but are allowed to use all the white varieties permitted by the government of La Rioja (viura, chardonnay, malvasía and white garnacha). 

My tasting notes of the Castillo de Maeterra wines:

Dry Libalis 2008.  12,5%.  Muscat, viura and chardonnay. Pale yellow.  Floral aromas, hay, freshly cut grass.  Good acidity and body.  In my opinion, the mouthfeel was a little heavy for a wine with such a delicate aroma.

Libalis 2008.  12,5%.  Muscat (90%), viura (5%) and malvasía (5%).  Pale yellow.  Very attractive muscat aroma – tropical fruit and peach.  Same sensations on the palate.  Medium body.  Very well made.

Libalis rosé.  13%.  Muscat and syrah.  Intense pink.  Seems to have a very small amount of CO2.  Bubble gum nose.  Slightly sweet on the palate.  A serious product that will nevertheless please a newcomer to wine.

Barrel fermented chardonnay 2007 (experimental).  Pale yellow with a greenish tint.  Buttery, smokey nose.  Medium body, well balanced.  Reminds me of an oaked California chardonnay, but with less body.  Must try it with some fresh cod. 

Barrel fermented viognier 2008 (experimental and I think a barrel sample). Pale yellow, a little cloudy.  Nose –  heavy on the oak, not reminiscent of viognier at first but after ten minutes some “canned peach” notes come through.

Melante (late harvest) 100% muscat à petits grains.  Straw yellow with a gold tint.  Orange peels and honey.  Great  balance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting.  The idea of experimenting with Rhône varietals in the hot climate of Rioja Baja seems like a good idea and I’m looking forward to future vintages to see how this idea develops. I also liked the labels, based on the petals of flowers, that are sure to attract female buyers, who, according to a number of studies, make about 80% of daily wine purchases. This is a winery to watch out for.

María José López de Heredia: “The Zaha Hadid project was an accident”

img_0352_edit(Continued from the post dated April 26.  )

María José feels that wineries should cultivate their image just as they cultivate their vineyards and their wines, and in this respect, there’s still a lot of work to be done in Rioja.  “Here in Rioja, we’re capable of making the best wines in the world, but it’s useless to believe that we’re the best if the outside world doesn’t know about it.”

On the subject of image, she says that the Zaha Hadid-designed visitors’ reception area and tasting room, nicknamed ‘La Frasca’ (the beaker, because of its shape) was an accident.  There was no design contest nor did the winery specify that the architect had to be a woman.  “After restoring my great grandfather’s stand, I wanted to protect it and Zaha was recommended by a friend  as a good architect.  It was before she won the Pritzker prize. ”

To carry our her plans, María José had to overcome the resistance put up by her father, who still refers to the visitors’ center as “that thing stuck to the front of the winery”.  She finds his attitude surprising since what he added on to the winery was described by Hadid as “extraordinary, using large blocks of stone like the Egyptians or the Romans “.  María José laughs and says that the family spends more time talking about their building projects than their wines, about which they’re completely in agreement.

María José repeats that the Hadid project wasn’t conceived to attract visitors to the winery but rather to add to its heritage.  In spite of this, López de Heredia receives thousands of visits a year, and not necessarily older folks commonly thought of as Viña Tondonia drinkers.  “About 70% of our visitors are young people with a modern mentality who might not have ever heard of our brand but through word of mouth and the internet have been curious to see our history for themselves and how our wines are made following traditional, natural methods, something they value highly.  We don’t make wine for old or young people, but rather for people of all ages.”

Mazuelo de la Quinta Cruz 2006

img_1002_editGiven the absolute predominance of tempranillo in red Rioja, it’s refreshing to see someone taking the road less traveled. The mazuelo grape only accounts for about 3% of the vineyard area in Rioja (1.610 hectares to be exact), but its propensity to be affected by oidium seems to discourage growers in spite of its high acidity and tannins, important for making wines that age well.

Miguel Merino and I have been friends since the early 1980s when he was the export director of Bodegas Berberana and I was the export director of bottled wines at Savin (now Bodegas & Bebidas).  We always laugh about the fact that we were more likely to meet in New York, London or Hamburg than in Rioja, but now that both of us spend more time at home, we enjoy getting together for a meal where we inevitably end up telling jokes, talking about the wine business and life in general.  Miguel is a great storyteller, a quality that has always served him well as a salesman, and visitors to the winery invariably end up around a table in the tasting room listening to Miguel talk passionately about his wines.

Mazuelo de la Quinta Cruz 2006 was a project between Miguel and his friend Lars Torstenson, a Swedish winemaker who used to work for Domaine Rabiega in Provence, where he carried out a number of research projects on carignan, a synonym for mazuelo.  The wine is named after a mazuelo vineyard located at the fifth station of a via crucis leading up to Mount Calvario near Briones where a religious procession takes place every year.

I was lucky to have been given two bottles of the 2006 vintage, which according to Miguel, was sold exclusively to the Swedish liquor monopoly Systembolaget .  I understand from a friend, however, that the 2007 was recently named ‘Best Old World red’  in a recent issue of Decanter magazine, so the brand is apparently available in the UK, too.

My tasting notes were:

“Mazuelo de la Quinta Cruz 2006.  13%. A Merino and Torstenson wine.  1.516 bottles made.

Medium garnet.  Spicy, herbal nose – rosemary and rockrose (?) (‘jara’ in Spanish, a bush found in the hills), with a hint of oak.  Soft on the palate with high acidity. Elegant and easy to drink.  Finish a little short, but hopefully will improve with more bottle aging. ”

This is a great food wine – it doesn’t tire your palate like so many fruit bombs in the marketplace today. We enjoyed it with roast baby lamb.

Bodegas Miguel Merino, Carretera de Logroño 16, 26330 Briones (La Rioja)