The Man from Soria (El Soriano)

IMG_1380_editMost people don’t know that Spain, after Switzerland, is the most mountainous country in Europe. This has had a profound effect on demographics, as people in the north have moved from an economy based on agriculture and tending livestock in the hill country to a service economy in cities and towns.

This is what the Barrero family decided in the early 1970s.  Born and raised in a small village in the mountains of the province of Soria, near the border with La Rioja, the family moved to Logroño to make a living and soon opened a bar on the Travesía de Laurel which they named ‘El Soriano’ (the man from Soria).  It’s easy to find it because of the scores of people waiting to go inside to order a hothouse mushroom tapa, the bar’s specialty.

El Soriano is unquestionably Logroño’s most famous tapas bar, written up in newspapers and food magazines in the USA, Germany, the UK, Sweden and other countries.  Every journalist that I took through the old town for 15 years has sampled the mushrooms, taken pictures and  inquired about the recipe for the sauce, a secret that brothers José María, Ángel, Santiago and sister Marisol guard more closely than the gold in Fort Knox. 

Several other bars attempt to make a mushroom tapa like the one in El Soriano but so far, none can even come close to imitating it.  My wife and I think that the main ingredients are olive oil, garlic and lemon, but we haven’t got it right yet and the owners of the bar aren’t telling!

My recommendation:  don’t be intimidated by the number of people waiting outside.  Go inside to the far end of the bar where you will see chef José María cook the mushrooms on a hot griddle, spear them three by three with a toothpick,add a small shrimp, coat them with the secret sauce and serve them with a slice of bread. Eating this delicacy has its own secret, too:  make sure you lean forward so you don’t spill the sauce on your clothes! Just ask for “un champi y un crianza”.

The owners tell me that they serve 7,000 tapas a week, or over 330,000 a year,  more than two tapas for each resident of La Rioja!

Bar Soriano, Travesía de Laurel 2   Logroño  Tel. 941 22 88 07.  Closed Wednesdays.

Bridging the generation gap (2) Spain

Riojapasión_editSince 75% of Rioja sales are in Spain, it’s important for Rioja to grow its user base by attracting new consumers in our home market.  This is not an easy task because of young Spaniards’ lack of interest in wine.  A study carried out in 2006 by the Rioja Regulatory Council revealed that interest in wine begins to grow at around age 28, which coincides with young people’s  getting their first well-paying job.  The numbers aren’t encouraging.  In the 18 to 24 age group , only 15% are regular users and 31% don’t drink wine at all.  The statistics improve a little for the 25 to 35 year olds, with 22% regular consumers and 26% non-users.  Perhaps the most revealing information is that young people don’t drink wine because they believe they don’t know enough about it to ask for a good bottle.  This suggests that getting some general knowledge about wine is the first step.  But where to go?  The survey carried out in Spain sought to discover what young Spaniards are passionate about, with a view to providing information about Rioja in that context.

It was found that travel and music were important to 8,3 out of 10 young Spaniards, with concerts, sports, technology, going out with friends and reading close behind.  So The Regulatory Council created a website devoted to those passionate pastimes in the hope that it would be a reference point, not only for travel, music and concerts but for gaining wine knowledge as well.  For example, in the site you can watch over 1,000 concerts, listen to the best indie music stations, learn how to make a movie, read about sports, avoid the pitfalls of travel planning, and lots of other activities, as well as learn  how wine is made, understand wine vocabulary, visit Rioja wineries and the best wine bars and restaurants where Rioja is served in New York and London. The URL is (in Spanish only, but most of the links are to sites in English).

It’s too early to measure the impact the campaign has on Rioja sales to young Spaniards but it’s a start!