In our family we celebrate birthdays and saint’s days. I was introduced to this Spanish custom by my father-in-law Antonio, who used to invite his family for a drink before lunch on San Antón, (St. Anthony Abbot), January 17.
We decided when our kids were growing up that we would treat them and ourselves by going out to dinner whenever one of our saint’s day fell. Last week, January 28 was St. Thomas Aquinas, so it was my turn.
The rules in our family are that you can choose where you want to go and can order whatever you want, so I decided we would go to the Iruña, a small restaurant on calle Laurel in the old part of Logroño. We like it because it’s cozy, usually packed, often with people we know (after all, Logroño is a pretty small place) and the food and wine list are terrific.
I decided I was going to order a steak, and as I looked over the wine list, saw Amaren reserva 2001 by Bodegas Luis Cañas and decided it was a perfect match. I had taken lots of wine writers to the winery over the years and knew the winery and wines very well.
Bodegas Luis Cañas was founded in 1928 but the Cañas family had already been growing grapes for over one hundred years around Villabuena in Rioja Alavesa. The family winery started as a cosechero, but gradually started buying barrels for aging the wines.
Today, the company owns 90 hectares of vineyards and buys grapes year after year from farmers controlling another 200 hectares, all in Rioja Alavesa. Their grape selection process is the most elaborate of any winery I’ve ever seen. The winery keeps records of the 815 vineyards that supply grapes, with each one classified by age and varieties planted, so the winery knows which grapes are likely to be used for each wine.
Each cluster of grapes is placed on a selection table where unripe or damaged clusters and leaves are removed, after which they go to a second table where each individual grape is examined. The grapes are vinified in batches according to quality.
Amaren (‘for mother’ in Basque) is a homage to Juan Luis’ mother and one of the winery’s top brands. The back label indicated that it’s 100% tempranillo from vineyards over 60 years old, aged for 18 months in French oak.
My tasting note (a habit I can’t avoid, even at restaurants), made between bites of steak and roasted red peppers, said,
Color: intense black cherry
Nose: dark fruit, spices and a hint of smoky oak
Palate: ripe, elegant fruit with good acidity, a medium mouthfeel and a very long finish.
A modern Rioja showing a lot of fruit but with the tannin and acidity to give it long life. After ten years it showed perfectly.
We shared a plate of artichoke hearts with small pieces of ham smothered in a slightly thickened sauce from the artichokes, and a big steak brought sliced and almost raw to the table on a sizzling hot clay plate, where we cooked each piece to our individual taste, with French fries and slivers of roast red peppers on the side.
A lot of people say that you should never mix artichokes and wine because the artichokes give the wine a metallic taste, but I’ve never found this to be the case the way they’re cooked in Rioja.
Amaren 2001 was the perfect choice with our meal. As Toñica said, “good to taste and good with food!”