Rioja winemakers are used to hosting winemakers’ dinners all over the world, but surprisingly doing them on their home turf is a new thing for them. Things are changing fast however. A group of young entrepreneurs from Rioja recently leased a three-story building at the beginning of calle Laurel, Logroño’s famous tapas street, turning it into a wine and tapas bar on the ground floor, an informal restaurant and tasting room on the first floor and a full-fledged gourmet restaurant on the second floor.
Just about every Monday evening during the fall and winter, this restaurant, La Tavina, invites a winemaker from Rioja (but sometimes from elsewhere) to talk about their wines. It’s not easy to get a seat because demand is high and space is extremely limited. Perusing my tasting notes I can see that the tastings I’ve attended there include Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot from Champagne, Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha (Rioja), Bodegas Campillo (Rioja), Bodegas Bilbainas (Rioja), artisanal cheese and wine, Bodegas La Rioja Alta (Rioja), Recaredo (Cava) and Do Ferreiro (Rías Baixas).
La Tavina is especially good at matching the featured wines with small bites of food. A few weeks ago, Bodegas Bilbainas and winemaker Diego Pinilla were featured. Pinilla brought a range of commercially available wines as well as samples of experimental single varietal and single vineyard wines.
Viña Pomal white 2012, a blend of 70% viura and 30% malvasía was fermented in barrel (60% French and 40% American) and also given a short period of aging in barrel. Pale yellow. On the nose it showed floral, citrus and stone fruit aromas. On the palate it had a medium mouthfeel with good balance. The oak was perfectly balanced with the fruit and acidity – something other barrel fermented Rioja whites aren’t often good at.
It was paired with a tomato and sardine tartare with pomegranate. A great match! The weight and balance of the wine perfectly offset the acidity of the tomato and the oiliness of the sardine.
Viña Pomal reserva 2009 Selección Centenaria. 100% tempranillo. 13,5% abv. 18 months in American oak followed by two years in bottle before release.
Medium black cherry. Red and black berries with elegant tannins and the obvious presence of oak (since this is a big seller in Spain, being able to perceive oak is a positive characteristic). Medium mouthfeel. No food with this wine.
La Vicalanda reserva 2009. 14% abv. 100% tempranillo grown on old bush-pruned vines from quaternary and clay/limestone soils. Aged in French oak barrels, half of which are new. 14 months in oak and two years in the bottle when released.
After this description I expected and got a ‘modern’ Rioja. This brand was in fact developed by Bilbainas’ former winemaker Pepe Hidalgo to help the winery shake off its image as a staid old Rioja brand. Intense black cherry color. On the nose, overripe grapes and spices (something Spaniards call ‘balsámico’) but otherwise not very expressive at first. Opens up later to a red cranberry-like aroma. An interesting contrast between acidity and the overripe grape sensation. Good balance with ripe tannins on the palate.
This wine needed some pretty powerful food and La Tavina delivered gnocchi and Riojan spicy potatoes, a really good fit.
2010 garnacha from vineyards in Tudelilla in Rioja Baja. Diego mentioned that the winery wanted to produce an ‘Atlantic garnacha’ (meaning higher acidity and elegance than ‘warmth’) from grapes from an area characterized as influenced more by the Mediterranean than the Atlantic. An interesting concept.
14,5% abv.. Fermented in oak vats with ten months’ barrel aging. 5000 bottles produced. Medium intensity black cherry color. Flowery and red fruit aromas. Big on the palate but elegant with good acidity. It was my favorite wine in the tasting.
It was paired with a grilled salt cod steak on a bed of a thick, garlic-based soup. Once again, the powerful aromas and flavors of the tapa was a good complement to this chewy but elegant wine.
100% graciano (I didn’t write down the vintage but it was probably 2012). From Bodegas Bilbaina’s ‘Vicuana’ vineyard near the Ebro river close to Haro. Graciano is a late ripening variety that seems to grow better in Rioja Alta than Baja. This is also an experimental single varietal. Until now, the graciano from Bilbainas went into Viña Pomal gran reserva as 8% of the blend.
Very intense black cherry color. Predominantly floral aroma. Very high acidity. It was paired with a cured Iberian ham shoulder steak (presa ibérica) on a bed of cream of eggplant and couscous. The very flavorful pork steak and fragrant eggplant went well with this elegant, fairly high acid graciano.
Viña Pomal Alto de la Caseta 2007. 100% tempranillo from a plot on stony soil inside the Viña Pomal vineyard from grapes over 35 years old.
Very intense black cherry color. Concentrated black, plummy fruit. Powerful but ripe tannins and good acidity on the palate that lasts a long time.
What else but chocolate with this intense, plummy mouthful of wine? The pairing was a creamy hot chocolate with cayenne pepper. It was unbelievable!
In the near future I’ll write more about Bodegas Bilbainas, one of Rioja’s classic wineries that has been carefully rescued from decay.