Five must-try traditional tapas in Logroño’s calle Laurel

Logroño’s calle Laurel is a required stop for both visitors and locals in search of tasty tapas and rioja. Nowadays, most of the bars have adapted their range of tapas to a more modern, elaborate style because of the influence of the bars in San Sebastian’s old town, but a few places here continue to offer tapas that have been popular for fifty years or more, using local raw materials or canned fish, prepared simply and cheaply. These bars are among the favorites of older natives of the region.

You should try them, too.

Calle Laurel wasn’t always a street full of bars and restaurants. In fact, it used to be one of Logroño’s red light districts. Local folklore says that the prostitutes used to hang a branch of bay leaves (‘laurel’ in Spanish) on their balcony to show prospective customers that they were free. The tradition of bars started when someone decided to open a bar where people could keep warm and have a drink while waiting for their favorite lady.

Our tour starts with

Hothouse mushrooms smothered in a garlic, olive oil and lemon sauce

Bar Soriano, Travesía de Laurel 2.  Closed Wednesdays and during the San Mateo wine harvest festival.

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Bar Soriano is unquestionably the most popular bar in the old town. According to José María Barrero, who’s in charge of the griddle, they serve over 7000 mushroom tapas a week. They source their mushrooms in Pradejón in Rioja Baja. Their sauce is a closely guarded secret but my wife thinks that it’s made from olive oil, garlic and lemon juice that’s blended into a thin sauce. It sounds easy to make, but several local competitors can’t come close to matching it.

The mushrooms are cooked in a little olive oil with salt on a very hot griddle. Just before they’re done, some sauce is sprinkled on top of the mushrooms. They are speared three at a time with a toothpick topped with a small piece of shrimp and put on a slice of bread.

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José María Barrero hard at work

Gilda

Bar Sierra La Hez, Travesía de Laurel, 1.

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What does this tapa, made with olives, hot green peppers and a salted anchovy have to do with Rita Hayworth? According to the Basque Gastronomic Academy website, this tapa was invented in 1946 in the Bar Vallés in San Sebastian, whose owner called it a ‘gilda’ because, like Rita Hayworth it was “salada”, verde y un poco picante”, literally, “salty, green and a little spicy” which aptly describes its appearance and taste but with a second meaning: “lively, uses salty language and a little provocative”.

In any case, it’s delicious. Sierra La Hez is also a great place to listen to Spanish music from the 70s and 80s and if you speak Spanish, owner Miguel Ruiz is a walking encyclopedia of this genre.

Patatas Bravas (Cooked potatoes with a spicy red and white sauce)

La Taberna del Laurel, calle Laurel 7.

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This is the perfect first stop when embarking on an evening in calle Laurel because the potatoes act as a barrier against the absorption of wine, beer or whatever you’re drinking. It’s always packed but you can hear the guy behind the bar yell “¡Una de bravas!” (An order of bravas) from the street outside.

Classic recipes for patatas bravas use only the spicy red sauce but the Taberna del Laurel, red sauce and a mayonnaise-like sauce to the red sauce.

You can find the recipe at the end of this post.

Bocadillo (small sandwich) with a half sardine in olive oil and a spicy green pepper

El Soldado de Tudelilla, calle San Agustín 33.

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It’s easy to make. Manolo, the owner of the bar, takes a piece of bread, slices it in half lengthwise, opens a can of sardines in olive oil and a can of spicy green peppers in olive oil, puts half a sardine and a pepper on the bread, and wraps it in a paper napkin. It tastes delicious with a glass of young red rioja.

If you want to know what bars were like 50 years ago, this is the place.  It features a zinc bar and a huge sink where tomatoes float and bottles of wine are chilling.  The wall behind the bar is covered with old bottles of rioja, some of whose labels are collectors’ items.

Sliced cod and red pepper in olive oil

Bar Achuri, Calle Laurel, 11.

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If you’re looking for traditional tapas, look no further, so forget about being squeamish and dive in. Among the delicacies on offer here in addition to cod are embuchados (fried sheeps’ intestines), fried pigs’ ears and roast cloves of garlic in rioja wine vinegar. YUM! No kidding!

These bars are also places where customers can enjoy words of wisdom as they eat and drink.  Here are some examples.

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La Taberna del Laurel: “It’s a beautiful day.  You’ll see how someone will come along to f@#k it up.”

 

img_5411Sierra La Hez: “I like to cook with wine.  Sometimes I even add it to the food.”

(Notice the tins of anchovies and sardines in olive oil behind the sign.)

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My favorite: Taberna del Laurel:  “Don’t steal.  The government hates the competition.”

Recipe for patatas bravas:

According to the directoalpaladar website, the red sauce isn’t tomato-based but rather a roux (slowly fried onions, sweet and spicy paprika and flour), to which you add chicken stock until creamy, then mix in a blender.

This website recommends:

  • three medium potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces, three tablespoons of sauce (see below), extra virgin olive oil, salt and a little parsley for decoration.
  • To make the sauce: ½ onion, ½ tablespoon of sweet paprika, one tablespoon of spicy paprika, two tablespoons of flour and ½ liter of chicken stock.

Chop the onion and slowly fry in a little olive oil. Before the onion browns, add the sweet and spicy paprika, mixing them with a wooden spoon.

Add the flour, fry it for a minute it or two and when the mixture starts to blend with the olive oil making a roux, add the chicken stock little by little to make a creamy sauce. Simmer for ten minutes so that the paprika and flour are cooked through, mix it in a blender and then strain.

If you’re in a hurry or not an especially accomplished chef (making a good roux takes time), I suppose you could make a thick tomato sauce and add Tabasco, but that’s cheating!

To cook the potatoes, there’s more than one option, like most things Spanish. Some recipes recommend just frying the pieces of potato while others suggest first boiling them for two minutes and then deep frying them.

 

Rioja discovers natural wines

Last week La Tavina, one of Logroño’s most popular gastrobars, organized a tasting of ‘natural’ wines, an event that guaranteed that a collection of young Turk Rioja winemakers and local wine geeks would fight for the 25 available seats. I was one of the lucky ones. Luis Gutiérrez – Robert Parker’s Spanish wine taster – and Luis Alberto Lecea, president of the Rioja Regulatory Council, himself a grape farmer and small winery owner also attended, a good indication of the interest in these wines.

Rioja has never been a trendsetting region. We would rather see how new ideas develop elsewhere before adopting them. Consequently the most forward-thinking Rioja winemakers are only beginning to think about wines with little or no added sulfur dioxide.

Andrés Conde, the owner and sommelier of Bodega Cigaleña, a restaurant in Santander, led the tasting. His restaurant has one of the largest collections of wines in Spain, especially of older vintages. Conde’s wine knowledge is encyclopedic, and he entertained us with personal anecdotes about the characteristics of each of the wines, the terroir, grapes, aging and winemaking practices based on his visits to the wineries and conversations with the winemakers.

Andrés Conde

Andrés Conde

It was interesting that Conde didn’t mention the word ‘natural’ once during the tasting. He preferred to describe the wines as ‘poco protegidos’ (slightly protected).

Five wines were on the menu:

Sin Rumbo 2013. D.O. Rueda from Nieva in the province of Segovia. 100% verdejo. Produced by Ismael Gozalo who describes himself as an ‘independent winemaker’. The vineyards are located at 900 meters above sea level and farmed biodynamically. Fermentation and a short period of ageing in 500 liter barrels.

Color: not brilliant, a little veiled. A subtle floral nose. Round with a lower level of acidity than what I’m accustomed to but nonetheless very attractive. It was paired with a pea, fava bean, tomato and caramelized onion salad with a touch of olive oil and vinegar. I thought the pairing was good. The wine, however, didn’t hold up well in the glass compared to the others by the end of the tasting.

Sin Rumbo

Sin Rumbo

L’Anglore 2012 rosé. AOC Tavel. Grenache and Monastrell. Producer Eric Pfifferling. Aged for 18 months in barrique, required by the AOC Tavel.

Color, darker than my benchmark, a Rioja rosé, more like a light red. Not a very pronounced aroma when I first tried it. Later it opened up to spice and cherry, with noticeable notes of oak. Mouthfilling and a taste that reminded me a little of maraschino cherry liqueur. The pairing was a poached egg with pieces of ecologically farmed young hen with cauliflower cream and truffle oil. I can’t figure out how this pairing was thought up. The wine overpowered the food, a little unusual given that almost all the wines tasted were elegant and understated.

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Saint-Joseph 2012. AOC Saint-Joseph. René-Jean Dard & François Ribo. Tain-L’Hermitage. A northern Rhone red, meaning syrah. A long discussion led by Andrés y Luis Gutiérrez ensued about the defining aromas of Rhone syrah (black olives, smoked bacon and asphalt) and for these two experts, the only ones at the tasting with anything but a passing knowledge of syrah from the Rhone, this wine had it all. It was definitely not the trademark minty nose of an Australian shiraz, which most of us had tasted in the past. (Tom:  make note to self to look out for more wines from the northern Rhone!)

Medium ruby. To me, acidic fruit and a little bit of burnt rubber. Really pleasant acidity on the nose. Elegant. It was paired with a dish of monkfish and deboned pigs’ trotters, green beans and carrots. Good.

St.-Joseph 2012

St.-Joseph 2012

Cuvée Florine 2012. Côtes du Jura. Producer Jean-François Ganevat. 100% chardonnay, with 15-16 months in barrique. Andrés Conde remarked that Ganevat only added a little SO2 just before bottling.

Straw yellow, buttery with chamomile and barrel notes. Really low acidity (pH 2,8). According to Conde, this wine has characteristics of a textbook Burgundian chardonnay ‘from the old days’. It was an interesting comment but sounded pretentious because, apart from Conde and Gutiérrez, none of us had much experience with today’s chardonnay from Burgundy, let alone one from the old days. I liked it a lot and was glad to taste a wine from Jura, one of today’s ‘hot’ wine regions.

The food pairing was a filet mignon with warm, fresh foie gras and a reduced Port sauce. It went very well with the wine.

Cuvée Florine 2012

Cuvée Florine 2012

Antoine Arena Grotte di Sole 2011. AOC Patrimonio red from Corsica. Mainly nielluccio. A totally unknown appellation and grape variety for me.

Medium intensity. Very spicy, notes of overripe grapes and possibly a little brett. Powerful tannin. It was paired with chocolate ice cream and olive oil.

Grotte di Sole from Corsica

Grotte di Sole from Corsica

A sixth wine was introduced as a surprise. A deeply colored red with very intense fresh fruit aromas. Juicy fruit, good acidity and powerful tannin. No clue was given about its origin. I attempted to apply my WSET tasting experience, trying to figure it out by process of elimination. I was still thinking when other clues started to be given. “A blend”. No help. Then “Spain”. “OK”, I thought. It didn’t seem like a Priorat so maybe it was prieto picudo from León. I kept quiet. The last clue was “tempranillo and graciano”. Then Andrés and Luis waved their heads toward Abel Mendoza, one of the winemakers attending the event. It was indeed a ‘slightly protected’ Rioja made by Mendoza. It blew my mind, nothing like any other Rioja I had ever tasted. So much for process of elimination!

Luis Lecea, president of the Rioja Regulatory Council answering a tricky question from Abel Mendoza

Luis Lecea, president of the Rioja Regulatory Council answering a tricky question from Abel Mendoza

The tasting completely changed my view of natural wines. I had only tasted one previously: a red made by the Arambarri family (Vintae) in Navarra. It had really low intensity, coming up short in aroma and flavor. The wines tasted at La Tavina were all elegant and very well balanced, with the possible exceptions of the wine from Corsica and the Rioja because of the level of tannin. They all showed very attractive aromas and were really tasty. I thought they had a kind of purity about them but maybe because I knew that they were natural wines, it was my imagination. In any case, they really got my interest.

12/2014, a natural wine from Navarra with the "drink before" date on the label

12/2014, a natural wine from Navarra with the “drink before” date on the label

The only disappointment was when we asked Andrés where we could buy the first five wines. “They’re all presold before release, so impossible”. I guess I’ll have to find other natural wines to taste but at least I have a benchmark of some of the best.

(All photos by Tom Perry)

Oscar Tobía pushes the envelope

“Winemaking today is about chemistry. Tomorrow it will be about physics.”

Making a statement like that is Oscar Tobía’s style and in keeping with his role as Rioja’s greatest winemaking innovator. It’s a powerful statement in a region where innovation is everywhere, an indispensible requirement for success in an extremely competitive marketplace.

My friend Jeremy Watson, former director of Wines from Spain in the UK and author of two highly regarded books about Spanish wines, recently expressed an interest in visiting Bodegas Tobía after hearing interesting things about the winery. He asked me to set up the visit and I duly complied.

Jeremy Watson and Oscar Tobía (Photo: Tom Perry)

Jeremy Watson and Oscar Tobía (Photo: Tom Perry)

Oscar enjoys pushing the envelope. He made Rioja’s first barrel fermented rosé but wasn’t allowed to sell it because the technique wasn’t in the Rioja rulebook, but he insisted, won the support of other winemakers and was finally successful in getting the rules changed.

Oscar led us outside to his fermentation tanks, where we saw the first evidence of his commitment to innovation: the exclusive use of Ganimede fermenters from Italy that store and release the CO2 produced during fermentation to constantly mix the grapeskins and the fermenting juice, avoiding the formation of a cap. Oscar says it’s a totally natural process and saves on the cost of traditional methods of mixing the skins and the juice such as delestage, pumping over or pigeage. While a few other Spanish wineries use this technology, only two are in Rioja – Bodegas Montecillo and the San Asensio cooperative, and these only use it partially. Oscar believes that Italy is at the forefront of winemaking innovation today and that Rioja winemakers still pay too much attention to Bordeaux.

Two of the winery's Ganimede fermenters

Two of the winery’s Ganimede fermenters

A second innovation is the use of peristaltic pumps that work by expansion and contraction like the movement of food through our intestines to transfer the skins and juice from the fermenters to the press where they’re separated, avoiding Oscar’s pet peeve, oxidation. In his words, “the wine is born younger”.

A future project is to store the CO2 produced during fermentation in underground tanks for use in the winery to avoid the necessity of buying tanks of gas, another cost-saving device.

Oscar criticizes the abuse of fertilizer in Rioja vineyards, which has increased yields but has also caused an increase of potassium and lower acidity in wines. Traditionally, potassium salts are precipitated and removed by cold stabilization, which Oscar feels is hard on the wines. His solution has been to design a machine to lower the level of potassium (he didn’t explain how it worked) to avoid cold stabilization and the addition of acids. “Less expensive and easier on the wines”, Oscar says.

Another innovation is debourbage by means of flotation. Instead of siphoning off precipitated sediments by gravity, Bodegas Tobía injects nitrogen gas mixed with a kind of gelatin into the tanks. This causes any sediment to float to the top of the tank where it’s removed.

Like other Rioja wineries, Bodegas Tobía uses different kinds of oak: American, French, Hungarian and even Slovak. Unlike other Rioja wineries he experiments with barrels made from wood other than oak, such as ash, cherry, acacia and chestnut in a project with the Murua cooperage and the University of La Rioja. Oscar says that the results are promising and he hopes to release wines aged in these kinds of wood in the near future.

The barrel aging cellar

The barrel aging cellar

Following the tour of the winery, Oscar offered a tasting of eight of the wines from his wide (but not unmanageable) range.

Oscar Tobía white reserva 2009. 50% malvasía, 50% viura with 18 months in French and American oak. Pale yellow; aroma of wildflowers with a subtle touch of well-integrated oak; elegant, almost understated. I liked it a lot. Oscar says he wants to make a wine like the López de Heredia whites, which have taken international markets by storm.

Daimon barrel fermented white 2012. 60% viura, 30% malvasía, 10% tempranillo blanco. Pale straw; chamomile and other dried flowers; medium body, just the right acidity. Very good.

Alma de Tobía barrel fermented rosé 2013. 55% tempranillo, 35% graciano, 10% “other”. Pretty cherry color; bubble gum and anise; interesting smoky character with oak and strawberries.

Daimon barrel fermented red 2012. 56% tempranillo, 22% graciano, 16% garnacha, 6% “other”. Light cherry; strawberries, a hint of oak; crisp acidity with firm tannin, easy to drink but not a simple wine – it has a good backbone.

Tobía Selección crianza 2010. 80% tempranillo, 10% graciano, 10% garnacha. Medium ruby; noticeably oaky, smoky, red fruit; lipsmacking, good structure. I thought it had been given too much oak, but otherwise good.

Oscar Tobía reserva 2010. 90% tempranillo, 10% graciano. Medium ruby; well-integrated red fruit and oak, herbal, minty; Lovely fruit, perfect acidity and firm tannin. Terrific!

Tobía gran reserva 2000. 100% tempranillo. Vinified before the purchase of the Ganimede fermenters. Medium brick; a ‘traditional’ Rioja nose of oak, cedar chest and cloves; silky, good backbone in spite of its age. For me the best wine of the lot.

Alma de Tobía 2009. The same blend as the rosé. Deep garnet, almost inky; dark fruit, spicy; really mouth filling, luscious. Definitely a departure from the previous reds. Oscar said it had some ‘experimental grapes starting with an “m’’ from a vineyard in one of the highest vineyards in Rioja Alta.

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I enjoyed all of Oscar’s wines, although in my opinion, the Tobía Selección 2010 was overoaked and not quite up to the standard of the others.

Oscar uses his barrels for five years and all of his reds undergo malo in barrel. For Alma de Tobía he uses French oak, for Oscar Tobía, one year old French, Hungarian and new American oak. His crianzas are aged in one year old wood from several origins and his graciano (which we didn’t taste), in Hungarian oak. Oscar feels that Hungarian oak respects the original fruit profile of the unaged wines better than the others but it’s expensive, almost as much so as French oak.

He is placing a bet on sauvignon blanc among the new varieties approved by the Rioja Regulatory Council and malvasía among the current varieties. He recently stated in a white wine supplement in our local newspaper LA RIOJA, “Sauvignon blanc is very elegant and blends well with Riojan varietals. Malvasía hasn’t been very popular but it offers numerous possibilities”.

Oscar sells a high percentage of his wines abroad, so keep an eye out for them.

Bodegas Tobía. Paraje Senda Rutia, s/n 26214 Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón (La Rioja)

http://www.bodegastobia.com

9/21, license to party

For the last five years Spain has suffered the devastating effects of an inflexible labor market, an economy based on overbuilding residential property, banks with questionable lending practices and politicians who thought they were above the law. When most people read the papers, they go directly to the sports pages to get a jolt of positive energy from reading about the success of Spain’s tennis players, football teams and motorcycle racers.

That’s the way it is for 51 weeks of the year, except during festival week, which in Rioja is the wine harvest festival in honor of St. Matthew (San Mateo in Spanish) from September 20 to 25, when all hell breaks loose and the region’s 300,000 inhabitants plus probably 100,000 others from neighboring regions and abroad devote themselves to a frenzy of partying. We deserve it.

The festival starts at 1pm on September 20 when the mayor lights a rocket from the balcony of the city hall in Logroño. This event is called the chupinazo. This year the mayor asked everyone present to forget about their problems and have fun.  Obviously, we were all paying attention because her instructions were followed to the letter.

The crowd waiting for the rocket, with the king and queen of the festival in the foreground.

The crowd waiting for the rocket, with the king and queen of the festival in the foreground. (Photo credit:  larioja.com).

In the past, the city hall square was filled with young people carrying bags of flour and plastic bottles filled with cheap red wine. On hearing the rocket explode, they would douse everyone in sight with wine and then throw flour around, making a god-awful mess of other partygoers who then walked to the old part of town to sing, dance, eat and drink in one of the 100 plus bars in the area.

In recent years, the city fathers have tried to enforce a ‘clean chupinazo’ by stationing police officers around the entrance to the square to keep partygoers from throwing flour around.  Fat chance.  As soon as everyone leaves the square, out comes the flour.

After the rocket goes off. (Photo credit: riojatrek.com)

After the rocket goes off.
(Photo credit: riojatrek.com)

The atmosphere in the old part of town is electric – big swaying crowds of people eating, drinking, dancing and singing, people meeting friends or running into friends unseen for years, going to bullfights, jai alai matches, eating lunch and dinner in bars or restaurants, staying out until 3 or 4 in the morning every day, catching a catnap and a snack and starting all over again.  Believe me, after five or six days of non-stop partying, one is actually glad it’s over.  Until next year, that is!

Calle Laurel, the epicenter of old Logroño. (Photo credit:  blogs.larioja.com)

Calle Laurel, the epicenter of old Logroño.
(Photo credit: blogs.larioja.com)

I consider myself extremely lucky (or extremely resilient) because I go to two of these festivals every year – San Fermín in Pamplona in July and San Mateo in Logroño in September. I have no intention of quitting.

Today is the last day of the wine festival and tomorrow, Logroño will go back to normal, with lots of bad news to fill the newspapers.  Right now, I’m trying to persuade my wife to go out tonight.  If I can get her off the sofa, I might have a chance!

Jura: The Book

ImageI assume that if you’re following Inside Rioja, you’re a wine lover.  With that in mind, I’d like to let you in on a new project undertaken by my friend, fellow wine blogger and wine educator par excellence Wink Lorch.  Wink divides her time between London and the Jura region of southeastern France, where she owns a house.  The Jura is known for its fantastic wines, but is little known outside France, except of course for Wink’s heroic efforts to promote it through her blog jurawine.co.uk

Wink is planning to write a book about the region, its wines and its people.  No one is more capable than her to do the job, but she needs the help of the wine lovers’ community to get the job done.

She has decided to solicit the help of friends and fellow wine lovers for a crowd funding project on Kickstarter.  As I write, she’s a little over halfway toward receiving enough pledges to make the project a reality.  For further information, follow this link: 

http://wp.me/2lacN

Thanks for your support of this exciting project!

Finca de los Arandinos: Putting a Riojan wine village on the map

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Entrena is a small town south of Logroño.  It’s one of the most important wine villages in the Rioja DOC, with about 700 hectares (1730 acres) of vineyards but it’s never been a place that jumps out at you as far as wine is concerned.  Then along came the owners of several vineyards at the top of a hill with a spectacular view of the Ebro valley.  These guys had a dream:  to put Entrena on the map.

They’ve more than accomplished this with the creation of Finca de los Arandinos, a complex that combines a hotel, spa, restaurant and winery that has recently won a prestigious ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for Accommodation from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Winemaker Eva Valgañón and sales manager Óscar Alegre explained the project and gave a tasting of their wines at a recent event in Logroño sponsored by LA RIOJA, our local newspaper.

Eva and Óscar kicked off the event with a provocative comment: “The DOC Rioja doesn’t make it easy to develop wines from specific towns”. This is a mistake in their view because there are lots of places where good grapes are grown but so far, Rioja has based its model on blends from different parts of the region, or in some cases, wines from a specific subzone such as Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa or Rioja Baja. In Valgañón and Alegre’s opinion, grapes coming from a good place such as a village with a specific terroir are more important than a few places with old vines.  They feel that the soil composition of the Entrena vineyards, with a layer of gravel on top of sand and clay is ideal for producing great wines.

They’re also against one of the sacred principles of government intervention in viticulture:  the concentración parcelaria or vineyard concentration, in which the regional government reapportions vineyard land, so that growers’ properties are contiguous rather than spread out all over the village. This ostensibly allows for more rational farming but has been widely criticized because farmers often have to give up a good vineyard on the other side of town in exchange for a bad one next to their largest holding.

The tasting:

Viero barrel fermented white 2010. 14% abv.  100% viura from vineyards over 50 years old.

Greenish yellow. Lemon drop candy nose, later chamomile notes coming through.  Nice and full on the palate.  I enjoyed the structure and vibrant acidity.

Malacapa red 2011.  14% abv.  Tempranillo, mazuelo and garnacha.

Medium intensity garnet.  A little oak, red and black fruit, iodine.  Good level of acidity on the palate.  A nice young red to sip.

 Finca de los Arandinos crianza 2009

Black cherry.  Austere and mineral on the nose.  High acidity on the palate.  To me it needs a little more time in the bottle.

El Conjuro 2009. 85% tempranillo, 15% garnacha

Intense black cherry.  Jammy fruit, spicy and mineral notes. Good acidity on the palate.  I felt this wine also needed more time in the bottle to develop.

Viero late harvest white.  An experimental wine that isn’t on the market.

Medium straw.  Pencil lead and varnish on the nose.  Mouthfilling with dried wildflowers but again, hints of varnish.  My feeling is that this style has promise and the winery should keep trying.

I really liked the wines for their distinctive character and high acidity but felt that the vintages on display at the tasting needed more time in the bottle.

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My family visited the complex several months ago for lunch at the restaurant, Tierra (Land), that specializes in dishes made with local produce.  We ordered the Tierra Menu for 39 euros plus VAT, that offered a range of starters and main courses, each consisting of a small portion of fish and meat dishes.  We ordered a different dish and split them. Everything was washed down with Viero and Finca de los Arandinos crianza. It was delicious!

Afterwards we were given a guided tour of the hotel and the spa, designed by local architect Javier Arizcuren.   The interior design was created by the Spaniard David Delfín in a minimalist style.  Delfín also designed ten of the hotel’s 14 guest rooms, including a junior suite.  Arizcuren designed four rooms including a junior suite.

The spa, reserved exclusively for guests, features a sauna, Turkish bath, a cyclone shower, hot and cold swimming pools, an aroma shower and a foot massage bath.  Several body treatment and massage programs are available if they’re requested in advance.

Finca de los Arandinos certainly lives up to its reputation and has succeeded in making Entrena a required stop when visiting the Rioja region.

My only complaint is the fact that the website is only in Spanish, but I’m sure the owners will solve that in the near future.

Finca de los Arandinos Bodega/Hotel

Road LR-137 km. 4,6

26375 Entrena (La Rioja)

Tel: +34 941 446 126; Fax: +34 941 446 256

Email: welcome@fincadelosarandinos.com

www.fincadelosarandinos.com

 

 

 

 

Rioja versus Ribera – a tour de force with Agustín Santolaya

The last wine tasting before the summer break was a blockbuster.. Those of us who attended the event instead of watching the football match between Spain and Croatia were treated to a masterclass by Agustín Santolaya, the general manager of Bodegas Roda in Haro, who led us through a discussion and tasting of three wines from Roda in Rioja, three from their winery in La Horra in Ribera del Duero and as an extra treat, Dauro, the group’s extra virgin olive oil from the Ampurdán in northeastern Spain.

The tempranillo grape reigns supreme in both Rioja and Ribera del Duero but as every wine lover knows, the expression of a varietal depends on the climate, the soil, the genetics of the grape, the age of the vineyard, the time of the harvest and the winemaker’s skill, among other factors. Santolaya first set out to define these factors.

The climate

Rioja vineyards are located at an average altitude of 400 meters above sea level in a valley that looks a little like a funnel lying on its side, with the mouth pointing east toward the Mediterranean. The western half of the region is affected by an Atlantic climate (cool winds and rain coming from the north). The eastern half  influenced by warm, dry winds from the Mediterranean sea to the east with some influence of cold air from the meseta or high tableland of Castilla to the south. Frost isn’t much of a problem in the temperate Ebro valley.

Ribera del Duero on the other hand is located on the high northern Castillian plateau at an altitude of 800 meters where a continental climate is predominant (very cold winters, and extremely hot summers with huge swings in temperatures during the grape growing season that are great for producing powerful yet nuanced wines). The downside is a high risk of frost as late as mid-May and as early as mid-September. The growing season in Ribera del Duero is a full month shorter than in Rioja. That blew my mind.

The soil

Roda’s Rioja vineyards are located in the far western corner of the region and were described by Santolaya as a ‘sandwich’ of limestone surrounded by layers of sandstone. Consequently the roots have to ‘fight’ to worm their way through the limestone. The Ribera vineyards in La Horra on the other hand are basically clay and root penetration is easier.

The philosophy

Roda was the first ‘modern’ Rioja winery to solve the problem of high alcohol and unripe tannins. Back in the early 90s when Rioja began to produce big, high alcohol wines, egged on, sadly, by wine writers – notably Robert Parker – most of the wines were unbalanced, often with green tannins and flabby acidity. Roda always likes to say that they heeded the advice of old farmers who tasted the skins and, when sweet rather than bitter, picked. Of course it helped that they were working with old vines!

In the late 1980s Roda began to painstakingly acquire old vineyards. Today the winery has 17 vineyards (50 hectares that they own and a further 20 that they farm, all over 30 years old). They keep the grapes and wine from each plot separate until blending, just before bottling. The blending of so many different wines allows them to make four distinctive wines: Sela, a recently created young wine made from grapes and wine formerly sold off, Roda, Roda I and Cirsion, the top of the line.

Santolaya repeated over and over that after 25 years in Rioja the company was beginning to get a feel for the soils, climate and the expression of tempranillo in Rioja. After only four years in Ribera, however, they still have a lot to learn. They did understand  that

  • they didn’t want to make a Rioja-style Ribera but rather follow the Roda philosophy of expressing the terroir of their particular vineyards;

  • they wanted to avoid the problems that other newly arrived wineries from other regions faced, ‘making a statement’ in Santolaya’s words, with overripe, overoaked wines made from grapes from recently planted vineyards.

Roda had problems finding suitable vineyards to purchase so finally they made a deal with two farmers (the Balbás brothers) in La Horra, offering them a share of the winery in exchange for an 80-year contract to purchase the grapes. It took some time to convince the brothers about the benefits of such a long contract, but Roda persuaded them that developing vineyards and wine was a multi-generation undertaking.

Both the Rioja and Ribera vineyards were old enough (over 30 years) to assure that no new, highly productive clones of tempranillo had been planted.

 The tasting

Sela 2009:

89% tempranillo, 11% graciano. A year in used oak barrels, so technically a crianza but labeled a generic Rioja.

Brilliant cherry, fresh red fruit, elegant, round and easy to drink. RRP (recommended retail price) in Spain 15 euros/bottle.

Roda 2007:

A difficult year in Rioja. 89% tempranillo, 8% garnacha, 3% graciano. 16 months in French oak and 20 months in bottle before release.

Brilliant brick, very spicy, well integrated oak and red fruit, fresh, round and elegant. RRP in Spain 24 euros.

Roda I 2006 (the roman numeral ‘I’ indicates a more rigorous selection of grapes and better development as the wine ages – used for both Roda and Corimbo):

100% tempranillo. 16 months in French oak and 20 months in bottle before release.

Brick but more muted than the 2007, medium intensity. Blackberries and a hint of oak. Good acidity on the palate, long finish. RRP in Spain 40 euros.

Corimbo 2010 (Bodegas La Horra, Ribera del Duero):

100% tinto fino (tempranillo)

Intense ruby, mineral, Mediterranean hillside spices (thyme), dark fruit, tannins very evident but not aggressive, needs more time in the bottle. RRP between 15 and 24 euros according to Santolaya.

Corimbo I 2009:

100% tinto fino (tempranillo)

Intense ruby, an explosion of dark fruit, smoke and graham crackers on the nose, good acidity, long finish. RRP 40 euros.

Corimbo I 2010:

100% tinto fino (tempranillo)

Ruby/brick, bacon, dark fruit and floral, very polished tannins. Still too young. RRP 40 euros.

With the Roda range you could see the progression from the simple (Sela) to the more complex (Roda I) while with the Ribera wines it was obvious that the wines and stylistic development were a work in progress. The 2009 and 2010 vintages of Corimbo were too young to drink now.

Nevertheless, throughout the range of both Rioja and Ribera, the elegant, polished tannins and vibrant acidity stood out. Santolaya repeated the word ‘fresco’ (fresh) many times during the tasting, referring to the acidity of the wines on the palate that make them perfect with food.

All the wines vere very good but to me,  Sela stood out for its simplicity and elegance while Corimbo I was special because of the potential it showed.

It was a fantastic way to end the tasting season before summer break. And Santolaya timed it perfectly. As we left the tasting we watched Spain score the only goal in an otherwise boring match to beat Croatia in the last minute and advance to the quarterfinals of the European Cup!