Rioja Copes with the ‘C’ word

Rioja, like every other wine region in the world, is suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. If we can find one positive aspect in the terms of the two Spanish government-mandated lockdowns on March 13 with a tightening of conditions on March 28, it’s the fact that agriculture-related activities are considered essential and remain ‘open’. Consequently, farmers continue to tend their vines, winemakers and winery workers are moving wine around wineries, administrative staff is working from home and a few wineries are even shipping orders, almost exclusively to international customers.

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(Photo credit:  Tom Perry, Note on door:  daughter Martha)

However, winery doors are shut for tourists. Worse still, the on-trade (bars, cafes and restaurants), are locked down. Rioja’s most recent annual report (2018) emphasizes the importance this channel:

“Nielsen highlights the positive performance of Rioja in the on-trade channel, where the highest added value can be found, and where Rioja has an overwhelming 60% market share, climbing to 80% for aged wines.”

Shuttering the on-trade has hurt all of our wineries even though the off-trade  (hyper-and supermarkets and wine shops) are still open. A recent study by an ‘app’ that promotes money-back deals reports that since the beginning of the crisis, wine sales are up 42% in the chains that work with them. Well, maybe, but I’m sure it’s because of the anxiety produced by the lockdown. These big stores stock almost exclusively wines from large and some medium-sized wineries. Smaller wineries and those selling wines from singular vineyards, winemaker’s selections and other small volume products have three options: wine shops, online retailers and direct sales from the winery via internet. Sales here are faltering in spite of substantial discounting.

We will deal in greater depth with the economic consequences for the Rioja wine trade and wine tourism in an upcoming article. Today we want to emphasize:

  • how wineries are giving back to the community;
  • how wineries are continuing to educate and entertain current and potential customers;
  • how English-speakers can learn more about Rioja.

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(Credit:  Who knows? It was sent to me via WhatsApp.  Sorry.)

First of all, our gratitude to Alberto Gil, wine columnist at our regional newspaper La Rioja  and Javier Pascual, founder and editor of La Prensa del Rioja for publishing information in their respective media about Rioja’s current situation, some of which I have reproduced here to complement my own research. Both write extensively about Rioja and are great sources of up-to-date information provided you speak Spanish.

I want to send a huge ‘¡Muy bien!’ to our Great Wine Capitals Global Network colleagues Visit Napa Valley for their extensive coverage of the solidarity shown by this premier wine region’s wineries during the coronavirus pandemic.

They also feature special offers for online shipments. I hope readers of Inside Rioja in the USA will take advantage of them. VNV – you are truly inspiring!

We hope to hear from the rest of our GWC colleagues and will share their initiatives here.

Riojan winery solidarity

There is a chronic shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals. Two wineries (that I am aware of) with customers in China have ordered, received and distributed masks to these beleaguered workers. A big shoutout goes out to Bodegas Marqués del Atrio and Viñedos de Aldeanueva.

Bodegas Lecea, one of the most visited in the region, has offered healthcare workers free tastings and visits to its network of underground cellars for a year.

The Osborne group, owners of Bodegas Montecillo, as well as Campo Viejo, AGE and Ysios’ parent company Pernod-Ricard are using their distillation facilities to make sanitizing gel.

Bodegas Gómez Cruzado in Haro is selling its wines online with a discount, using the proceeds to pay the wages of its workers, avoiding layoffs.

Virtual tours (either produced by the winery or by roving wine writers)

Some well-known wineries featured are:

 Two of the best interviews given by María José López de Heredia from Viña Tondonia are available in a two-part series shot in 2010 with Gary Vaynerchuk in his groundbreaking series wine library tv. The normally loquacious Gary was mostly silent, letting MJ do all the talking. Priceless!

Vaynerchuk interviewed other Rioja personalities for his show. We assume you’re interested, so use the search function in Wine Library TV and the keyword ‘Rioja’.

  • Telmo Rodríguez talks about his single vineyard ‘Las Beatas’ (in English)

Virtual tastings and wine knowledge

The problem here is the almost total absence on the web and social media of Rioja tastings in good English (here I detect an opportunity for a wine-savvy native speaker to give classes to winemakers). Note: Not me, thank you!

  • Viñedos y Bodegas de La Marquesa Valserrano has produced two good ones with English subtitles, both recently posted on the winery’s IGTV site.

The Rioja Regulatory Council has begun to produce materials to supplement their PR campaigns in major markets. A number of short interviews, subtitled in English, are available.

The Regulatory Council has recently launched a fantastic initiative: The Rioja Wine Academy. Here anyone can study three, free online courses:

  • Rioja Wine Diploma
  • Diploma in Rioja Wine Tourism
  • Diploma for Trade and Distribution

A fourth course, geared to people interested in teaching others about Rioja is the Rioja Certified Educator Program, subject to application and acceptance of the candidate by the Regulatory Council. There is an online module as well as a series of seminars, tastings and visits to Rioja wineries. Three classes of Certified Rioja Educators, whose mission is to be ambassadors for Rioja in their markets, have already graduated.

Inside Rioja hopes that you enjoy exploring the wonderful world of Rioja from the safety and comfort of your homes!

 

 

 

Bodegas LAN: Getting Wine Tourism Right – including suggestions about how Rioja wineries can improve wine tourism

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Viña Lanciano (Credit:  Bodegas LAN)

Bodegas LAN is a newcomer to the wine tourism scene in Rioja, having only opened their tasting room in May. According to Alejandro Ruiz, the winery’s wine tourism host, “LAN is either the 186th or 187th Rioja winery to open its doors to wine tourists”.

Before deciding on a wine tourism strategy, LAN did its homework, visiting over 60 wineries. Their decision has been based on “less is more”, beginning with Alejandro Ruiz’s role in the winery. “My official title is ‘host’. I didn’t want to be the guide whose job is to say the same things to each group and wait for the next bus to arrive.”

It seems clear from Ruiz’s comment that LAN understands that a lot of wine tourism guides suffer from burnout from repeating the same story day after day and that different wine tourists want different experiences. More about this follows.

With the empirical evidence learned from many winery visits, LAN has devised three experiences.

The first experience is based on the acronym of the winery’s name. LAN was named after the first letters of the three Spanish provinces that house the Rioja wine district:

L for Logroño (now called La Rioja)

A for Álava

N for Navarra

This experience is a variation of the name, ‘LAN in Three Letters’. It’s a visit to the winery and a tasting, built around

L for Legend, based on the famous Roman bridge at Mantible which originally crossed the Ebro river to the area inside an oxbow where Lan’s signature vineyard Viña Lanciano is located.

A for Architecture, featuring LAN’s spectacular barrel aging cellar and the winery’s participation in the “Concéntrico” architecture fair featuring an original sculpture every year in the Viña Lanciano vineyard.

N for Numbers and Names, featuring the winery’s brand D-12, named after the winemaker’s favorite fermentation tank number 12 and the names of the winery personnel that contribute to the success of the winery and its brands.

This visit lasts 90 minutes followed by a tasting of D-12, LAN crianza and Viña Lanciano.

The second experience takes 45 minutes and centers on the barrel aging cellar. Here, visitors learn about the beneficial effects of oak aging to increase the longevity of the wine, followed by a tasting of two oak aged reds.

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LAN’s barrel aging cellar (Credit:  Bodegas LAN)

The third experience is a tasting in the tasting room. Visitors can taste as many wines as they want, paying by the glass.

In the future LAN will launch a fourth option: a visit to Viña Lanciano.

Wines are also available for purchase, both by the glass, bottle and case.

Alejandro Ruiz explained that most Spanish visitors request the full winery tour. Foreign visitors, especially those from the USA, preferred the tasting option.

LAN’s visitors’ reception area reminded me of Scandinavia – low key, featuring furniture with a contemporary design, blond wood shelves, bar, and stools with comfortable armchairs and sofas and two wood-burning fireplaces. It’s a place to relax, chat and enjoy a few glasses of wine.

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LAN’s visitors’ center (Credit:  Tom Perry)

I think LAN has got its wine tourism philosophy right by offering visitors several options rather than the sole possibility of shepherding groups through the winery like cattle before providing a tasting at the end of the visit. This avoids what I call “bodega burnout”, an affliction that affects wine tourism staff and wine tourists alike.

In my former life as the point person for the international promotion of Rioja wines for fifteen years, one of my responsibilities was to lead at least 20 groups of wine, food and lifestyle writers around Rioja every year. These visits usually lasted a week with three wineries a day, so I reckon I’ve visited Rioja wineries at least 4,500 times. A lot of these visits took place before wine tourism became popular, but I was witness to the high turnover of wine tourism staff, who either left the industry or moved to other wineries because they were tired of giving the same spiel 15 to 20 times a week. I think there must be a better way. I remember a visit to Voyager Estate in Margaret River in Western Australia where the tasting room employee explained that the winery avoids burnout by rotating the staff between the tasting room, the winery and the restaurant. Might this be a lesson for Rioja wineries?

I learned about creating valuable wine tourism experiences from these trips with journalists. Visiting wineries with wine writers is an art form because the writers almost invariably know more about wine and the winemaking process than the winery staff itself, so a standardized tour would inevitably lead to boredom. I tried to maximize interest by requesting that for each visit, the winery concentrate on one aspect of the process from vineyard to aging. One winery would talk about how their vineyards are planted (for example to a specific varietal or to field blends of various varietals); stainless steel fermentation vats versus cement, both lined and unlined, eggs, or wooden vats; the effects of ageing in French, American, Slovenian, Russian and Spanish oak; single varietals versus blending; single vineyards versus sourcing grapes from different parts of Rioja; new oak vs. old oak and so on. By the end of the week, the journalists would have a good overview of the different ways wine is made in Rioja. This almost always produced lots of articles because the writers had plenty of angles to write about.

Ideally, I think Rioja wineries should replicate these fascinating differences by concentrating on unique experiences that don’t necessarily include visiting the whole winery. And of course they should pay more attention to opportunities to taste and purchase. A weekend visit to Rioja doesn’t have to mean being forced to see interminable stainless steel tanks and oak casks. If everyone showed visitors what’s unique about their property, Rioja’s value as a wine tourism destination would increase exponentially.

Bodegas LAN; Paraje Buicio s/n; 26360 Fuenmayor (La Rioja)

www.bodegaslan.com; enoturismo@bodegaslan.com

Reservations: +34 676 569 115 (Alejandro Ruiz)

 

 

 

Baby Lamb Chops Grilled and Logroño’s Mayor Roasted at the Annual Celebration of the Lamb Chop

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Who doesn’t like an outdoor cookout? Whether it’s a South African braai, throwing some shrimp on the barbie in Australia, smoking ribs or grilling hamburgers in the back yard in the USA, making a meal outside is a great way to entertain friends and families.

In the Rioja region, our version of the cookout is grilling baby lamb chops over coals from vine cuttings, and the traditionally accepted way to eat them is with your hands, even in restaurants. Once at a large event at a Rioja winery, the chefs grilled lamb chops for guests that included Spain’s King Juan Carlos. When the king received his plate, everyone in the room held their breath to see how he was going to eat them. When he picked up his chop with his hands, the guests breathed a sigh of relief and picked theirs up, too!

One of the most popular events during the wine festival in Logroño in late September is the “celebration of the lamb chop”. According to two of my friends who grew up in the neighborhood, this tradition started in the 1970s when a local bar organized a contest to see who could eat the most lamb chops. Participants came from all over Spain and the winner was determined by weighing the bones.

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Turning vine cuttings into coals

This contest no longer takes place, but to commemorate it, the Riojan Social Club Federation, with the blessing of the city hall, closes off four blocks of one of Logroño’s main streets on the last Saturday morning of the wine festival. Groups of friends sign up to participate and for a fee of 80 euros, each group is provided with a table, four chairs, a big plate of lamb chops, a large steel plate on the street, a special lamb chop grill and several big bunches of grapevine cuttings. This year there were 125 tables. The groups always bring thick slices of bacon and other pork products to grill, sliced tomatoes, olives, spicy green peppers, chorizo and of course, plenty of bottles of Rioja and cans of beer. Friends and passers-by are encouraged to enjoy the atmosphere.

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A grillmeister with a sense of humor

At the table I visited, everyone was talking about two anecdotes. The first was about two tourists who happened to walk by during the cookout and were invited to have a few lamb chops and drink some wine. They readily accepted the invitation and then asked what for them was a logical question: “How much do we owe you?” Our group roared with laughter and told them that it was free. The tourists walked away dazed. Such is Riojan hospitality!

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Dead soldiers in the gutter

The second anecdote was the previous night’s controversy about Logroño’s new mayor saving the traditional ‘burning of the wine barrel’, the event marking the end of the wine festival. The mayor’s reasoning was to participate in the World Climate Strike to help save the environment. Everyone looked at the dense smoke rising from the hundreds of smoking grills in the street and wondered how much heat the mayor was going to get on social media and at the next city council meeting. He was appropriately roasted!

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Smoking grills with lamb chops – Notice the grill-it can be flipped over to cook the chops on both sides.

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Photos:  Tom Perry

 

Spanish Ministry of Agriculture Gives Green Light to 84 Singular Vineyards in Rioja

July 30, 2019 marks the beginning of a new era in the DOCa Rioja.

The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture approved the regulations proposed by Rioja wineries and grape growers that designate 84 vineyards covering 154 hectares as “Viñedos Singulares” (singular vineyards).

43 vineyards are in Rioja Alavesa, 31 in Rioja Alta and 10 in Rioja Oriental.

The process to guarantee the traceability of the grapes from these vineyards through vinification, barrel and bottle aging was approved internally by the Rioja Regulatory Council starting with the 2017 vintage but final Agriculture Ministry approval was required. As of July 30, wines made from these grapes can carry a specific guarantee label if they receive an “excellent” rating from a tasting panel both immediately after vinification and before the wine is released from the winery, and to state on the front label that the wine comes from a singular vineyard.

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(Credit:  lomejordelvinoderioja.com)

How does a vineyard become “singular”? The most important requirements are:

  • The vineyard must be at least 35 years old;
  • A report must show that it has agro-geological conditions differentiating it from others in the area;
  • Maximum yields must be no higher than 5000 kg/ha for red grapes and 6922 kg/ha for whites (23% lower than those required for other Rioja grapes)
  • A maximum of 65 liters of wine can be produced for every 100 kg of grapes (for ‘regular’ Rioja, the allowed ratio is 72% and for certain vintages up to 75%);
  • No machine picking is allowed;
  • The grapes must be vinified, and the wine aged, stored and shipped from the same winery;
  • No contract bottling is allowed.

The approval of singular vineyards in Rioja culminates a process of recognition of wines from specific areas in our region. Zone wines (from the Alavesa, Alta and Oriental) have been a possibility since the 1990s. More recent has been the approval of village wines.

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(Credit:  Tom Perry)

According to the 2018 annual report of the Regulatory Council there are more than 114,026 individual plots of vineyards in Rioja. 15,069 hectares of vineyards were planted before 1985. Wineries have been marketing wines coming from single vineyards for at least ten years without official recognition. However, because of the rigorous certification process, wines from singular vineyards are a big step beyond the idea of a single vineyard wine.

As I mentioned in a previous article, (https://insiderioja.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/rioja-finally-comes-to-grips-with-single-estates/) both single vineyard wines and wines from singular vineyards are essential for the preservation of old vines in Rioja. Many growers pulled up their old vines because they weren’t able to find a buyer at a worthwhile price. It took the efforts of a group of pioneering young winemakers (http://www.greatwinecapitals.com/Let%27s-Rioja-%27n%27-Roll) to give well-deserved recognition to these grapes and the wines they made and gave other owners of old vineyard a reason to hang on to them.

Wines from singular vineyards can be ´generic’, crianza, reserva or gran reserva.

The 1999 Spanish wine law created a quality pyramid structure for Spanish wines, with table wines at the base and single vineyard wines at the top. The Ministry of Agriculture’s idea was:

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(Credit:  Tom Perry)

At the time, the Rioja Regulatory Council rejected the idea of creating a single vineyard wine category for Rioja, arguing (correctly in my opinion), that a single vineyard wine wasn’t intrinsically of higher quality than a Rioja blend,  a single varietal, a crianza, reserva or a gran reserva. The Council worked on its own singular vineyard concept for several years until wineries and growers agreed on the terms.

Now that the Ministry has approved the certification process, consumers can look forward to tasting the first Riojas made from singular vineyards. Inside Rioja will do our best to let you know when they are released and where you can buy them.

 

 

 

 

Cut-rate Rioja: Can it be avoided?

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The other day I read an interesting thread on the internet about a Rioja reserva 2015 selling for 4.09€ in a hypermarket in Catalonia in northeastern Spain. The debate centered on whether a Rioja winery make a profit producing a 2015 reserva that a hypermarket can sell for 4,09€, whether this kind of offer is good for Rioja and what, if anything, can be done to avoid it.

Let’s tackle the problem one question at a time.

First, can a winery make a profit at that price? Probably not, but with a cut-rate product like this one, the issue is primarily not about making a profit, but rather covering the product’s contribution margin (the selling price less variable costs; in other words, contributing to cover fixed costs).

A big hypermarket chain’s buyers are considerably more talented than winery sales personnel. Chain buyers know the prices of the competition, they know who is willing to play the volume game and they know exactly how much pressure to apply to the seller. The price calculation of a big winery specializing in high volume sales based on a second or third label with no advertising or promotional allowance, known in wine jargon as “net-net” is just a few cents above cost for a very large volume order.

A second possibility is that the winery is in need of cash. No further explanation required.

The question of whether the hypermarket can make any money on the deal is clear: yes, and potentially a lot of money.

Big retailers base their profits on three factors:

  • selling large quantities
  • selling to a lot of different customers
  • having an efficient cost structure

In Spain, the law prohibits sales below cost, so the hypermarket chain must pay at least 3.38€ (4.09 less 21% value added tax on the purchase price). If the hypermarket sets its margin for a big promotional deal like this one anywhere between 10 and 15 euro cents per bottle and orders ten truckloads of wine (150,000 bottles), it can invoice about 500,000 € and have a gross profit of between 15,000 and 22,500 €. Doesn’t seem like much? Understand that a hypermarket will typically carry 200,000 SKUS (stock keeping units or individual brands). It’s also important to understand that the hypermarket will penalize the supplier for late deliveries – to compensate for the loss of profit for out-of-stock situations.

A Rioja reserva offered at a little over 4 euros a bottle is a powerful tool to attract consumers to the wine aisle.

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Photo credit:  Pablo Orío

Offers like this one appear on supermarket shelves all the time. In fact, supermarkets create and register brands that they use to sell at aggressive prices to promote the image of the supermarket. They offer their most important suppliers the possibility of supplying products under the supermarket’s label. It’s a win-win for the supermarket because a supplier who raises their prices too much can be replaced with another.

In the case of Rioja, the supermarket brand has to be registered in the name of the current supplier. It’s a small bit of bureaucracy, but assures that all brands sold as Rioja actually are owned by a Rioja winery.

A second alternative is for a winery to sell the supermarket a second or third label.

Is this kind of deal good for Rioja’s image? I think not. First of all, consumers who see a reserva selling for 4 euros a bottle are going to wonder why they should buy others selling for 10 euros and higher. After all, the 4 euro wine carries the same guarantee label on the bottle as more expensive ones. Wineries that spend considerable amounts on developing their brand image throw up their hands in despair. The Regulatory Board, that invests over ten million euros of the wineries’ and grapegrowers’ money on advertising, promotion and public relations to elevate the image of brand Rioja, wonders if this huge investment is worth the effort.

What can be done? Sadly, nothing, until these large-volume, low margin wineries begin to understand that they can’t win long term with this strategy, usually based on buying and holding large stocks of wine, perhaps more than they need.

I have always been a great admirer of the Napa Valley. There, wineries compete in markets at much higher price points than those of Rioja and seem to agree on an image of quality and prestige for the Napa Valley brand. Coincidentally, the Napa Valley is universally recognized as the world’s most popular wine tourism destination.

Rioja has made enormous progress over the years to improve its image. The wineries agreed in the early 1990s to stop selling bulk wine outside the borders of the Rioja appellation. Recognizing wines from each of the three zones (Alta, Alavesa and Baja (currently ‘Oriental’) has been a reality for years. Wineries have created wines with strong individuality from specific areas of the appellation and the Regulatory Board, recognizing the huge diversity of terroirs in the region, recently approved the categories of singular vineyards and single village wines.

Still missing in my opinion is a greater sense of ‘Rioja patriotism’ and the need for stronger brands from all wineries with less low-price wheeling and dealing. A little more Napa in Rioja would be a good thing.

 

 

Rioja ‘rosados’ and ‘claretes’ are taking markets by storm

Summer is just around the corner, so it’s time to stop thinking about red wines for a few months and begin to savor whites and rosés.

Given the explosion of sales of red Rioja it can be easy to overlook what’s happening with white and especially, rosé. In the short time since Inside Rioja last explored rosé in Rioja, a lot has happened.

At that time I wrote:

Rioja actually produces two styles of pink wines: rosado and clarete. At first glance, the difference is merely color, with rosado a medium reddish pink and clarete a very pale orange.

 At the end of the article was a comment about some possible changes:

I was also surprised to see a bottle of Muga rosé with a much paler pink color than in the past. Maybe clarete or at least pale orange-tinted rosés have an international future.

 

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Benchmarks-the old (Mateus rosé from Portugal) and the new (Pure from Provence)

 There have indeed been changes here, but first, let’s review how pink wines in Rioja have traditionally been made. One style, called rosado, is vinified with tempranillo and/or garnacha with skins in contact with the juice for a few hours to extract color but no skin contact during fermentation. The other is clarete, where both red and white grapes are fermented with the skins, producing a very pale pink wine. The regulations of the Rioja DOC require that at least 25% of a clarete blend must be made from red grape varieties so a clarete could have as much as 75% of white grapes.

Originally, claretes were made mainly in the upper valley of the Najerilla river in Rioja Alta around the villages of San Asensio, Cordovin, Badarán, Azofra and Alesanco. This style has become so popular in northern Spain that clarete lovers just ask for “un Cordovin”. The area around the Najerilla valley celebrates its relationship with clarete by organizing a ‘Batalla del clarete’ that takes place on a Sunday in the second half of July in San Asensio.

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A clarete from Bodegas Ontañón (Photo: Tom Perry)

Today we can say that pale orange tinted rosés and clarete are gaining in popularity both in Spain and internationally. Probably the first sign of change came as a consequence of the increase in worldwide sales of rosés from Provence with their characteristic pale pink color.

Sales of Provence rosé (Source:  Wine Market Review based on statistics from French Customs)

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Rioja wineries wanted to take advantage of this increase in demand for very pale rosés but were forbidden from doing so because the Rioja Regulatory Board defined rosé as having higher color intensity. It took some time before wineries were able to get the definition changed. Today, the rule for the minimum color intensity of a Rioja rosé is .1UA/cm, measured as the sum of A420+A520+A620. This allows very pale rosés to be made.

For the non-tech minded, basically it’s using photospectrometry to measure the wine’s capacity to absorb light at three wave levels: 420, 520 and 620 nanometers. A lighter intensity will have a lower number and vice-versa. For example, in Rioja, the minimum color intensity for a red is 3.5 UA.

Now, Rioja rosés are available from very pale pink to light red to meet demand in different markets. Some wineries like CVNE and Barón de Ley make more than one style.

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(Photo:  Tom Perry)

There’s a huge range of rosados and clarets from Rioja in the marketplace. Try a pale rosé, a clarete and a darker-hued rosé. I’m sure you’ll love the comparison!

 

 

 

 

 

Bars, bars, bars

There are 985 bars in Logroño, according to Jorge Alacid, author of the blog Logroño en sus bares. Alacid cites data from the division of analysis of the Spanish bank La Caixa revealing that there are 6.4 bars per 1,000 residents of our fair city. The highest density in Spain? Not according to the study. Santander has 7.5 and Bilbao 7.3. San Sebastian, famous for its tapas scene, has 6.6, the same as Barcelona. Madrid comes in at a relatively paltry 5.3.

The fact that ‘density of bars per capita’ is included in studies of Spanish lifestyle habits is a testimony to the importance of bars in our country. Bars are where we have breakfast, our midmorning snack, wine, beer or a cocktail at all times of the day. It’s where we watch soccer matches and read the newspapers. And most important of all, it’s where we catch up on gossip and argue about politics.

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Bars, like every other densely populated sector of an economy, need to have a competitive advantage to survive. Most attempt this with their selection of wines and innovative or traditional tapas. Others put on events to attract customers. Still others have positioned themselves as places Logroño’s beautiful people go after work to see and be seen.

My favorite bar stands out for entertainment. It’s Vinos Murillo, about halfway between our house and downtown, so we often stop there on our way to and from the old town. From the outside, it’s pretty nondescript. It has a narrow frontage, a weatherbeaten door, and a picture window filled with a huge sign that says “For sale: anisette for making pacharan”. When you go inside you find a bar running from the front door back to the kitchen, stacks of cases of wine on the floor, old bottles of Rioja on the back bar, posters plastered haphazardly on the walls, several plates of quail egg, olive and hot green pepper tapas, a karaoke box and microphone sitting on a table in a corner, a tiny barking chihuahua running in and out and two very outgoing brothers running the place.

In other words, it has everything going for it.

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Owners José Mari and Carlos (nicknamed the Dalton brothers after the bandits in the French comic Lucky Luke) try to encourage the different groups of customers clustered at the bar to engage with one another. Sometimes to get people to drink a certain bottle of wine, they will sometimes yell out to my embarrassment, “Try this Tobía garnacha. That’s what Tom is drinking!” Or they will tell you, “Hey, come and meet so-and-so’s brother. He’s in the Spanish Secret Service!”

The other day the brothers tried to train their chihuahua to climb over a maze of wine boxes to reach a plate of food. Of course the whole bar was watching.

Besides this crazy atmosphere, the bar is known for one of Logroño’s most original tapas: a baked potato. It’s delivered to you on a piece of newspaper with a spoon, a bottle of spicy olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika. The only drawback is that José Mari only makes them in the wintertime and only when he feels like it. So the first question most people ask when they walk in on a cold evening is “Hay patatas?” (Are there potatoes tonight?)

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Vinos Murillo is much more than a bar. It’s theater, with an original act every night. The next time you’re in Logroño, check it out. If you’re lucky, José Mari might sing for you.

Vinos Murillo

Avenida de la República Argentina 26

26002 Logroño (La Rioja)