New vintages of Rioja Wine were presented at the Carnival of Wine in Haro over the 5th and 6th of February in Haro, La Rioja.
14 wineries took part in the carnival: RODA, Muga, López de Heredia, Gómez Cruzado, Ramón Bilbao, Martínez Lacuesta, Florentino de Lecanda, Bilbainas, Carlos Serres, CVNE, Ibaiondo, La Rioja Alta, Virgen de la Vega and Rioja Santiago. The event was held in the courtyard of the Los Agustinos Hotel that was lined with tasting tables from which the wineries poured their wines. The wines were accompanied by four delicious tapas prepared by Las Duelas Restaurant.
The chosen theme of the wine carnival this year was Bacchus and the Roman Empire. Many perfectly pleated togas were promenaded around the courtyard of the 13th century ex-convent hotel and participants were awed by the show.
What kind of oak is used to
The main varieties of oak
used to make into barrels are American white oak (Quercus Alba) or European oak
(Quercus petraea and Quercus robur).
Where is it grown?
Most American oak is grown
in the states of Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
European oak is grown in France (Limousin, West Loire, Sarthe, Nievre, Allier,
Vosges, Jura, Bourgogne, Argonne and Ardennes), Hungary and Russia.
What are the differences?
French oak has a finer
grain and needs to be split into triangular wedges rather than sawn as it is fragile. If it were
sawn the barrel wouldn´t be water tight and would leak. A lot more wood
is wasted when French oak is split because it is necessary to follow the
grain. This makes the price of a French oak barrel more expensive than an
How much does a barrel
A French oak barrel can
cost between €700 to €1000 and an American oak barrel can cost from €300 to
How is an oak tree made in
to a barrel?
The tree is cut down when
it is approximately 100 years old and is sawn or split into rectangular
pieces or planks. The wood is then left to dry outside for 3 to 4 years to lose
water. Then staves are cut from the pieces of wood. A bell shaped
barrel is then assembled using a metal hoop and the barrel is then placed over
the fire to give it its shape. A metal cable is tensed and steam and heat
are used to pull the bottom of the barrel in. The barrel is then toasted
inside for up to an hour depending on the desired toasting and a top and a bottom lid are attached.
How many bottles of wine
does a barrel hold?
A standard 225 litre
Bordeaux sized barrel holds enough wine to fill 300 bottles (75cl).
What flavours do the
different oaks give?
French oak imparts more
savoury flavours such as leather, tobacco, coffee and cocoa. American oak
gives sweeter flavours of vanilla, cinnamon and coconut. These aromas are
derived from the toasting of the barrel which brings out these flavours. A barrel can have a light, medium or heavy toast or various grades or toasting inbetween (Medium + for example).
How long does a barrel last
Generally a barrel is used
for up to 10 years. The first use of the barrel will be used for premium
wines for either fermentation or ageing as this is when the barrel will give the wine maximum flavour and maximum
breathability. The older the barrel gets the pores in the oak become
blocked which limits the micro oxygenation. Less flavour from the oak will
be given to the wine also. After 10 years the barrels are then sold on to whiskey,
cognac and sherry producers or are then used as planters for flowers!
Why are wines aged in oak?
Wine was transported by
ship and barrels were the easiest method of transporting the wine as they could
roll them on to the boat. They also found that the wine improved over
long voyages and hadn´t become vinegar. The wine also had the potential
to keep for a longer time thanks to the tannins from the oak and the micro oxygenation. Nowadays we know that oak allows a micro oxygenation
of the wine inside in the barrel, through its pores which extends the life of the wine.
The fruity flavours of the wine mix with those of the barrel to create a
complex bouquet of aromas.
Why not just use oak
"chips" instead of a barrel?
Oak chips or staves which
are immersed inside a vat of wine will only impart oaky flavours and tannins to
the wine. The wine however will not receive any micro-oxygenation and the
oxidative effects of barrel ageing will not be present in the wine.
Where can I see barrels
In Rioja both Bodegas Muga
and Bodegas López de Heredia have Cooperages. Come and see barrels being
made for yourself on one of our Rioja
wine tours which visit the cooperages during the tour of the winery.
Asking for a glass of Tempranillo in a bar in Rioja will get you a strange look. This is because the majority of wines will contain Tempranillo. Locals don´t order their wine by the varietal but by region and then by the ageing level of the wine. As a reply to your request you´re more than likely to get asked whether you´d like a Joven (young) or Crianza (minimum 12 months in the barrel) wine. Oak or no oak is more the decision rather than the variety!
Tempranillo is indeed King of Grapes and is the most widely planted in Rioja. However it is usually backed up with a little help from its friends: Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo or even a little white Viura. Rioja reds tend to be blends of 80%+ Tempranillo and 20% of the other permitted red varieties allowed in the D.O.Ca. Grenache is good for colour and alcohol and Mazuelo and Graciano give fruit and spicy aromas. By creating a blend, an all rounded "Super-Star" wine is created.
Nowadays there is a new trend to make single varietal wines (unaged and aged) with some great results. It is the moment for the other varieties to share a little of the Riojan lime light!. Here are some of the best single varietal wines:
Guzmán Aldazabal Graciano
Ijalba Maturana Blanca
Just don´t confuse the bar man by asking for one of these by the glass by its varietal name!
Possibly the most frequently asked question I get asked is about what the best vintage was in Rioja. 2001? Or perhaps 2010 more recently?
Every year all wineries within the Rioja D.O.Ca Appellation are asked for samples from each harvest, which are then analysed and a generic qualification is declared across the whole region.
Bear in mind that in Rioja there are 63,593 hectares of vineyard which are stretched over a 100 miles in length by 25 miles wide, so there is room for variation. The resulting vintage qualification is therefore a general indication of how the wine harvest was in the whole region.
This means that hail could have harmed vineyards in Rioja Alavesa but not in Rioja Alta. Excessive heat could have affected the entire region but moreover in Rioja Baja as it is lower, with less altitude. Late frosts could have damaged vines in Rioja Alta but not in Baja. The variants of the weather in the region are multiple.
People buying wines are concerned that a Reserva or premium wine made in a non "Excellent" year can be no good. Rest assured that Rioja wine makers would not bother make their top wines outside of "excellent" years if their grapes didn´t meet their top standards. A grape needs the sufficient pedigree and upbringing to live through its journey of fermentation and time in oak to become one of the best wines. Parts of the region could have had an "Excellent" vintage even though the generic classification is only "Good".
1994, 1995, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011 were all indeed "Excellent" years but if you are purchasing wines from these vintages, remember that wines from different ageing categories such as Reservas or Gran Reservas can be kept for 15 and 30 years respectively whereas a Crianza peaks for 5 or 6 years after vintage.
As with all generalisations, the general message is there and it should be taken as a point of reference but then it is up to you to read between the lines. It really is hard to make bad wine here!
Aspiazu, Calatrava, Gehry, Quemada, Marino Pascual, Maziéres, Hadid, and Eiffel are some of the world famous architects to have adorned the Rioja wine region with their architecture. Since the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in 1997 there has been an explosion of architecture in Rioja. Come and visit the best on our Rioja Architecture and Wine Tour!
An architectural masterpiece designed by the Basque architect Iñaki Aspiazu Iza, where the functionality of the architecture aids the wine making process. Built
32 metres deep into the hill-side the winery uses gravity to make the wine. Enjoy spectacular views form the glass mirador and the winery´s own restaurant.
With rippling curves the aluminium roof imitates its backdrop of the
Cantabrian Mountains. Santiago Calatrava designed this winery to house the elegant barrel cellar where the Reservas are aged
Bodegas Marques de Riscal
The ripples of pink and gold titanium and silver stainless steel reflect the clouds and sandstone wine warehouses of the second
oldest winery in Rioja established in 1858. Designed by Frank Gehry, this 4 star hotel was modelled on the three stemmed bush vine and nestles
above the winery´s bottle cellar.
Bodegas Campo Viejo
The Campo Viejo winery, designed by the architect Ignacio Quemada, has one of the
largest barrel and bottle cellars in the world. Try and count the 70,000 barrels! With the press of a button, a huge window can be opened in the barrel cellar to reveal a stunning backdrop of the Cantabrian Mountains. Perhaps the perfect film set for the next
James Bond film!
Bodegas Viña Real
Philippe Mazières was inspired by the large oak wine making "tinos" and perched the vat shaped winery on top of a hill. With 2 painstakingly drilled out tunnels inside the hillside, feel dwarfed by the barrels and bottles stacked up like sky scrapers.
Bodegas López de Heredia
To celebrate their 130th birthday, López de Heredia inaugurated their new decanter shape tasting room designed by Zaha Hadid in 2007. The structure houses the beautiful wooden stand that was taken to the Brussels World Expo in 1910 and juxtaposes the past and present perfectly.
Bodegas and Dinastia Vivanco Museum
Designed by Jesus Marino Pascual, natural light filters through the Vivanco elegant barrel cellar from above. Architecture is juxtaposed with art in the museum which houses the largest corkscrew collection in the world and even has a painting by Picasso on show.
The newest addition to Muga is the shop, tasting rooms, wine bar and the tower designed by the architect Iñaki Aspiazu Iza. The tower gives its name to the famous "Torre Muga" signature wine and is home to resident storks. Inside, the colours of the wood cleverly echo the tones of the barrels that are made and toasted in the winery´s own cooperage.
Gustave Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower fame designed this wine warehouse where the world famous Imperial Gran Reserva is aged in the barrel. Quite a feat of engineering!
Banish over oaked wines from your mind and refresh your palate with these Rioja whites. Here are the top 5 in no particular order:
Tobelos Blanco Fermentado en Barrica 2013
75% Viura, 20% Garnacha blanca and 5% Malvasia
Forget about weak whites which can´t compete with reds. This barrel fermented white from Tobelos leaves you wanting another glass. With good volume and elegant acidity this wine stands up to even the most structured red. Enjoy it on your terrace as we did at the winery.
Daimon Blanco 2012
30% Viura, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Malvasia and 15% Tempranillo Blanco,
Daimon in Greek mythology means the voice of your conscience. This wine makes an interesting use of the recently permitted Sauvignon Blanc and is elegantly blended with Riojan white grape varieties. The hypnotic eyes on the label make your conscience thirsty. A favourite in our Rioja Masterclass wine tastings!
Viña Gravonia Crianza 2003
Whites are rarely made as Crianza wines as this would imply that the wine should be aged for a minimum of 12 months in the barrel and the oak would overwhelm the fruit. López de Heredia has aged this white for 4 years in the barrel and this wine could easily fool anyone in a blind tasting into thinking it has the characteristics of a red. Sip a little bit of history!
Tierra Blanco 2012
70% Viura, 20% Garnacha Blanca and 10% Malvasia
Barrel fermented for 4 months this white retains the minerality from the "tierra" or soil as its name implies. The all important terroir plays an important role in Tierra Agrícola´s wines. Elegant tropical fruits and toasted notes from the lees keep you guessing.
S y C Blanco de Mitarte 2008
A fresh, long lasting, creamy wine which is aged for 24 months in French and American oak barrels. The grapes are harvested from Viura vines which are over 60 years old. Perfect for a special celebration or as a gift.
Neither white nor red, rosé is often under appreciated. Rosé has unfairly gained the reputation of being a cheap, sweet wine. However there are some great examples of excellent Riojan rosados and I am a keen to defend them.
To make a good rosado the juice from Garnacha or Tempranillo grapes are left for approximately 20 hours with the grape skins until the desired colour is obtained. The grape must is then "bled" from the skins and the fermentation carries on without the skins until the wine is made. Colour is an all important element for a good rosado ranging from salmon to fuchsia tones.
Enjoy a glass of one of these rosés which are full of personality and which certainly won´t leave you indifferent!
Here are the top 5:
Mitarte Rosado 2013
50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha. A crisp, clean, dry rosé with fantastic colour.
Viña Tobía Rosado 2013
100% Garnacha. Pure raspberries and gummy bears in a glass! Dangerously drinkable!
Carlos Serres Rosado 2013
80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha. Perfect to enjoy with Chinese and spicy food!
Baigorri Rosado 2013
50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha. Fresh strawberries in a glass. Perfect for a picnic on a summers day or on the winery´s own terrace!
Alma Tobía Rosado Fermentado en Barrica 2012
60% Tempranillo, 25% Graciano and 15% other varieties. This is a rosé with a difference which is barrel fermented for 5 months. Its aromas are like a red wine and it tastes like a white. Surprising!
It all started 9 years ago with a job offer in La Rioja. Driving in a van from Cheshire, through England, crossing the channel, through France, the journey took a long time. I finally arrived in La Rioja 4 days later, on the 4th of May 2005. 9 years later it´s the place I have adopted as home.
Muga was the first winery I visited, closely followed by López de Heredia in Haro. This was long before either had Tasting Rooms. Both have been pioneers in Wine Tourism and I´m still a regular visitor.
I found the only way to understand Rioja wine is to get your hands dirty. My first vintage at Bodegas Ramón Bilbao in Haro was hard graft. Wine needs 24 hour attention in the fermentation stage and once the grapes have been harvested, forget about having a life outside of the winery! Harvesting grapes was not the easy task it appears to be either!
The following vintages in Bodegas Baigorri have been an eye opener and an opportunity to learn many things under the guidance of the Wine Maker Simón Arina. The highlight was being put inside a 18,000 litre vat and forking out all the skins and pips into the press. A steamy, alcoholic and exhausting experience!
Until you´ve been soaked in wine head to foot during the Wine Battle on the 29th of June it´s hard to understand what it´s all about! Set out from Haro at 7am dressed in white, armed with as much wine as you can carry and return a rosé pink!
You can´t but help live and breathe wine here and I´m very much looking forward to the next 9 years and all the experiences they will bring!
El Corte Inglés, the high quality chain of Spanish supermarkets, has recently adopted an Enomatic wine tasting machine in its Vitoria-Gasteiz store. The machine is used to show-case 8 of its wines, so you can taste before you buy inside its gourmet supermarket. This is an excellent idea. Who wants to risk buying a wine you don´t know without ever having tried it?
Bodegas Muga, in Haro, has been one of the first wineries in Rioja to have one of these machines in its tasting room. It is an excellent way to try their top wines such as Prado Enea and Torre Muga by the half glass or glass.
Buying wine after all is no different to buying clothes. Who wants to buy a dress or trousers without knowing that they fit or even suit you?
Rioja? That´s a wine isn´t it? Yes, but also a river and a region too! The region is the smallest autonomous community in the north of Spain, one hour south of Bilbao, covered with 63,593 hectares of vineyard.
The Oja River of course does give its name to the most famous wine in Spain, Rioja (pronounced Ri-o-ha). The meaning of "Oja" could be one of two things: "Hoja" in Castillian Spanish meaning leaf or "Oia" in Euskera (Basque) meaning forest.
The Oja originates in the Demanda mountain range in the south of Rioja passing the ski town of Ezcaray into the Tirón River, where in Haro it joins the Ebro River. The Ebro is the second longest river in Spain after the Tajo. It carries on east on its long journey until it finally reaches the Mediterranean Sea in Cataluña.