The Old School Rioja Journey

By Filippo BartolottaJust a few words...Marques de Riscal Winery and Resort. Great Location to rest over a Rioja Grand Tour...Lopez de Heredia: our first delicious stop.The poplar tree harvest baskets which natural yeast love it!Muga seen by Lopez de Heredia winery:)It's quite funny as three of the best wineries in Rioja are 10 yards apart from each other: Rioja Alta, Muga and Lopez de Heredia.These are classical Rioja producers. Their wines are aged for a very long time in the cellar before it is released in the market in order for consumers to enjoy from day one. But the most important thing they have in common is: finesse. Most of their wines are made to be drunk "de trago largo":)These wines are complex, perfumed and made with velvet tannins and no concentration or over extraction at all. Its lovely the remarkable similarity with great classic Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir.We begin our introduction to this world with super passionate Maria Jos Lopez de Heredia. Meeting up with her is like entering in "A hundred years of Solitude" of Garcia Marquez: the complexity, intricacy and philosophy of the family wine making style is just hypnotic. Everything in Lopez de Heredia is done in the most natural way possible, no selected yeast, no funny chemical business. The wines made of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo are made in big old American oak vats. The first impression I have got entering the fermentation room was to be together with ten big elephants. These vats are impressive and more impressive is the fact that there isn't any temperature controlled system: our yeast know how to cope with our grape juice at any given temperature they decide to go, says Maria Jos always with a little smile and a track of passion in her expression.Tempranillo is the backbone of any Rioja -at least 80%- with Graciano (Grenache) addin spiciness and Mazuelo firm tannins. The varieties though aren't vinified separately, like usually happens in most wineries. Here once the vineyard is chosen then the different grapes are planted, harvested, crushed and fermented all together. Once the alcoholic is carried out the free run juice is filtered with the grape canes -Maria is holding some in the picture- and then the wines will age for at least 6 years for a Crianza or 9 for the Riserva.The rule for the reds would be: Crianza is 2 years of aging with at least 6 in oak; Reserva is 3 years of aging of which at least one year in oak; Gran Reserva is 5 years of aging of which 18 in oak.I love the continuity of this winery. Since they begun Lopez de Heredia 9586th fermentation!!!The back exit of Lopez de Heredia on the EbroThe Spider Cemetery Wine Room. This is a great place were visitors aren't allowed anymore to respect the spiders which have to work to kill the moth which would attack the corks of the precious old vintages.Maria Jos Lopez de Heredia grabs a few and off we go to taste their art in the super modern tasting room.We start with a 1964 Lopez de Heredia Vigna Tondonia White. These wines are all about almond, saffron and a leathery, anisette nectar. Amazing drinkability and youth. We opened then a Lopez de Heredia Vigna Tondonia White1970 with a more petrol/Riesling character and a little cappuccino edge on the finish. Then we moved to another super slim and fit 1954 Vina Tondonia which was showing elegant light red fruit, an earthy/truffle edge and a very crunchy sweet palate.But the king of the tasting for me was the Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia 1961. Still young, packed with red fruit, great structure and a little Burgundian nose, this is a wine to drink in any moment of the day.It's palate was maybe a little lighter then expected. What is the Perfect wine? The nose of 1961 and the palate of 1954!!!Tasting of Lopez de Heredia old vintagesMaria Jos pouring 1961 Vina Tondonia Lopez de HerediaMaria Jos basically kidnapped us. We were meant to have two hours tasting and we had four! No complaint though but it's just that we had to go visit Rioja Alta! One last remark: all of these old reds had a splash of white -Vjura- to soften the palate. Today no one does this any more, but in those years, some of the best wine sin the world were all made like that: Cote Rotie; Chianti Classico; Chianti Rufina; Barolo. I'll get back on this very intriguing subject soon.I didn't have too many expectation here as this is a super big operation and I must confess I had never tasted their wines. I was wrong! This has been one of the highlights of the trip. Julio Saenz -the Wine maker- and Gabriela Sansinenea -PR Manager- were super sweet and they opened the world for us.It was quite surprising to taste so many wines all in outstanding conditions and with a great density despite the very long aging in the cellar.Rioja Alta CellarWe had nine great wines. The 904 Gran Reserva '70 was an earthy, toffee and sweet tobacco wine with a very licorice finish. The Gran Riserva Vina Ardanza 1973 was one of the best wines of the trip a real treat for anyone who loves fine wines. Sweet cola and rhubarb, generous tobacco and coffee, prunes and ice tea and delicate on the palate. The Vigna Ardanza Reserva '78 was very seductive with a more incense and coconut milk touch. Very luscious on the palate, the nose was showing a little too much coffee. Again the cola on the finish.The 904 Gran Reserva '81 was one of the best wine noses ever with a Burgundian profile, white truffles and a great acidity and length. This bottle was one of only five remaining: thank you very much for your courtesy!!!Vina Ardanza Reserva 1985.A little more tannic with a strong menthol edge, again the cola, then hibiscus and earl grey tea.904 Gran Reserva 1995, This was a very firm structured wine with power and strength. The oak just a little intrusive though with a strong alcohol element.Vina Ardanza 1996. Light mushrooms, truffles and an earthy delicate palate. Very pleasant wine with some density to it as well.Vina Ardanza Reserva '01. I am happy we had this wine as it shows how Rioja Alta hasn't compromised with quality despite the size. This is a very gun flint/red fruit tannic red with a great acidity. It will need some more years to develop into nice beauty like the 1973.What a morning!!!The old School Rioja ExpeditionRioja Alta Riserva 904 1978 and Vigna Ardanza 1973: tow of the best wines of the day..,actually of the best ever:)After a bit to eat in Logrono in an old Cloister we decide to finish the day with Muga.Another super big winery with hundreds of hectares and yet superb wines.Muga Old School Submarine tankManu Muga together with Jose -the commercial manager- open a few delicious wines for us. Although I taste thousands of wines a year with often flights of 100 bottles in a morning, tasting old fine wines is a different thing. It requires your heart and soul to breath through all this complexity, but ...hey someone has to do it!So Prado Enea Gran Reserva 1970 kicks off with a lot of medicinal herbs, sweet tobacco and a little bit of a bread crust on the nose. A very good wine which had to give way though to Prado Enea Gran Reserva 1981. Gun flint, mineral with an incense complexity, great length, clean palate and a superlative light inside which will let the wine go for more decades to come.Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2001 shows the potential of what this wine could be in 20/30 years. right now very ripe with a lot of prunes and dark cherries, leather and a barnyard finish. We also had a very powerful although nicely juicy Muga Reserva 2006 and a Selection Special Muga 2005 with a higher altitude behavior in the glass. The Muga white Vjura and Malvasia is one of those super reliable safe bets with oily fatness, cream and yet crispy and mineral.Before we left we had a philosophical tasting around their super extractive Ar 2006 and a little less concentrated 2005 Ar. This wines are more show off type with pure Tempranillo which is pushed to the limit.The wines are well made but it is difficult to say that one is in Rioja: cinnamon, cloves, chocolate and prunes and a truck load of round tannins that one could be anywhere.I am glad Muga is retaining the "old school" Rioja methods for most of his wines and it is very wise to go SUPER only with a name of invention and not Rioja on the label.Muga Old Vintages: what a treat! I loved the 1981 and the 1973 Grand Reserva Prado EneaMuga's coopersRioja Sunset on the way back to Marques de RiscalGoing back home at Marques de Riscal HotelDinner with Vega Sicilia Unico 1996: a little too big.
Cvne Vigna Real 1981 and Muga Grand Reserva 1974: what a better way to finish of a night in Rioja
Right now I should have been in the SPA at Marques the Riscal, instead here I am now in front of the computer reporting the visit of Hermanos Pecina. Young winery born in the elate 80's with 1992 as the first vintage.
I weak up early to go for a run among the Marques the Riscal vineyards to get some energy back from the tastings. The morning is crisp and welcoming and a breakfast in bed is waiting for me. PS: I was imposed by my hosts and friends Mike, Aj and Chaz:)
Pedro Pecina and Mikel Fernandez were wating for us.
Pedro is a very gentle man who worked for many years at Rioja Alta, which makes us all very happy!
His wines are very mineral, firm and austere but with a great red fruit component and very often complex Burgundy/Nebbiolo like nose. The Grand Reserva '98 was dense, leathery with a bit of a hot whiff and tight tannins. The Gran Reserva 2001 showed the power of this outstanding vintage right now with a little bit of oak on the palate. Much better for me the 2001 Pecina Selection with white truffles, burgundy nose, mineral and dense and lovely dark cherry ripeness, which reminded me of a Livio Sassetti Pertimali 2001, also grown in a clay tough soil.
The Senorio de P.Pecina Reserva 1999 in magnum was served in Magnum. very seductive, earthy, sweet palate.
I loved the Senorio de P. Pecina Reserva 2001. Black mineral fruit, gun flint/slate complexity, very intense, sweet and lingering like a great Sangiovese. I want to have one of this a day!!!
Senorio de P. Pecina Crianza 2000 in magnum. this was very simple red fruit, leather and licorice. Very yummy wine at 7! They also make aPecina Balnco Slection 2008: Citrus and crisp lemon zesty Vjura.A taste of winderful hamon hoselito and anchovies before going for lunch at Hector Ribe.
The Ebro River and a quick stop at Calatrava winery.
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bando POR CREO FESR 2014-2020 – Azione 3.4.2 "Incentivi all’acquisto di servizi a supporto dell’internazionalizzazione in favore delle PMI” per la concessione delle delle PMI toscane operanti nei settori del manifatturiero (sub azione a) agevolazioni a sostegno dell’export - anno 2017