Author: Ekaterina Zakomurnaya, editor-in-chief of KakSimple

Remember Woland with his “Wine which country do you prefer at this time of day? ” After traveling in Rioja, I would confidently answer the Messire that Riojan wines are good and appropriate at any time of the day. But first things first.

Even for a person who does not know much about wine, the very name “Rioja” will first of all cause an association with wines. Perhaps even with Spanish wine as such. And although this, of course, is not so, nevertheless Rioja is indeed the most famous wine-growing region of Spain. Not to mention the richest: Rioja is the largest Spanish taxpayer. And this is the only region whose wines received the DOC (Denominacion de Origen Calificada) status in 1991 - the highest degree in the Spanish classification.

The Regulatory Council is responsible for quality control of all wines in the Rioja region - Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Rioja . It was created back in 1926, but only in 1953 it acquired the status of an official regulatory body. Today it combines 633 wineries and more than 16,500 vineyards with a total area of ​​64,500 hectares. A complex multi-stage process for controlling the quality of grapes and all stages of creating wine reliably protects Rioja wines from fakes and just getting into the sale of wines that do not correspond to the high rank of Rioja.

It is interesting to note that although today Rioja is best known for its red wines, until the middle of the 19th century most of the wines produced here were white. Large-scale production of red wines began only after 1867, when, due to an epidemic of phylloxera spanning French vineyards, Bordeaux winemakers were forced to seek out their talents outside of France. It was they who discovered Rioja as a wine-growing region with great prospects and began to make matchless red wines here. Unfortunately, the terrible invasion of phylloxera did not pass and Riohu - however, almost half a century later. Then more than 70% of the vineyards were destroyed, but winemaking continued to develop, and the renowned Riohan wines managed not to lose their position.

5 red varieties are allowed to be cultivated in Rioja grapes and 9 white. The region's calling card is the tempranillo variety with strong berry hues. Wines from 100% tempranillo, as a rule, have low acidity, not very pronounced tannins and are perfect for long aging in oak barrels. Varieties of red grapes garancha tinta, graciano and maturana tinta are used for the production of varietal wines, as well as for blends, imparting fullness and elegance to the wine. Finally, masuelo (mazuelo) has good acidity and tannin, which makes it indispensable for blends, especially copyright.

Of the white varieties, the most common are viura and berdejo. Varieties such as malvasia (malvasia), garancha blanca (garancha blanca), maturana blanca (maturana blanca), turruntes (turruntez) and varieties such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are also grown in Rioja. In addition, 25 years ago, a natural mutation of the red grapevine vine tempranillo occurred, resulting in a new white variety - tempranillo blanco, from which lively and vibrant varietal wines are now produced.

DOC Rioja produces dry red, white and pink wines, but mostly still red. The main classification of Riohan wines is based on their aging - in oak barrels and bottles. According to this criterion, the following wines are distinguished:

  • Young wines: aged in oak barrels for a short time, or not at all.
  • Crianza: wines are aged for at least 12 months in oak barrels and the same amount in bottles, after which they go on sale.
  • Reserva: at least 2 years in barrels and 2 years in bottles.
  • Gran reserva - pearls of Rioja. Wines that have to pass aging for at least 3 years in barrels and 3 years in bottles are produced only in years with the best harvest.

But back to the journey. I have no doubt that Rioja is beautiful in any season, but to get to these blessed places during the grape harvest season is a special pleasure. The transparent morning cold in the afternoon gives way to the last autumn warmth, the bright sun illuminates the endless vineyards, covering the valleys and hills of Rioja with a multi-colored carpet, work is boiling in the wineries, and everything is saturated with the smell of crushed grapes, which has yet to go a long way to beautiful Riaohan wine. p>

The first winery on our journey is Marques de Riscal , which showed us several about miracles. Firstly, the winery itself, existing since 1858. At one of the oldest family-owned wineries in Rioja, we were in the midst of harvesting and saw with our own eyes the selection of the best berries and the combing of Cabernet Sauvignon, unique to the region, for Baron de Chirel wine. Interestingly, Riscal is the only winery in Rioja, which is allowed to cultivate this variety (it is not autochthonous), since the vineyards have been preserved since the "pre-phylloxera" times.

In total, more than 37,000 barrels are used in production, 85% of which are from American oak and 15% from French. In the cellars of the winery we saw six barrels traditionally intended for the king of Spain, and the holy of holies Marques de Riscal - the owners themselves call this place a “cathedral” - a storehouse and a personal collection of wines of all harvests since 1868. All wines are supposedly lively, they cannot be sold, but from time to time they are tasted by the owners of the winery.

Wooden barrels for primary fermentation are the pride of the Marques de Riscal winery. Typically, most wineries at this stage use stainless steel tanks.

Finally, it is impossible to visit the Marques de Riscal and not admire the futuristic hotel building, designed in 2006 by the famous architect Frank Gehry. Family legend says that for the already very elderly and eminent Geri, this project was too small, and at first he abandoned it. Then the owners invited the architect to just live in the winery, and he accepted the invitation, provided that the construction of the hotel would no longer be discussed. The owners kept their word, and one of the last days opened for the guest a bottle of Marques de Riscal 1929 - the year of birth of Frank Gehry. And the great architect himself agreed to take up the project of the hotel. Today the hotel is a world-famous building with luxurious rooms overlooking the vineyards and the Sierra Cantabria mountain range and a beautiful wine spa.

Hotel Marques de Riscal

Hotel Marques de Riscal is one of the brightest examples of how organically blending traditions in Rioja and contemporary art. We can say that this is one of the most characteristic features of the region and a distinctive feature of many wineries. Such, for example, the Marques de Carrión winery - one of the five wineries in the region that are part of the huge holding Garcia Carrion , founded in 1890 by the great-grandfather of the current owner Don Jose Garcia-Carrion. On the one hand, this is one of the largest wineries in Rioja, from the cellars of which more than 1 million bottles of Reserva and Gran Reserva wine are sold annually, and more than 50 times more simple wines, including packaged onesOn the other hand, the winery itself is a real museum of modern art with a unique design of rooms, an art gallery, original installations and its own Museum of Illusions (Museo de las Ilusiones).

Marques de Carrión primary fermentation workshop

At the owners of the family winery Ontañon three passions: passion for the vine, passion for wine and passion for art. Their vineyards around the town of Quel are located at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level. These are some of the highest vineyards in Rioja: the temperature difference with the winery, which is located below, is 10 degreesIt is not easy to get here, but nevertheless, the whole family takes an active part in all stages of wine production. There are stony soils, a lot of sun, but not hot, the berries are saturated with tannins and give a bright complex wine that preserves fresh fruitiness. Ontañon also owns a relatively large - 1 hectare - "dofillokserny" vineyard in 1909 of the variety garancha. Basically, this grape is used for blends, but the family plans to use a successful vintage to produce 1,500-2,000 bottles of premium wine from 100% guaranch.

" Dofilloxer " 1909 Garanch vineyard

Alpine vineyards Ontañon

Another luxury winery on our trip Marques de Cáce res , founded in 1970 by Enrique Forner, who worked for many years in Bordeaux. Here, a careful, bordering on worship attitude to wine reigns, and the cellars still constitute a direct allegory of the temple. The winery is much more concerned about the quality of wines produced under its brand than about their quantity. She owns one of the largest “parks” of French oak barrels in the region — about 40,000, so Reserva and Gran Reserva wines are aged only in French oak.

Not alien to Marques de Cáceres and art, however, here it is intended at the same time to carry out marketing functions. The winery is the sponsor of the SIMOF flamenco festival, held annually in Spain, and every year produces wine with the image of a flamenco dancer on a label. Needless to say, bottles with dancers are the object of desire of collectors around the world, and the price for them is growing every year.

The climax of the union of winemaking and art in Rioja is the wine museum Museo de la Cultura de Vino in the town of Briones, whose collection has been collected for 40 years by the winemaking dynasty Vivanco . Today it is five floors, during which visitors are completely immersed in the history and culture of winemaking, and can also enjoy a collection of true masterpieces of painting on the theme of wine, including works by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Joaquin Sorolla and others. In addition, one of the most complete collections of corkscrews in the world is presented here - more than 3,500 copiesAnd in the museum’s restaurant with magnificent views of the old town and vineyards, it’s especially pleasant to enjoy directly the masterpieces of Vivanco winemaking.

Briones city and Vivanco vineyards

Fidelity to traditions, classic Rioja styles and laconic elegance of wines - the basic principles of a young (1998) winery Altanza (from ancient e-Castilian "loyalty"). The whole process of wine production here is built so that not only bad but also mediocre wines are left under the brand. It uses its own water purification system, aging takes place only in French oak, and for malolactics and partial aging, large French oak barrels of 20,000 liters are used, the cost of which is from 100 thousand euros each. In addition, this is one of the few wineries where we saw a unique press used after primary fermentation. This is a modern model of the classic press, but so sparing that the bones remain intact and do not give excess tannins wine. The cake passes through the press to “squeeze” the maximum of grapes from the skin: color, polyphenols, tannins, after which the resulting juice is again poured into barrels.

Winery Altanza

A unique press for gentle secondary pressing

The result is perfectly balanced, elegant wines with fruity expressiveness . Altanza produces wines of the categories Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, and from the grapes harvested as excellent, the winery produces a collection of wines Le Altanza Artistas Espanoles. Labels of these wines of the limited series of the Reserva category are works of Spanish masters who are most suitable for this vintage style. So, in 2001, the world saw a series dedicated to Juan Miro, in 2004 - Dali, 2005 - Gaudi, and in 2008 three paintings of the great Goya adorned the labels. It is significant that Robert Parker said that the wines correspond to the level of the selected artists. And, by the way, another replenishment of the collection is being prepared for the release, but the name of the artist is still kept secret. To which, however, we were lucky enough to penetrate thanks to the hospitality and generosity of Altanza. But still, this is not our secret ...

Surprisingly, almost every Rioja winery finds some if not its own unique technologies, then some kind of original “chips” in the production of wine. So, the winery Beronia , founded in 1973 by a group of friends, uses thin tubes to constantly oxygenate the wine in the process of primary fermentation, and for aging uses only new barrels made from a mixture of French and American oak. At the same time, Beronia does not produce young red wines, but it makes some of the best wines in the region of the Crianza category.

Beronia autumn vineyards

Despite the strict unification of the quality standards of Riohan wines, approved by the Regulatory Council, the need has ripened in the region - and the Council itself recognizes it - to distinguish a more fractional system of class winery identification (similar to French appellations and crus). This will emphasize the terroirity (especially climate and soil) of the wineries and will help some of them to make themselves brighter. For the winery Familia Martinez Bujanda the development of this trend is of particular importance because it owns a unique farm Finca Valpiedra . These 80 hectares of beautiful vineyards, picturesquely surrounded by the Ebro River, are grown on rocky soils atypical of Rioja. Such a unique microclimate allows you to create noble, refined wines with their complex, bold and cheerful character.

Finca Valpiedra winery surrounded by the Ebro River

Ganch vineyards Finca Valpiedra

French oak barrels Finca Valpiedra

In Rioja to Coy point necessarily feel like people are inextricably linked and the vine, like people who have dedicated their lives to the art of winemaking, refer to the vine, as a living being, and she responds in kind. Not so long ago, the owners of Marqués de Riscal, along with friends and partners, held a vertical tasting of their wines of a wide variety of vintages - starting in 1872. And what an interesting and touching regularity all the participants in the tasting noted. The wines of the crops of those years, which were accompanied by economic and social crises, wars and other negative events, noticeably lose in taste. On the contrary, the harvests of periods of peace and economic prosperity gave the most successful wines. And the wine of the 1945 vintage was recognized as the best according to the results of the tasting ...

Traveling in Rioja, you will never doubt that it should be so, because in every vineyard a piece of the human soul lives here. And I, it seems, somewhere there I left a piece of mine.