Rioja, More than Just Wine
A few hours north of Madrid, you’ll find stretches of rolling hills topped with vineyards creating picturesque landscapes. However, wine production in Spain is a serious business and a deep passion for many of the people I encountered. Some wine makers explained that they have Tempranillo running in their veins like their forefathers. Others explained that they were in the business world, but always had the vineyards calling their names. Younger generations were most excited about wine tourism and sharing their piece of the world with visitors both domestically and internationally.
Whatever the reason, it all made sense to me. I arrived during Vendemia, aka harvest time, so everyone was busy cutting grapes, sorting grapes, and pressing grapes. It’s not easy work since everything is processed by hand, but it’s a family effort. Even family members who are not involved with the wine making production are recruited to help during harvest time.
Meanwhile, I’m taught the nuances of French vs. American Oak barrels. Some use 100% French, while others have converted to American, and quite a few have French Oak heads with American Oak staves. I learned that each vintner preordered their barrels from their exclusive cooper. Their long standing relationships were equally on display as the carefully placed barrels in their perfectly cool cellars.
There is nothing quite like wine tasting with the people that produce it. They describe the year, the fermentation process, the second fermentation process, barrel aging, and bottle aging. The end result is simply fabulous! I tried four wines, all 100% Tempranillo:
- Vino Joven, or young wine. This has had very little barrel aging.
- Crianza, the everyday wine. Aged for a minimum of 2 years with 6 months in the barrel.
- Reserva, the weekend wine. Aged for a minimum of 3 years with 1 year in the barrel.
- Gran Reserva, the holiday wine. Aged for a minimum of 5 years with 1.5 years in the barrel.
All of the work that went into that bottle of wine is a badge of honor for the wine maker. It was an amazing feeling to arrive to a winery and feel so welcomed by the hosts. Rioja still feels like a secret waiting to be discovered… and it’s a secret that I can’t keep to myself! Salud!