Rioja Diary Day 4: 3 Visits + Great Lunch

Day 4 brought us back to Haro where we visited one of the top Rioja wineries: La Rioja Alta, which we learned was started by 5 families in the late 1800s who still own the winery.  It is a decent sized winery producing 2.5 million bottles. We tasted their Lagar de Cervera albariño, a fruity yet lean dry white; Viña Ardanza 2007, a blend of tempranillo and 20% garnacha; and Gran Reserva 904 which was a decent example of a very good rioja.

The highlight of the day was our visit to the Sierra Cantabria Winery in San Vicente. Actually we started by meeting Alberto Saldon, marketing manager for the winery, at their Viñedos de Páganos then traveled to my all-time favorite winery, Señorio de San Vicente, which happens to also be my favorite Rioja.  This

tasting at Señorio de San Vicente

tasting at Señorio de San Vicente

winery is owned by the Eguren family which lives at the winery in the center of this bucolic town. At our tasting Alberto wanted to focus on their mission of emphasizing the terroir and not the wine cellar. He explained that is why they only use French oak barrels because of the lesser impact of the wood which they try to avoid. Most of the other Rioja wineries use American oak.

Sierra Cantabria Colección Privada is one of the first Rioja efforts to emphasize single vineyards to demonstrate the different expressions of tempranillo (they don’t blend other grapes as do most other Rioja wineries) depending on the soil and climate. The 2012 we tasted was fruit driven, especially black berries, accentuated by carbonic maceration. El Puntido 2011 from Páganos emphasized minerality due to the influence of the limestone soil; Finca El Bosque 2012, one of their more expensive wines at 100 euros was a huge tannic wine with notes of balsamic and licorice,and  was loved by Parker who gave it 96 points. The soil was alluvial stones and the roots went deep; Victorio 2012 is their wine from Toro, with pre-phylloxera grapes grown on sandy soil, a macho wine made again from 100% tempranillo, locally called tinto de toro.

We then drove to Venta Moncalvillo, a 1 star Michelin restaurant which Alberto claimed to be the best restaurant in Rioja with the best wine list in Spain! It was a glorious meal, a menu of many courses of small plates: appetizer: trampantojo de queso which was cod disguised as a cheese wedge; Apple flower with duck foie gras and sunflower seeds; partridge biscuit; foaming mushrooms; Amanitas wild mushroom carpaccio; seasonal wild mushrooms with potato cream; cod with caramelized onion and

lunch at Venta Moncalvillo

lunch at Venta Moncalvillo

rioja pilpil sauce; Iberian pork fillet on wine sauce, endive and mushrooms; caramelized torrija and ice cream. The pairing wines: Sierra Cantabria Organza, a luscious burgundian style white blend of viura, malvasia and white grenache; San Vicente 2007, to die for, made from tempranillo peludo; Victorino 2008, a rich balanced wine that benefited from aging, made from 75 year old vines; Alabaster 2008, one of their most expensive wines and a sheer delight to experience; muscat peludo which is never sold but only offered to special guests! We were indeed treated royally and it will be difficult to top this experience.

We rushed to our last appointment at Marques de Riscal and although the wines paled in comparison to our previous visit, we also realized they were less expensive and good value wines: Reserva 2010; Finca Torrea and Baron de Chirel Reserva 2008. Riscal is a huge winery producing over 5 million bottles from 1500 hectares with over 35 thousand barrels. And it’s also home to the Frank Gehry designed Starwood Hotel.

Riscal's Frank Gehry hotel

Riscal’s Frank Gehry hotel

Here are some tidbits learned today: minimum DOC Rioja: crianza= 1 year barrel aging and 1 year bottle aging; Reserva= 1 year barrel aging and 2 years bottle aging; Gran Reserva= 2 years barrel aging and 3 years bottle aging./ the Spanish word for stingy is tacaño/Haro was the first city in Spain to have electricity, even before Paris, because it was so important to the wine trade and the French winemakers who emigrated here after the phylloxera epidemic in the mid 1800s/  there are 10,000 clones of tempranillo

You can read all about our Rioja wine tour in the links below:

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