Rioja Day 5: What a Grand Finale!

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow,’ but what a way to say adiós to our 5 day stay in the wine wonderland of Rioja. Our day started with one of the very best bodegas, Muga. Muga is a traditional Rioja producer: they continue using only French oak and no stainless steel whatsoever. They use 300 huge 20,000 liter vats to ferment their red wines for 3 weeks. Even their wonderful whites are barrel fermented with battonage to stir the lees and egg whites to fine their reds. The philosophy is that wine should express the terroir and wood distorts that taste. This is a lot of extra work for a winery that produces over 1.5 million bottles.

We had 5 of their best wines for our tasting: Muga blanco 2014 with 3 months oak fermentation and a blend of 90% viura and 10% malvasia. A true value at 7,5 euros; Rosado, a fresh fruity blend of 60% garnacha, 30% viura and 10% tempranillo that passed 4 months in large American vats, and another bargain at 5 euros; Muga Crianza 2011, a classic Rioja with 80% tempranillo and 20% garnacha, aged in used barrels and the result is a juicy, black fruit flavor, another bargain at 11 euros; Selección Especial 2010 made from the last picked grapes of the harvest and a more complex wine; Prado Enea 2006, fermented in French oak but aged in American oak with the same 80/20 blend tempranillo/garnacho. If you aren’t a rioja fan, this wine will convert you.

Our lunch stop was another Rioja classic, Remelluri. I had just met Telmo Rodriguez last month at a tasting in Connecticut so it was a treat to meet him again. He gave us a moving soliquoy on his unselfish philosophy of aiming only to produce top quality wines, even if it meant a smaller production.(Since he took over the winery from his father, production has decreased 35%) We had a visit to the winery museum and some people walked to the 10th century necropolis. It was a gorgeous sunny day and our appetites were being whetted by the smell of burning vine stock used to grill our lamb.  It was a delightful lunch accompanied by 3 wines: Lindes San Vicente 2011, from vineyards next to my favorite wine; Reserva 2008; and the Reserva 2009 served from magnums. All three were wonderful expressions of the tempranillo. Since there are only 3,000 bottles of Blanco produced, that was one of the 3 bottles I purchased at the winery for a tasting when I return to New Haven.

I should mention again that Telmo is leading the charge to start appellation designation in Rioja. His analogy is that if Bordeaux has 80 appellations, Rioja can justify 200, instead of the current 0.

We ended our glorious day at Ostatu, another winery in the Alava section of Rioja, which is on the Basque side of the Ebro River. This is another relatively small (300,000 bottles) family owned winery not far from Remelluri in Rioja Alavesa. Gonzalo Saenz Samaniego, one of the owners, can trace his family back to the 1400s at this estate. The philosophy is very similar to Muga and Remelluri: let the grapes speak with minimal interference from wood. We walked through their Gloria vineyard to see firsthand the 75+ year old vines that produce  truly intense wines. At the tasting we had a vertical tasting of 3 vintages of Gloria: 2004, 2005, 2007. Made from 100% tempranillo on 75 year old vines, all were inky dark, brooding tannic wines that will need time to mature. Of the 3, the 2005 was the smoothest, because as Gonzalo explained, the heavy rain tamed the tannins. Nevertheless, they only get 3 bunches of grapes per vine! I definitely bought some to bring home, including their Lore 2012, a delicious barrel-fermented 50/50 blend of viura and malvasia.

Gonzalo also suggested that we should stop and visit the nearby medieval town of LaGuardia and after a walk through this timeless village, we were happy for his advice.

That evening many of us went for a final tapas crawl on Calle Laurel and whom do we meet but Telmo doing the same thing with a group of friends. The Spanish sure know how to enjoy life. We leave tomorrow for our Basque tour but our hearts are here in Rioja.

Here are all of the articles covering our Rioja wine tour in order:

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