Rioja is one of Spain's most celebrated wine regions with over 1,000 wineries in the area. Situated in the valley north of Madrid, it's in a zone where the mountains of Cantabria make a natural barrier that protects the vines here from the cold, wet winds of the north.
The wines in Rioja are strictly controlled and categorized by their minimum ageing process. Cosecha wines are in their first or second year, Crianzas are in their third year or more with a minimum of one year in oak casks and some months in bottle, Reserva are specially selected wines that have also been aged for at least three years with a minimum of one year in oak casks, and Gran Reserva are the exceptional vintages with a minimum of two years in oak casks and three years in the bottle.
We stayed at a hotel in the town of Logroño, a tapas mecca—stay tuned for photos of all the bites!—and in the lobby there were Magnums, Jeroboams, and even Nebuchadnezzars (a whole 15 liters) all lined up, just in case you didn't know you were in wine country.
Red wine ageing in barrels at the Solar Viejo winery located in the northern part of Rioja. Solar Viejo produces a wide range of reds including Crianza made of 100% Tempranillo grapes, the king grape of the vineyard. It ages for 12 months in barrels (made of 70% American and 30% French oak). Standing in this room for ten minutes with its wet, wine-infused air, you could sniff up all the bright red grapes and oak.
It was like a nursery in a hospital, except with wine bottles being born.
All the bottles go down in a line, ready to be filled with wine then corked and stickered.
The name comes from the "priory" or monasteries that have been in this region for centuries. The monks are no longer around today but the wine-making tradition has survived. The climate is pretty dry but you can feel the nearby Mediterranean. It's only about 100 miles south of Barcelona.
Growing in Priorat at the Morlanda winery.
The soil at Morlanda was predominately clay. Summers are dry and hot here with rain coming in the fall and again in late spring. Summer nights can actually be chilly though and it's that temperature swing that helps keep acids and sugars in balance in these grapes, leading to a more intense and concentrated wine.
Straight from the Barrel Tasting
At Morlanda we got to taste some red wine straight from the barrel.
Along with Rioja, Priorat is the only Spanish wine region that's been granted official D.O.C. status. All others are simply D.O.s. and aren't subject to as much rigorous standards as the D.O.C.s. The majority of the wines from Priorat (90 percent) are red.
As you probably guessed from the Mountain-Saint hybrid of a name, this area neighboring Priorat has a spiritual history. In the twelfth century, the monk Guerau Miguel came to this region in the northeast of Spain to pray and live a quiet life in a cave. The landscape is rugged and stony with centuries-old terraces climbing the steep mountainsides with a Mediterranean climate that's become a wine-growing region, especially traditional red grapes like Syrah and Garnacha, as well as some plantings of Garnacha Blanca for white wine.
(FRA grr-OW) There are 104 acres of vinces plated on the Fra Guerau estate in Monsant including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo and Monastrell (known in other parts of Spain as Mataro and in France and California as Mourvedere) as well as the traditional Montsant grapes like Garnacha and Syrah. We tried this refreshing rosé, which is made from Garnacha, Syrah, and Merlot grapes. It's intensely pink red, very bright with ripe strawberry and raspberry notes and an acidic grapefruit finish. Funnily enough, we drank it with foie gras (Fra Guerau with foie gras—always fun when your wine phonetically complements your food).
Don't forget the chorizo and manchego
This usually appeared at some point during the tastings.
Freixenet Cava Headquarters
We ended our trip on a bubbly note. See more of the cava production at Freixenet here.