Moving Into the Future By Way of the Past: A Trip through Spain - Part II
Bits & Pieces from MWS' Great Spanish Wine Adventure: Days 4-5
Every time I travel, regardless of how near or far from home, I try to embrace the outlook that anything can happen and that’s a good thing. So far, this has yet to fail me… at least, in the sense that accepting I never know what I will learn, whom I might meet, and what indelible images will be left on my brain are all good things. Not halfway through my Spanish adventure, I’d already learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and had more spectacular images embedded in my brain than I could have ever imagined. The remainder of the trip would prove just as magnificent, and no less full of pleasant surprises.
Day 4: Telmo Rodriguez (Rioja)
After the gang had sufficiently recovered from Alejandro’s impromptu fiesta, we set off for a tour around Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez in the hills near Navarra. Before jumping into the tasting portion of our visit, our extremely hospitable guide, Ricardo Etchats, treated us to a little “terroir tour” around the vineyards… Some of the many Telmo works with all over Spain. As a side note, we didn't get to meet Telmo, but he sounds like a fascinating man. Ricardo informed us that all of Telmo’s vineyards are biodynamically farmed and share the following attributes: All vines are exclusively bush-trained; Telmo only uses sites with exceptional terroir as well as varietals traditional/indigenous to their regions; Replanting is done only with *massal selections.
Once inside the tasting room (actually, the barrel room), Ricardo had a lineup of 8 wines prepared for us – All different styles and from different regions. It was like taking a tour of Spain without the travel! The one thing they all had in common, aside from Telmo’s list above, is a very high Quality:Value ratio… or as Telmo puts it, he makes “democratic” wines. The first wine in the lineup, and one I consider to be consistently amongst the best wine values on the market, was the 2011 Basa Rueda. A blend of 85% Verdejo, 10% Viura and 5% Sauvignon Blanc, it is a super Summer-sipper and can be found in the States for around $10-$15. Can’t argue with them apples (er grapes)!
The following day we headed up to the heart of Basque country for a jaunt around San Sebastian and the sloped vineyards of Getaria, where Txomin Etxaniz makes their incredibly refreshing and unique Txakoli (pronounced “chock-oh-lee”). Best described as the Basque version of Vinho Verde, Txakoli is a crisp, dry, lower-alcohol, citrus-driven white wine with just a hint of spritz, made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape (don’t worry, most of us had never heard of it before either). The family-owned and operated winery also plants the red grape Hondarrabi Beltza, and makes a fully-fizzed wine in the traditional method, as well as a late-harvest dessert wine. Oh, and apparently if you’re lucky (or you’re with Jeremy & Jessica) you can score a glass of their dry rosé, very little of which makes it outside of Spain. Most importantly, all of the above wines MUST be tried with local Pintxos – the delectable “snacky” bar-hopping version of tapas. No other place on the planet does ‘em quite like the Basque folks.
Despite a slightly tardy departure (I’m telling ya, it’s very difficult to say goodbye to San Sebastian), we managed to arrive in Rioja Alavesa at a decent hour and promptly received an incredibly warm welcome into Carpe Diem, the cozy, medieval casa-turned-B&B owned by Javier Guzmán Aldazabal. One step inside and it’s hard to imagine that Carpe Diem looks much different now than when it was built in 1744, aside from the updated and uber-adorable guest rooms, of course. I’d love to go back and stay there someday. Alas, we had an agenda of wine tasting to maintain, which Javier more than exceeded in helping us do. I mean, this man’s passion for winemaking and enthusiasm for sharing his wines with others knows no limit, to say nothing of the fact that his wines are fantastic. Which is why when Javier presented us with the list of prices for each of his wines, we couldn’t believe it.
“You charge what? For these? They’re way too good, Javier! You should charge more!” we proclaimed. He simply smiled modestly and shrugged his shoulders.
Javier’s estate in Navaridas, which has been in his family for several generations, makes a Blanc (Viura/Malvasia), Rosado (Tempranillo/Graciano), and several reds from various percentages of Tempranillo and Graciano, including a single varietal bottling of each. Additionally, Javier makes a Tinto blend of Tempranillo and Viura. He informed us that in Rioja Alavesa, the highest elevation portion of the Rioja D.O.C.a, it is not uncommon to see a small percentage of white grapes blended in with the reds for more intense aromas and a deeper color (a practice also common in other parts of the world, most notably, Côte-Rôtie in France).
Our heads now packed with Javier’s winemaking wisdom, our teeth sufficiently purple, and our bellies full of good wine (at the end of the day “spitting” has a very loose definition), we set off for a two-night stay at the nearby Hotel Viura, an ultra-modern gem (and easily the coolest hotel I’ve ever stayed in) situated amongst the narrow, winding streets and ancient stone/adobe buildings of Rioja Alavesa.
The following day would bring even more amazing new treasures with intriguing histories… Read more in “Moving into the Future by Way of the Past: Part III”
*An alternative to cloning whereby propagation of vines is achieved by grafting cuttings from those already in the vineyard, and adapted to it, onto new rootstock. It is a way of preserving the individual character of the vineyard and its wines.