Moving Into the Future By Way of the Past: A Trip through Spain - Part III
Bits & Pieces from MWS' Great Spanish Wine Adventure: The Last Leg (of lamb)
Day 6: Viña Tondonia & RODA (Rioja Alta)
Though the final leg of our trip was spent much like the beginning - traveling through the beautiful Spanish countryside, entrenched in amazing wine, history, culture, and people (is that an itsy bitsy violin I hear playing?) – at this point, the laid back, wine-soaked approach to life had completely infiltrated our bloodstreams, which by now most certainly consisted of 100% Spanish wine. Anyone in need of a type A-lbarino donor?
Of course, we all knew eventually we’d have to relinquish the privileged life of a Spanish wine tourist and return to the hustle-n-bustle of regular stuff, but… we still had TWO. MORE. DAYS to relish in it all.
Now then, it warrants mention that there is “old”- of which there is no shortage in the world of Spanish wine- and then there’s old school. Our visit to R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia was undoubtedly both. Viña Tondonia is home to a beautiful 100-plus hectares of vines, situated on the right bank of the river Ebro. Apart from Tondonia, López de Heredia owns three more vineyards also set in the Rioja Alta region. These are the "Viña Cubillo", "Viña Bosconia" and "Viña Zaconia". The highly-renowned bodega has been family owned and operated since 1877, and Bacchus as my witness, it still relies on the same methods of viticulture, harvesting, sorting, and vinification as it did way back when.I mean, this place takes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to a spectacularly new level. Which is not to say they don’t keep up with the times (as evidenced by their sleek new tasting room… seriously, even its bathrooms are such insanely impressive specimens of modern design that I kinda pretended nature was calling more than she was just so I could check out the WC one more time). They simply know a good system when they see it. In fact, it’s the only bodega in Spain that still handcrafts all of its barrels in its own cooperage. Sadly, this centuries old tradition, passed down from one generation to the next with great pride, is swiftly dying out. If anyone out there is looking for work and particularly handy with iron, oak, fire, & sharp, intimidating tools…
Not surprisingly, an operation with such a long history of fine winemaking is also known for the age-worthiness of its wines, both red and white. We were treated to the 2002 Viña Gravonia white (though they certainly sell whites older than that), 2001 Tondonia Reserva, 1995 Bosconia, and la pièce de résistance- a Tondonia from 1954, courtesy of our tripmate Don, who scored it while touring the private cellar of one of our restaurant buddies in San Sebastian… Don’t worry, the cellar owner had willingly given it up and is waiting patiently for Don to reciprocate with an appropriate bottle from his cellar. Speaking of which, have you decided yet, Don??
Needless to say, all of the wines were fantastic. The 1954, though it faded relatively quickly (as old wines tend to do once open), was brilliant while it lasted. It was still quite meaty and aromatic (cinnamon, dill, dried fruit, sweet spices) with decent grip and a nice long finish. Still, I think my favorite was the 1995 Bosconia. It seemed to contain the entire spectrum of aromas from vegetal to floral to fruit and spice. The kind of wine that transports you to a dark, autumn forest one minute and a festive Christmas dinner the next, it changed dramatically the longer it was in the glass.
The next stop was literally a hop, skip, & jump away (and after the amazing tasting we’d just had, I’m sure some of us got there that way). Though Roda as it's known today has only been officially making wine since the late 1980s, the land is no stranger to grapes and its 12 meter-deep underground cellar dates back to the 19th century! The name is derived from a combo of the owners' last names, Mario ROtllant Sola and Carmen DAurella de Aguilera.
Roda makes two Reserva wines; The “Roda” was originally named "Roda II", but the winery changed after the 2001 vintage as customers misunderstood it to mean their second, or inferior, wine. In fact, the difference between this wine and the "Roda I" is the fruit profile. Roda (formerly II) displays red fruit, while the Roda I displays black. Gee, I wonder if they’ve thought about selling their wines at the Roulette tables in Vegas...
Later that evening, we made a trek to Venta Moncalvillo Restaurante in Daroca, the smallest village in the world to possess a Michelin star. During our pre-dinner warm-up (Read: foie gras meatballs and wine, amongst other things) our incredible sommelier, Carlos Echapresto, gave us the lay of the land. I admit, it was pretty tough not to be distracted (see part about foie gras meatballs), but we still managed to learn a lot. And now, a bit of food porn…
Day 7: Bodegas Ismael Arroyo (Ribera del Duero)
On our way back to Madrid the following day we stopped at Bodegas Ismael Arroyo- located in a town called Sotillo de la Ribera, in the heart of the Denomination of Origin Ribera del Duero. Though the family-operated bodega was established here in 1979, (prior to the formation of the D.O.), winemaking has been a tradition in the family of Ismael Arroyo for 400 years. One look around and it doesn't take long to figure out that their facilities date back quite a ways. Ismael Arroyo’s subterranean cellar from the 16th century (yep, you read right!) contains some 1200 square meters of tunnels dug into rock and pierced in stone. Being deep underground allows for a naturally constant temperature of around 11-12 degrees Celsius (roughly 52-53 degrees Fahrenheit), which is heaven for an aging bottle of wine.
The winery uses grapes both from its own 25 hectares of vineyards as well as growers around Sotillo de la Ribera. Their vineyards boast an average age of 50 years (though some go up to 90) and are planted only with the grape variety ”Tinta del país”, the name for Tempranillo here. The vineyards are planted in well-aired and sunny slopes, in soils with a clay-limestone, sandstone and stony formation. The bodega uses no drip irrigation or chemical fertilizers, and pruning is done solely by hand.
Of course, the history lesson doesn’t end underground... In the tasting room above ground, framed documents from the year 1787 describe the tithe or taxes applied to wine, which had to be paid to the village, to the church, to the council, and to the parish. Ahh, death and taxes, some things never change.
Last but certainly not least on the agenda: We couldn't leave Ribera del Duero without a proper roasted lamb. As you can see in the picture to the left, it practically melted off the bones (there's that darn violin again!).
And with that, it was back to Madrid followed by life as we normally know it. Although, I’m sure I can speak for everyone on the trip when I say, you can take the wine lover outta Spain, but you can never remove the passion for Spanish wine that inevitably develops inside of them. It is a passion that has helped shape Spain for centuries before, is shaping it today, and will continue to do so well into the future. The Spanish puzzle is far from being complete, but one thing is for sure... it will always contain a piece for wine.
Want to experience your own Spanish Wine Adventure? Contact Iberian Wine Tours for more info on upcoming trips, including a repeat of My Wine School’s trip (co-led by MWS founder, Jessica Bell) in 2014! - Emily Crichton