Here at Le Chai, we started harvest with the Grenache Gris down in the Roussillon on the 29th of August and have just finished the red Bordeaux picking last week! So it’s been a long harvest for us winemakers here at Le Chai. Although there is much more work to do and the wines are far from finished, JMS decided to take the harvest winemakers for an overnight stay in Rioja, including a visit to a top estate and a slap up meal!
We set off early from Castillon and headed south to the Spanish border to pick JMS up at Bilbao airport. Then onto Rioja for our 3pm visit at the highly reputed Bodega Roda in Rioja Alta. We made good time so had an hour for lunch and in Northern Spain that means tapas!
It was a great little bar and within seconds out came the Jamon Iberico, sizzling Chorizo, cheese and ham croquettes and of course a bottle of reserva from Bodegas Remelluri. The finale was the a magnificent Morcilla, a huge Spanish blood sausage stuffed with rice, amazing!
Feeling satisfied we headed just up the road to the village of Haro. Here, the Roda bodega sits in the original winery area of Barrio de l’Estacion, next door to the famous Lopez de Heredia, backing onto the river Ebro. The relatively new winery is the perfect example of the modern Spain where no expense has been spared on the construction, but the ancient location and old vines give a wonderful contrast shown in the stunning quality of their wines.
We were met by the very knowledgeable Sara Fernandez Bengoa who showed us firstly to the oak fermenting vats. She explained that only 20 years ago, Roda was the one of the first wineries – if not the very first – to introduce a bunch-sorting conveyer table to the region. The grapes come from the very best source and their search for quality has resulted in over 20 different vineyards which all contain low-yielding old vines.
We were shown next to the stunning barrel stores which start at surface level where the young wine goes though the malolactic fermentation. The wines then descend level by level as they age, finally ending up in the hand-carved tunnels which lead out on to the river Ebro.
We headed back up to the very top to the tasting room, passing the owners Mario Rotllant Sola and Carmen Daurella De Aguilera’s stunning suspended apartment that seems to be floating high above the barrels. (The name Roda was created from the surnames of the owners).
The tasting presentation was beautifully laid out and we were soon seated for the first of six wines to be poured.
We started the tasting with the Sela 2009, Roda reserva 2007 and Roda 1 reserva 2006 all three wines were beautifully made and had stunning acidity with silky ripe palate, I especially enjoyed the 2007. Then just as I was wondering why we had an empty glass in the middle of the line up all was revealed as Sara poured their olive oil, Dauro. I must admit I had never treated olive like tasting a wine and was amazed at the complexity of aromas leaping from the glass: banana skin, tomato, walnut, green apple and lemon!
We moved onto the next two wines which come from their winery in the Ribera del Duero; Corimbo 2010 and Corimbo 1 2009: both muscular wines with good oak integration. The best was left for last and it was back to Rioja for the Cirsion 2009: a highly rated wine with many interesting reviews including a 95/98 from Robert Parker. It’s always tough tasting wine with so much expectation but this was one that didn’t let me down. I thought it was a truly fantastic wine with power, elegance, fresh fruit and beautiful tannins. However the price was a little out of my range so I left with some delicious 2007 Roda Reserva!
The next visit was over in Rioja Alavesa towards Logrono to a quite spectacular winery called Baigorri. Rioja Alavesa is the only part of Rioja that is in the Basque country and today was a Basque only public holiday so the welcome and visit was rather rushed. I’m used to it; I live in France.
However we only wanted to see the architecture! As you pull up to the winery all you can see is a large glass box, the enormous winery is cleverly hidden underneath by the architect Inaki Aspiazu who worked with Jesus Baigorri to subtly blend a building into the countryside. Well, the winery is certainly blended into the countryside; it’s underground! It’s just the big glass-and-steel box with huge letters spelling BAIGORRI wrapped around it that seems to rather ‘non-blend’ into the countryside! But, I suppose if it was too well-hidden, no one would go there and neither would it be talk of the town!
Nevertheless, it is quite a winery underneath and everything is done by gravity albeit with quite a lot of money spent on lifts and cranes.
I liked the huge oak foudre vats that descended deceivingly in size with the sloping roof!
The tasting was pleasant but I was certainly not wowed by the wines (JC and I make a hundred times better in his tiny garage!) but the white was lovely and very well made.
Back in the car and no one bought any wine … must be a sign? JMS said he had saved the best visit until the end …… his own bodega Altos! We arrived to Altos, a non-imposing humble building and were greeted by winemaker and good friend Hector. We entered via the side door (in fact the only door!) and tasted some of the best wines of the day: the reserva 2009 and the 100% pure Graciano.
It was now time for dinner! We headed to the normal haunt: Carlos’ restaurant in downtown Logrono. As always, Carlos was at the front of house working his magic and we were showed to our usual table and the food began to flow! Carlos’ mother is the chef and to kick off the meal a plate of sublime pulpo with paprika on almost transparent slices of potato came out followed by melt in the mouth Jamon Iberico and razor fish. For main even more melt in the mouth entrecote steaks and –can I say it? – frites up there with the voyageur! A good range of wines including a 2001 Todonia and a magnum of 2005 Muga reserva matched the food beautifully.
A great end of harvest trip, merci ton ton JMS!