A little ways inland from Spain’s northern coast, the wet sea air collides with the Cantabrian Mountains, swelling the Ebro river with rainwater as it flows southeast towards the town of Haro, in Rioja.
La Sierra Cantabria
Credit: Basotxerri, Wikimedia
You’ve heard of Rioja, of course. Rioja wines are typically multi-vineyard blends, made from vines planted far apart and dry-farmed to conserve water. Once bottled, they sit in old cellars to gather cobwebs and mold for anywhere from 3 to 8 years (it used to be 10 to 15!). Once opened, they beg for a pairing with wild mushroom drizzled in fresh olive oil… or perhaps 25-day lamb with white asparagus… or the local patatas a la riojana (potatoes in meat stock with spicy chorizo).
Yet, calling a wine a “Rioja,” despite being technically correct, is actually slightly misleading. The region has a broad diversity of terroirs, all spread across hundreds upon hundreds of small parcels and growers (historically, large bodegashave found it nearly impossible to consolidate large tracts here).
More on that in a moment... But first, would you describe wine as “milky”?
This week, we revisit resident expert Julien’s video on a crucial aspect of tasting wine: its ‘body’… the compound that makes a Napa cab feel so much bigger than a thin pinot… why body isn’t the same as texture… a surprisingly helpful milk analogy... and more…
The Oldest Winery in Haro, Rioja Cont’d
The third wine in our upcoming Spanish collection comes from the town of Haro, where locals gather every June to thoroughly soak one another with red wine in the time-honored tradition known as the batalla del vino (“wine battle”).
La batalla del vino
Credit: BigSus, Wikimedia
The soil around Haro is full of chalk, producing lean, wiry wines with lots of minerality, red fruit, and tannins. You often get a hint of cigar or even forest floor… something primal - the sort of wine you can imagine they used in secret cave baptisms a thousand years ago (which is likely where the tradition of the yearly batalla comes from).
On a hill in the north of town, down a side street, where the buildings expose their centuries-old beams and locals hang laundry out their windows to dry, is the bodega - an old stone building with a Juliette balcony. Founded in 1801, it is the oldest in Haro. The winemaking process inside flows vertically down into the earth, eventually ending up in barrels in the ruined tunnels of old Haro castle.
In our last collection. we had a bottle from the same winemaker - a Manzanos 2008. We liked it so much, we came back to see what else he had to offer. The result is a limited edition 2016 (hand-harvested) from 40-year-old vines and a whopping 24 months in oak. It’s all about using modern techniques to extract the best of the old Spanish traditions. If you’ve never had a Rioja, or never understood what all the fuss is about, this is the wine to taste.
Next week, we continue south and west, to a different river, the Duero, and the historic plains of Castilla y Leon, for a wine caught between two celebrated appellations, made by the “master of Ribera del Duero” himself...