Returned from our first trip to Rioja / Haro. I rarely (never?) drink Rioja so this was going to be an educational experience. We stayed at Palacio Tandon (Marriott property) which was a great base; the hotel is renovated and an easy 10 min drive to the big wineries of Haro. The hotel’s restaurant is also very good and has a beautiful terrace - not a destination on its own but still good.
A few takeaways on the region (posited as a theory more than fact):
- A big takeaway for me was how disparate the Rioja producers can be. Different producers mature their wines for different amount of times for the same level (e.g. one producers Gran Reserva may see less years in oak than another producers… and a producer may change it from year to year!). Then layer on different oak treatments. Then layer on different viniculture, timing to pick, etc. This region struck me as much more producer driven than I expected. One winery may produce lean, crunchy wines across the street from another hyper extracted fruit bomb.
- Reiterating the first point, Rioja is a large with different topography. Some producers could be at 300 meters with sandy soil, and another at 600 meters in rocky clay.
- I am wondering if Rioja producers are not being as proactive in tackling climate change. No producer told me they were aggressively pursuing the changes seen elsewhere, e.g. Burgundy. In all cases I preferred the aged wines from 20 years ago as being more elegant and at lower alcohols. If more wines were like the 1998 Hermanos Pecina or 2001 Muga Prado Enea, I think the regions reputation would be different (for better or worse).
The highlight was organizing a library tasting at Bodegas Hermanos Pecina. We tasted with Mikel who was great and has been with the winery for some time. Would definitely include these guys for future Rioja lists (and for me, a better stop than CVNE or Gomez Crusado).
- A traditional methods producer using old American oak
- The winery was founded in 1982, with the reds seeing average of 45 years of vine age.
- Imported to US by Rare Wine and Polaner
- 250K production, of which 15-18K will be Gran Reserva in the years they produce them
- 100 new barrels per year out of 4,000 in use and barrel age ranges from 5-20 years
- Vineyards at high altitude 500-600 meters in rocky clay.
- A 2015 Gran Reserva we tasted clocks in at over 15% but balanced (I would have guessed 14.5%).
- Senora Gran Riserva is more elegant & complex than the Finca Gran Riserva
- 2001 Senora Riserva: Bright strawberry flavors laced with baritone noes of balsamic and leather. A little vanilla on the nose.
- 1998 Senora Gran Riserva: A serious wine that recalled me of aged Bordeaux. More savory and seamless than the 2001, acidity picked up with air. Texture and tertiary notes of a resolved Bordeaux with soft texture, slight tobacco, leather, dried fruits from the forest. Bright rich fruit still comes in and would confuse someone otherwise calling Bordeaux on this wine. 1998 was not considered a great vintage, but this was a great wine. 13% Alc. Nose with strawberry, leather, cherry. Given the great showing of the 1998, I’m interested to try other vintages of the Senora Gran Reserva (e.g., 2001)
- 2005 Chobeo: A fun wine that straddles seriousness and non-geekdom. This wine saw 9 months new oak in youth (to help break in the new barrels) and then has aged into bright raspberry acidity laid on top of velvet black textures.
- 2015 Finca Gran Riserva: Seems like a few are releasing 2015 Gran Reserva. This struck a similar chord of big fruit, big alcs (15%) but enough acidity to preserve poise. It’s hard for me to see this maturing into 1998, but this is also not the Senora vineyard.
We were able to visit Lopez de Heredia
- We had to email many times and they had a date that worked for us tagging along another group. They are very focused on ensuring visitors have a connection to wine (importer, business) more than passing interest (e.g., the casual tourist). A great, albeit very long 2.5 hour visit. We were asked not to upload photos or info on the tour as they are not equipped to give tours out. Limited tasting at the end (no library tasting etc.)
- I found this tasting difficult with young, heavily oaked wines. The wines by-the-glass on offer to tate were also young and heavily oaked. A producer to pass for me. Fun fact: a misprinted label saying CUNE and not CVNE was embraced and still there today.
- I didn’t love these wines either (but preferred to CVNE). In this tasting, the host recommended against trying the 2010 Riserva as it was dead/lacked fruit. This turned out to be the most preferred wine of our tasting, being more seamless, savory and earthy than the 2011 Gran Riserva. I cannot imagine the host’s comment speaks to the producers desired style of production, but it does say something when the assumed ‘better’ wine is the more fruited/oaked wine.
Other Wines We tasted:
2001 Muga Prado Enea was the best wine we tasted on the trip. This struck me as classy polished Sangiovese crossed with Rioja. 13.5% is much lower than the 2015 version at 14.5%. We tried, at separate times, the 1976, 2001 and 2015 Prado Enea and the 2001 was just at the right spot. I’d like to try the 2001 again, but the only place we found it was at Terete in Haro
2010 Rioja Alta Gran Riserva 890 was very good, albeit something I wouldn’t try again for another 10 years. Very polished and oaky in a Napa kind of way. This wine isn’t priced much cheaper than Napa though, which did surprise me a little bit.
- Terete - Loved this little restaurant that specializes in roast meat. The wine cellar is one of the biggest to specialize in Haro wines, and a 2001 Prado Enea was enjoyed here (the best Rioja we had on our trip). Not a fancy spot, but a place I would return to. We went for dinner which had half the tables covered; someone told us there can be a line for lunch.
- La Vieja Bogeda - I enjoyed this restaurant. Lunch vibe was great with the sunny garden and bright-lit interiors. Much more fancy than Terete, but not ‘fancy’ or stuffy. I would return to try it again.
- Palacia Tondon - As mentioned, the hotel hosted a fine restaurant for dinner service.
- Calle Laurel in Logrono - Not in Haro (~40 minutes away), but this was a fun little street jam packed with people doing their tapas eating.