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From Laguardia over vineyards - halfwine travels to Rioja, Spain to find quality half bottles of wine

Rioja 2013

Itinerary

This was a bit of a long-driving start to the tour – Saturday drive down to Tours; Sunday depart for Ainhoa on the border with Spain at a civilized time, and examine the surfing beaches both North and South of Biarritz. On Monday, a 2 to 3 hour drive to Daroca de Rioja for lunch via Pamplona and Logrono and, hopefully, a tasting on the way before lunch. Then a week of tasting Rioja - see the map below.


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Restaurants

Tours

Charles Barrier *

101 av. de la Tranchée, 37100 Tel 02 47 54 20 39 www.charles-barrier.fr
Charles Barrier restaurant

Restaurant Charles Barrier

Charles Barrier scallops and shrimp

Charles Barrier scallops and shrimp

Charles Barrier lamb

Charles Barrier lamb

We selected Balade du Gourmet (€57). The dish of the evening was the scallops and shrimp. Sticking to our principles we had wines of the area; a sparkling Vouvray and a Chinon. The sparkling Vouvray, Vincent Careme Vouvray brut L’Ancestrale ’10 (€40) was a most pleasant surprise and was certainly the equal of many a good champagne. The Sourdais Chinon Reserve Stanislas ’05 (€52) was also excellent.

Ainhoa

Ithurria *

pl. du Fronton, 64250 Tel 05 59 29 92 11 www.ithurria.com
Ithurria restaurant

Restaurant Ithurria

Ithurria truffled scrambled eggs

Ithurria truffled scrambled eggs

Ithurria lamb

Ithurria lamb

We had their tasting menu (€80) primarily for the scrambled egg and truffles and it was the course of the evening. The wines of the area were an Irouleguy and a Madiran. This was our first ever Irouleguy; tangy and fresh; of the same ilk as an Albarino or Sauvignon Blanc. It was made by Dm Brana ‘12 (€22) and we also had a Ch Laffitte-Teston Madiran ‘08 (€28) which was a good example.

Rioja

Vente Moncalvillo *

carret. de Medrano 6, 26373 Daroca de Rioja Tel 941444832 www.ventamoncalvillo.com
Vente Moncalvillo amuse-bouche

Vente Moncalvillo amuse-bouche

Vente Moncalvillo amuse-bouche

Another Vente Moncalvillo amuse-bouche

Vente Moncalvillo mushrooms, egg yolk, potatoes and poultry broth

Vente Moncalvillo mushrooms, egg yolk, potatoes and poultry broth

description

Menu

Vente Moncalvillo only serves lunch; we had their menu degustation (€60). This was fabulous! The best one * meal of the trip by far! The Coto Real Reserva ’01 (€29) was an excellent accompaniment as was the glass of Placios Remondo Placet ’09 white (€6). The olive oil was so good that we bought some of that too (€16).

Marixa

Paseo de Sancho Abarca, 8, 01300 Laguardia
Mushrooms at Marixa

Raw mushrooms and olive oil

Chorizo and bean stew at Marixa

Chorizo and bean stew

Our reservation for lunch at Marquis de Riscal had not been confirmed so we had resolved to go back to Vente Moncalvillo for Tuesday lunch but it was getting late so we asked for a recommendation from Pujanza and they suggested trying some local cuisine at Marixa in Laguardia. This worked out at €30 a head and the wonderful view was for free. We had a Finca Vallobera ‘07 for the red wine €23. You’ve always got to try the local cuisine.

Amelibia

Barbacana 14, Laguardia Tel 945 621 207
Amelibia crab salad

Crab sallad

Amelibia Chocolate Amargo

Chocolate Amargo

We were in the same area for Wednesday lunch and were recommended Amelibia. We had a selection of starters ranging from €9 to €12 (which were all good) accompanied by Casaprimicia Carraval Seca ‘05 (€31). The wine was along the more fruity and powerful style and went excellently with the Chocolate Amargo – intense chocolate with salt and olive oil. We preferred the style of this restaurant to the Marixa which was just 50 yards up the road.

El Portal *

Padre José García 19, 26280, Ezcaray Tel 941354047 www.echaurren.com
Portal ‘Fresh Grass’

‘Fresh Grass’

Portal roast pigeon

Roast pigeon

Wednesday dinner was in Ezcaray at El Portal. We selected the Menu Parrafos Sueltos (€77) accompanied by an Abel Mendoza Blanco 5V (€33) and a bottle of Castillo de Cuzcurrita - Señorío de Cuzcurrita. We finished with a glass of PX Gran Reserva 1979, a steal at €4 per glass. All the courses on the menu were excellent but our favourites were the ‘Fresh Grass’ made with sheeps cheese, frozen steak tartar powder and fresh herb powder and the roast pigeon.

Zadarian *

av. Gasteiz 21, 01008 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Tel 945134822 www.restaurantezaldiaran.com
Zadarian Norway lobster tail with chopped mussels and crispy pasta

Norway lobster tail

Zadarian piglet belly

Piglet belly

Thursday dinner was in Vitoria-Gasteiz at Zadarian. The menu Menu Degustation Otono (€55) was the obvious choice and it included a selection of reasonable bottles of wine – we chose the Izadi Crianza ’08, We had our first Txakoli, the ’12 from Txomin Etxaniz (€16). This was fresh, bracing and vibrant along the lines of an Albarno or a Sauvignon Blanc (or an Irouleguy for that matter). Our favourites from the menu were the Norway lobster tail with chopped mussels and crispy pasta and the piglet belly.

Azurmendi ***

Legina Auzoa, 48195 Larrabetzu Tel 944558866, www.azurmendi.biz
Azurmendi 'Garden' entrance

The 'Garden' entrance

Azurmendi picnic amuze-bouche

The picnic amuze-bouche

Friday dinner was the ‘last supper’ of the trip. It was near Larrabetzu (near Bilbao) at Azurmendi. Having eaten so well recently we decided on the smaller of the two menus (€148) accompanied by a Terras Gauda La Mar (€31) and an Allende Reserva ’06 (€29). The La Mer was an Albarino that had been put through the ‘sophisticated’ treatment and so had lost its vigour in our opinion. The Allende made us thankful that we had bought some on the trip. The menu we had selected was a modern take on old favourite dishes. Every course was out of this world! The evening started with a bit of theatre; a picnic in the exotic jungle-like entrance area before moving into the dining area (via the kitchen if you so wished). A truly memorable evening. More photos below.

Azurmendi dining room

The dining room and kitchen

Azurmendi Yolk cooked inside out with truffles

Yolk cooked inside out with truffles

Azurmendi Bloody Mar

Bloody Mar (seafood tomato)

Azurmendi Foie-gras Ashes

Foie-gras Ashes

Azurmendi smoked squid

Smoked squid

Azurmendi oxtail ravioli

Oxtail ravioli

Azurmendi Confit piglet, pumpkin and Iberian noodles

Confit piglet, pumpkin and Iberian noodles

Azurmendi egg 'flan'

Egg 'Flan'

Accomodation

The accommodation was chosen based on closeness to the restaurant (preferably within walking distance) and price (reasonable to balance the budget).

Tours - Citôtel Criden

65 Boulevard Heurteloup, 37000 Tours; Tel +33 2 47 20 81 14 €89 including breakfast

Ainhoa - Ur Hegian

Quartier Dantcharia, 64250 Ainhoa; Tel +33 5 59 29 91 16 €70 including breakfast

Haro – Hotel Arrope

C\ Vega 31, 26200 Haro +34 941 30 40 25 €70 including breakfast

Ezcaray – Echaurren

Padre Jose Garcia 19, 26280, Ezcaray +43 941 354 047 €66 including breakfast. The best hotel room by a long shot.

Vitoria-Gasteiz - Hotel Canciller

Ayala Ramon y Cajal, 5 01007 Vitoria +34 945 130 000 €80 including breakfast

Larrabetzu – Agroturismo Miamendi

+34 944 557 084. A B&B overlooking the restaurant but unfortunately a bit of a hair-raising drive down and back up a very steep slope. €64 including breakfast

Wineries

The prices quoted in Spain are often exclusive of taxes that add a little bit more than 20% to the prices you will see on the price lists in the wineries (and 10% elsewhere). The prices listed below are inclusive of taxes and rounded to the closest Euro.

Monday

Oyón

Bodegas Zuazo Gaston

Calle las Norias, 2, Polígono Industrial de Oion, 01320 Oyón, Álava +34 945 601 526 www.zuazogaston.com
Zuazo Gaston Cellar door

Zuazo Gaston cellar door

We started with their white wine, a Viura with a hint of Malvasia for aroma. This is designed to be drunk within a year and thus had a plastic cork and was not vintaged. It was floral, fruity and fresh – an inoffensive, hot midday wine. We then tasted a similar red wine, a 2011 Vendima Seleccionda which was designed to be light, fresh and fruity to be drunk young. Their Crianza 2009 was more to our taste; it is their biggest selling wine and one can see why. It is full of fruit with some complexity from the oak. In common with a few bodegas they made half bottles of their crianza. The ’08 Reserva was a step up in quality but similarly fruity and fresh and a lot more oak. We bought the Crianza (€7 inc).

We had planned to visit Contino and Viña Real (belong to CVNE – the first a boutique style, the second more traditional) but lunch at Vente Moncalvillo took a bit longer than expected so only Viña Real was open. However, as we had not made a reservation, we were not allowed entry – pathetic!
Viñedos del Contino, Finca San Rafael Parkea, 01321 Álava +34 945 60 02 01 Monday through Friday. 9h00 - 17h00; Saturday: 10h00 to 13h00
Bodega Viña Real, Ctra. Logroño–Laguardia, Km 4.8, 01300, Álava, +34 945 62 52 55 Monday to Saturday 9h30 – 18h30 (closed 15h00 to 16h00) - Sunday 10h00 to 14h00.

Tuesday

Because we were not sure of how things worked in Spain we had decided to book for tasting at three family owned vineyards and be serendipitous about other visits. Today was the day for the booked visits.

Villabuena

Bodegas Izadi

Travesía Herrería 2, 5, 01307 Villabuena de Álava +34 945 60 90 86 www.izadi.com
Izadi Cellar door

Izadi cellar door

Izadi own wineries in Rioja and in Ribera del Duero and Toro so we had an interesting tasting of Tempranillo from all three regions but we started with one of their whites, the unoaked Flor de Vetus Verdejo from Rueda. At 12.5% abv this light and fresh with hints of pineapple; ideal for lunchtime in the sun. Then what we came for, the Reserva 2009 (€8 inc). This came from 100% Tempranillo old vines (average age 45 years), was full of fruit and clean oak. Although drinking now, with decanting, it will be at its peak when 8 to 10 years old. We then tasted the 2 wines each from the Ribera del Duero and Toro ranging in price from €8 to €23 inc. They were well made and an interesting comparison but not what we were after. We finished with their premium wine, ’08 Orben (€19 inc) made from 60 year old vines from 74 plots of wines around Laguardia. This was powerful, complex, full of dark fruits but soft tannins. We bought the Reserva and the Orben.

Laguardia

Bodegas y Vinedos Pujanza

Carretera de Elvillar, s/n 01300 Laguardia +34 945 600 548 www.bodegaspujanza.com
Pujanza cellar door

Pujanza cellar door

Pujanza cellar door view

Pujanza cellar door view

Pujanza winery

Pujanza winery

After some difficulty finding the winery as it is not signposted after the main road turnoff we started the tasting with the ’10 Ares Crianza (€8 inc) that Pujanza also makes. They described this as their more ‘traditional’ approach to Tempranillo. This was fruity with a hint of oak and good acidity. Next came the ’11 Pujanza Haro, a new style of wine for them (€11 inc); clean cherry fruits with low tannins; designed for early drinking with the younger market in mind. The ’09 Pujanza (€16 inc) was beautifully balanced and well worth the premium. It came from the vineyard between the winery and the mountains. The ’10 Norte (€46 inc) is their flagship wine; well made, huge fruits – the Californian style many European wine makers seem to be trying for. We bought the Ares and the Pujanza and the ’04 Pujanza (€23 inc).

Torremontalbo

Amézola de la Mora

Prje. Viña Vieja, S/N 26359 Torremontalbo +34 941 45 45 32 www.bodegasamezola.net
Amézola 'cemetery'

Amézola 'cemetery'

Amézola cellar door

Amézola cellar door

Amézola is unusual in that it is one of the few bodegas in the area where their vineyards are right next door to the winery and in one parcel – most bodegas have many plots spread all over the place. It is also a winery that went into disarray following the death of the owner but is now on its way back as the children have taken over. In our view its wines are extraordinary good value in an area that is good value. We tasted their ’09 Crianza (€7 inc) and their ’07 Reserva (€11 inc) both of which were what one would expect of really well made Rioja. The surprise was the white ’11 Inogo (€14 inc) which was very complex and had been lightly oaked. We bought all three.

Wednesday

Labastida

La Granja Nuestra Senora de Remelluri

Carretera Rivas de Tereso, s/n 01330 Labastida, Alava. Tel. +34 945 331801 www.remelluri.com
Remelluri view

Remelluri view towards San Vicente

Remelluri cellar door

Remelluri cellar door

Remelluri homestead across its vineyards

Remelluri vineyards

Monday to Friday from 10a.m. to 5p.m; Saturdays, from 11a.m. to 1p.m. Remelluri is another family owned bodegas with it vineyards contiguous to its winery. The vineyards are moving towards biodynamic status. It has an excellent reputation and is on many of the star Michelin restaurant wine lists. We tried a new unannounced visit approach by asking if we could buy and taste wines rather than just taste. It worked here. We tasted the only wine that they had at the winery, their ’07 Reserva made from a traditional Tempranillo based blend that comprises Granacha, Graciano, and the white varietals Viura and Malvasia (€14 inc) that was tight to start with but opened up into an elegant wine with restrained fruit typical of the vintage. We bought it. They also bottle their wines in half bottles primarily for the restaurant trade.

In Labastida there is a very good wine and local produce shop Vinoteca Landa that is near the hotel on the main road through the town +34 945 331009. We tasted (and bought) a viura, Señoria de V (€5 inc) that was well above the average viura.

San Vicente

Abel Mendoza Monge

Carretera Peñacerrada, 7 26338 San Vicente de la Sonsierra +34 941 30 80 10 (no website)
Mendoza cellar door

Mendoza cellar door, literally

Mendoza is another small family-owned bodega with an excellent reputation. We met Maite Mendoza as she was waiting for grapes to come in from the vineyards. The tiny house on the main road hides a much bigger (but still comparatively small) winery that is built into the hillside. They have a fine reputation for their white wines but these were all sold. We tasted one at dinner that night, the 5V which is a blend of 5 different varietals, and it certainly deserved its reputation. The ’09 Jarrarte (€12 inc) had generous fruit and good structure; it took time to open up but had a big finnish; very good value. The ’10 Abel Mendoza Selección Personnel (€25 inc) had intense fruit but without the over-extracted taste; full but not a muscular wine; really top quality and great value. We bought both of these. They also had the ’10 Grano a Grano for which individual grapes are selected by hand. This sold for (€97 inc) but as we had no intension of buying it did not ask to taste.

Samaniego

Ostatu

Carretera de Vitoria, 1, 01307 Samaniego, +34 945 60 91 33 www.ostatu.com
Ostatu cellar door

Ostatu cellar door

A family run business with a recently opened wine shop on the main road. We tasted 6 of their wines. The ’12 Blanco (€4 inc) a Viura with a touch of Malvasia was more complex than other simple wines in ths price range. The ’10 Lore de Ostatu 50% Viura, 50% Malvasia was made from 50 year old vines (€10 inc). This was complex with obvious Malvasia and good clean new oak; a good substitute for a chardonnay. The ’10 Crianza (€6 inc) had a boiled sweets nose and watery fruit. The ’08 Reserva (€12 inc) had great colour and spicy, fresh fruit. The ’08 Selección de Ostatu (€10 inc) was lighter than the Reserva and we preferred it. The ’07 Gloria (€32 inc) is their flagship wine; great fruit and a full-mouth feel but along the Californian style and not to our taste. We bought the Lore de Ostatu and the Selección de Ostatu and were also charged a tasting fee (€12 inc) each. We don’t think it fair that if you buy a reasonable amount of wine you should also be charged a tasting fee.

Briones

Finca Allende

Plaza de Ibarra, 1 26330 Briones +34 941 32 23 01 www.finca-allende.com
Allende cellar door

Allende cellar door

Allende is another of these wineries that really does not want to be found – after the last sign, nothing to indicate where the bodegas is. We met the lady responsible for the wine shop on her way out at 16h15 and tried our new ‘can we buy and taste your wines?’ ‘Buy but not taste’ was the response – hoist by our own petard! Had they not had such a good reputation we would have walked. As it was we bought their Allende Reserva ’07 (€14 inc). We had their ’06 a few nights later with our meal and were glad that we had broken our rule of not buying without tasting.

Cuzcurrita

Castillo de Cuzcurrita

Calle de San Sebastián, 1 26214 Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón +34 941 32 80 22 www.castillodecuzcurrita.com 
Cuzcurrita castle and cellar door

Cuzcurrita castle and cellar door

Cuzcurrita Tempranillo vine just before harvest

Cuzcurrita Tempranillo vine just before harvest

Monday to Friday: 10:00 to 14:00. and 16:30 to 18:00 h. Saturdays: mornings only. The small 14th century castle and its grounds including the walled vineyards are beautiful. The tour of the winery was interesting in that they were big believers in using gravity but, unlike many wineries built into a hillside, they were on flat ground. Instead they used large hoppers and cranes to move everything and simulate gravity. We tasted their normal wine, Señorío de Cuzcurrita ‘07 (€13 inc) and the Cerrado del Castillo ‘08 (€32 inc) that is only produced when the grapes are up to it. The latter was full of fruit, a seriously impressive wine whilst the former was excellent value for money. We bought both, but twice the quantity of the Señorío de Cuzcurrita that we ordinarily buy.

Thursday

Haro

La Rioja Alta

Avenida de Vizcaya, 8 26200 Haro +34 941 31 03 46 www.riojalta.com
Rioja Alta cellar door

Rioja Alta cellar door

Monday to Friday 9:00 to 18:30, Saturday: 11:00 to 14:00 One of the two large operations that we had made a booking at for the obligatory tour. The old winery is no longer functional so that is a disappointment. We would recommend that you only visit the shop to do a paid tasting. We tasted the ’05 Arana (€12 inc) that had a lot of acidity making a fresh wine and lots of American oak making it very spicy. This spicy, pepperiness was a feature of all their wines. The ’04 Ardanza (€16 inc) had a lot more fruit than the previous wine. The ’08 Torre de Oña (€12 inc) had even more fruit but was less peppery as some of the oak was French; this was the wine we liked best. The ’07 Alberdi (€9 inc) was their crianza even though it had spent enough time in oak and bottle to qualify as a reserve. This was light and peppery. We bought the ’01 Gran Reserva 904 (€24 inc) because it was their flagship wine and we thought that we had better buy something. As it turned out this was unnecessary as they charged us €8 for the tasting anyway – not exactly fair.

What was interesting was their serious use of American oak which gave their wines a very peppery/spicy taste. They thought that this was a very desirable and traditional quality. We were not so sure on either count since it was the French who introduced oak to Rioja in the 1870’s when phylloxera wiped out the vines in France.

Viña Tondonia

R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, S.A. Avda. de Vizcaya, 3 26200 Haro +34 941 31 02 44 http://www.lopezdeheredia.com/indexgb.html
Tondonia cellar door

Viña Tondonia grapes arriving from harvest

Monday to Saturday 10h00 to 19h00 If you want to tour a winery to see how things were done long ago then this is the winery to visit. We tasted their Tondonia white and red; both were typical old fashioned Rioja (not that there is anything wrong with that) full of old oak rather than fruit and new oak. We bought the white Tondonia (€21 inc) for a tasting of white Rioja we were putting together.

Villalba

Bodegas Ortubia

Camino de Uriso s/n, 26292 Villalba de Rioja, +34 660 97 53 23 www.bodegasortubia.com
Ortubia winery across the vineyard

Ortubia winery across the vineyard

Ortubia harvest

Harvesting Ortubia's grapes

When one talks about a small family winery, Ortubia is the archetype. Although the family has been making wine for several generations and selling their output to the top, big houses, they only stated bottling a small proportion of their own wines 5 or so years ago. The whole operation is run by Pelayo and Belarmina with some help from a brother-in-law. The winery was designed by Pelayo and it is impressive that it can be handled by such a small team. When we arrived the harvest was in full swing so we were lucky to go out into the vineyards to see what happened there. We also tasted their full range including some new and experimental wines; and then they gave us lunch to see how their wines went with food. All in all a memorable experience and we than them for their hospitality and time.

Ortubia Blanco ’09 (€4 inc) is a lowish alcohol (12.5% abv) 100% Viura from vines between 40 and 90 years old made using traditional fermentation in stainless steel tank and then matured for 5 months in new American oak. This had good complexity from the grape and from well integrated, clean oak with a hint of lemons – a very good alternative to chardonnay.

Before this we tasted their new style of wine, a ‘vino joven’, also 100% Viura a ’12 (€3.50 inc) but made without oak. This was light and fresh as one would expect of this style but had a bit more complexity than most we had tasted. We started the red wine tasting with a red version, also a ’12 (€3.50 inc) made without oak. It was similarly light, fresh and fruity and made for drinking without food whereas the rest of their range was designed to accompany a meal.

We then tasted their crianza, Parlaza ’09 (€6 inc) (14% abv) 100% Tempranillo – full of fruit, well integrated oak, an excellent example of a crianza.

The Reserva, Ortubia ’07, (€10 inc) (14% abv) 100% Tempranillo spent 16 months in American oak, 50% new and 50% third use. Full of complexity, well balanced fruit and oak with a lingering aftertaste; will drink well over the next five years.

1958 de Ortubia Reserva ’09, (€15 inc) (14% abv) 100% Tempranillo is their premium wine and spent 26 months in American and French oak, 100% new. Their example of the Californian style of extra fruit and extra oak but without the alcohol; well made, well constructed.

The experimental Belarmina ’08 Reserva (probably €30 inc) was made using Hungarian oak that to our taste resulted in a more balanced and complex wine than achievable from the American oak.

We bought the Ortubia Blanco, Parlaza and Ortubia reserve.

Friday

We had identified a few of the larger bodegas to visit without appointment but after 4 days of tasting a single varietal we were tasted out so we gave them a miss and went to San Sebastian for a swim and a drive along the coast to Bilbao.

Bodegas Roda, Avda. Vizcaya, 5, 26200 Haro, +34 941 30 30 01 www.roda.es Wine Bar in which you can taste wines by the glass and see The Old Cellar and buy wine. It is open from 11:00 to 14:00 and 16:00 to 18:00.

CVNE’ Cune Barrio de la Estación S/N 26200 Haro Tel: 941 304 800 www.cvne.com Monday - Saturday: 10:00 – 18:30, Shop closes from 15:00 - 16:00, Sunday 10:00 -14:00

Bodegas Muga, Barrio de la Estación s/n, 26200 Haro +34 941 31 18 25 www.bodegasmuga.com - Monday to Friday from 08.30 to 18.30, Saturdays and Sundays from 10.00 to 14.00.

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