The last few years my interest for knowing more about wines has grown a lot. I’m also of the opinion that you learn the most about something (in this case wine) by visiting the actual vineyards instead of reading about it in books… That’s why mostly in the last 2 years I visited quit a few vineyards in Europe. Being only 1 ½ hour drive from the Rioja wine region during my stay at San Sebastian, it would be a crime not to visit some Bodegas… Like with the food I promised my beautiful wife that I would only be visiting 1 vineyard during our trip (although there were a few more I wanted to visit), so I had to choose wisely :-). Just like with the food in San Sebastian, here I again have the perfect excuse to come back to Rioja.
I decided to visit Bodegas Beronia, which was a decision I quickly made because the first time I tasted one of their wines at restaurant Pazzo in Antwerp I became a fan. I know there are lots of great Bodegas in Rioja like Muga or Viña Tondonia… but 1 vineyard is 1 vineyard and a promise a promise 🙂 and Bodegas Beronia seemed like the perfect place to start learning more about Rioja wines. Bodegas Beronia was founded in 1973 by a Gastronomy club and since 1982 is part of the Gonzalez-Byass group who helped Bodegas Beronia to grow and to invest in new technologies. In 1973 the winemaking was more to provide friends and family from wine, nowadays they produce around 5 million bottles and this without reducing the quality the founders aimed and cherished. They basically helped them to make an even better product.
Just like with all my blog posts about wine regions, also for Rioja wines there are a few basic things you should know. But don’t worry I won’t get to technical and try to keep it as simple as possible. Let me start with the Rioja region itself. This region can be subdivided in 3 regions – Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja. With the last area (Baja) being the most southern, where due to the drier and warmer climate than in the other 2 resulting in deeply coloured and higher/more alcoholic wines with some wines at 18% alcohol (due to the more sugar in the grapes because of the warmth). They usually blend this wine with wine from the other 2 regions. Rioja Alta on the other hand is close to the little town called Haro and as “Alta” may already make suspect is also located more North. Rioja Alta is also the region where Bodegas Beronia is located. In the Alta region (located higher above sea level) produces brighter fruit flavored wines and in comparison with the ones from the Baja region with a lesser alcoholic percentage. The most full body wines will be produced in the Alavesa region. So mix the 3 together and you have a winner ;-). I must also add that most of the wines produced in the Rioja are red, you can also get white and rosé wines (some also very good ones), but the focus is mostly on red wines.
To make the Rioja wines they always use a blend (mix) from a few grape variaties mostly Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo. Just FYI, the Tempranillo will make that you can age the wine more. For the white ones they will mostly use Macabeo in combination with another grape like Malvasia for example.
FYI, just like in other wines region in Rioja there also is a Supervising board to make sure the wine is made according to the rules and tradition. For example vineyards can only use small barrels not the huge ones you sometimes see in other wine regions… or the cost of the grapes used to make Rioja must exceed by at least 200% the national average of wine grapes used in all Spanish wines.
The aging of the Rioja wines happens in French oak, American oak or both types of oak. The biggest reason (historically) why they also started using American oak is that French oak was getting very expense back in the days… and this would in the end result in the wine makers having to sell their wines more expensive and having less competitive price
After the location and grapes used is maybe the difference between the types of wines. There are 4 categories:
- Rioja: less than 1 year aging in wooden barrels
- Crianza: aged for at least 2 years from which 1 at least in wooden barrels. At Bodegas Beronia. 1 year in wooden barrels and the rest in bottle.
- Rioja Riserva: aging at least 3 years of which at least 1 in wooden barrels. At Bodegas Beronia it stays 18 months in wooden barrels and 18 months in bottle before being released.
- Rioja Gran Riserva: aging at least 2 years in wooden barrels and 3 years in bottle and only produced in exceptional years. In case of Bodegas Beronia the last vintage for the Gran Riserva was 2005 and aged 24 months in French and American oak and I don’t think it has yet been released on the market
The references I make to the Bodegas Beronia wines above are the ones from the Classic range as they also have a few other ranges like Single variety (100% wine of 1 type of grape), Premium Range (special vintages) and ecological wines.
A vineyard visit without tasting is like going to a bakery without buying bread… Bodegas Beronia or better Julia and Maria-Jesus assembled a collection of wines for me to tasting out of the first 3 wine ranges. If you don’t know much about wines and want to get introduced or better to get used to the Rioja wine taste the best way to do this by tasting the Single variety wines that as mentioned are made 100% from 1 grape kind (Tempranillo, Graciano, Viura and Mazuelo). You can see them as an “everybody’s friend”. With as exception the Mazuelo as it has a quit exceptional taste that most people would only appreciate accompanied by a good steak or aged red meat (or strong cheeses)… so more for the advanced wine lover to taste without food :-). I liked the Mazuelo a lot even without the food and can’t wait to heat up the BBQ for that meat 😉 to complete the wine taste even more. Oh yes, a taste I liked a lot in this wine was the taste en smell of mele cotogne jam (I think in English this is called quince apples) which brings me back to my family in Croatia who filled pancakes with this jam 🙂 and is a standard to eat when I visit them.
The Classic Range (or better Reserva and Gran Reserva) and Premium wines where definitely of a next level and 100% my cup of tea. It was actually their Rioja Reserva that convinced me of their quality a few years ago at restaurant Pazzo and during my tasting at the Bodega convinced me again. Having a alcohol percentage between 13,5 and 14% and having aged in new oak barrels their taste is much more elegant, fruity and fresh than one would expect. You would expect a more aggressive and wood taste and scent. Which one I liked best if difficult to say, that’s why I bought all of them to try again at home 😉 (Les excuses sont fait pour s’en server). I have already done the effort of not going to the top restaurants, so some wine for me seems like an honest alternative.
No the real reason is just because they all have their particular taste and depending on the occasion one wine will be more fitting than the other. Still keeping some similarities between for example the Rioja Reserva and Gran Reserva in the chocolate and mature black/red fruit taste. Sometimes I did smell things thanks to the help of Maria-Jesus, because sometimes you just can’t put your finger on what it exactly is. The frosting on the cake however was the Reserva 198 Barricas so if I must really choose a favourite it would be this one (I think because of the slightly more spice aromas, but also because it was just good 🙂 ). Again here as these wines are stronger it is better to enjoy these wines paired with a meal, some cured ham or cheese.
Mmmm, not as short as I had hoped to keep it… ah well that’s the way it is 😉 Tonight I’ll sit back and relax with a nice glass of Rioja wine 🙂 hope you will too. Hope you learned something new thanks to this post?! I know I did…
A special thanks to Julia and Maria-Jesus for their wonderful explanation and introducing me more in the world of Rioja wines !