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My Rioja, from beginning to bottle

November 17, 2011 4:13 pm - Posted by Roland Hulme in Behind The Scenes, Drink, Learn, Travel

2005 Marques de Riscal Reserva

I’ve come to the conclusion that you drink wine with more than just your nose and taste buds – your memory also plays an important part in the process.

That’s why people often gravitate towards the same grapes, the same terroirs and the same brands when they choose their wine. Certainly, for me, memory is the primary reason I’ve developed a mania for wines from La Rioja, in Spain.

This February, I was lucky enough to travel with Jody Ness and the crew of Wine Portfolio to experience the wines of this venerable region first-hand; and it’s colored my experience of drinking them ever since.

Just a whiff of the earthy combination of mountain-grown Tempranillo and old oak is enough to whisk me back to the amazing food, stunning scenario and warm hospitality I experienced on my trip to Spain.

But there’s more to it than that.

Touring some of the region’s most traditional wineries – and its most innovative – gave me an appreciation for the heritage, history and pride that goes into making every bottle of Rioja.

For example, when I bought a bottle of 2005 Marques de Riscal Reserva today, I chose that wine because I’d been lucky enough to visit the Bodega where it was made. While there, I witnessed every step of the journey that turns a plump, juicy grape into a rich, rewarding drop of wine.

It’s knowing that journey – and the passion and precision which went into it – which makes every mouthful so flavorful. 

Let me share the journey my wine went on with you. It makes it taste just that much better:

Every bottle of Marques de Riscal starts life here, at Bodega Riscal. This is the stunning hotel that overlooks the winery, designed by Frank O. Gehry.

Surrounding the Bodega, and for hundreds of acres all around, are the vineyards that supply Marques de Riscal with their signature grapes.

Riscal is famous for how gently they treat their grapes. These whirling scoops sort them while minimizing bruising and broken skin.

Grape juice becomes wine on its first fermentation; in one of the enormous stainless steel vats far below the cobblestones of the Bodega.

Between fermentations, every drop of juice is squeezed from the grape pulp using gigantic wooden presses little different to those used a century or more earlier.

The second fermentation, one floor higher, adds character and clarity.

After fermentation, each batch is painstakingly analysed to ensure perfection; one of the ways in which traditional vineyards like Marques de Riscal have remained on the cutting edge.

Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva earn their distinctive character here, in oak barrels deep beneath the cobblestones.

After many months, the wine is racked and bottles. Here, a shipment of corks arrives to seal the bottles.

Each bottle is aged to perfection in the sprawling cellars of Bodega Riscal - sometimes for months, sometimes for decades.

Finally, each bottle is labelled and prepared for sale. At Marques de Riscal, a foil netting is added as a nod to the days when the unscrupulous would refill bottles from La Rioja with inferior produce.

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