The hotel’s Gran Reserva-red room décor complimented by a vineyard view and a half bottle of 2016 Riscal wine followed a seamless arrival: car doors opened, luggage hefted away, the effortless hand over of the room key. They ticked every box of a five-star experience.
We had time for a quick drive through the surrounding vineyards before the Riscal tour began, and set our sights on one stop, like the Riscal hotel, an architectural landmark: Bodegas Ysios and its winery designed by Santiago Calatrava. Before, though, we witnessed the ceaseless activity of the 2021 cosecha, tractors crisscrossing the terrain, including a brief stop at Bodega Cosme Palacio in the process of receiving harvested grapes (under the close scrutiny of an official from the Rioja Regulatory Council, guardian of the DOCa).
Arriving at Bodegas Ysios via a long straight red gravel path, transversing the vineyards towards the elegant building framed against a mountain backdrop inspires the mind and the taste buds. We decided to sample the 2018 Ysios Blanco, made from old vine Viura, whose richness perfected the day thus far. This is a complex, fruity, layered wine with aromas of white flowers. It’s a testament to modern Rioja white wines. The care taken in vilification was obvious, I later learned that Ysios hand harvested the grapes in small 10 kg boxes to avoid crushing the fruit, which was then cold macerated for 12 hours for flavor extraction. Both the free-run and first-pressing musts were fermented in 500 and 225 liter French-oak barrels. An unknown portion of the wine was fermented on skins for 15 days to add complexity. A further 9 months of lees contact using clay amphora completed the process. Sipping this wine upstairs overlooking a sea of vines and swath of blue Alavesa sky left little more to desire.
We arrived back at Marques de Riscal just as the vineyard tour began, which led eventually to the winery, cellars, and a guided tasting of three wines, including the Riscal Verdejo, a Reserva, and a Crianza. Riscal’s wooden fermentation tanks contrasted with the shiny stainless steel lineup of Cosme Palacios. Too, the dissimilitude of the century-old winery buildings and the post-modern hotel perfectly expresses the complexity of Rioja, physically and in terms of wine, today. The old and the new, the traditional and the innovative co-exist, if not in total aesthetic harmony, then at least comfortably at ease with each other.
That evening at the hotel we enjoyed the views of Elciego, the local village, and decided to eat supper there instead of at the hotel. Every village in Spain has a bar, and this is where we enjoyed a typical light dinner with a glass of local red wine for 1/10th the price of Riscal’s admirable restaurant. It was chilly, no heat in the bar, but the wine and smart service warmed us up.
The next day we awoke refreshed and relaxed and headed out after a delicious hotel breakfast, to check out Haro, the historic capital of Rioja. We had a delightful snack and tried some great wine at the terrace of Bodgas Muga, one of my favorite producers, red, white, or rose. Muga made the 2018 Reserva from a typical Rioja blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano hand-harvested grapes and fermentation with indigenous yeast in wooden vats. Before I drank my glass, the wine had been aged for 22 months in oak casks: 80% French oak and the rest hailing from Central Europe and America. Delicious, balanced, expressive. The Muga rose perfectly complimented the local cheeses.
Then, we were off to France.
A rare chance to raise the curtain on the inner workings of the Bordeaux wine world is available to those starting out in the wine trade.
Bordeaux wine expert Jane Anson and business consultant Chinedu Rita-Rosa have teamed up to offer a new and exciting immersive experience to “get behind the scenes of a region that is key to the global wine market”: Bordeaux Mentor Week. Aimed at anyone commencing a career in the wine trade, Mentor Week will introduce participants to Bordeaux wines, winemaking, and distribution methods alongside rare access to select Chateaux. The program will take place in September of this year.
An example of the week´s program includes accommodation at Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc 1855 3ième Cru: harvest work in vineyard and cellar; meetings with wine business innovators; as well as a Masterclass on The Place de Bordeaux, how it works, and how it is evolving. Mentor Week will emphasize organic and biodynamic farming techniques and philosophy, and also involves personal development, with mentoring sessions and instruction in olfactory analysis with focus on older wines.Accommodation and transport within the region for the official program is included for selected participants, and travel bursaries are possible for those who are not able to personally fund travel to this incredible French wine region.
Industry supporters include Quo Global, Wine Services, Château La Lagune and Bernard Magrez Grands Vignobles.
This promises to be an incredible experience for those entering the world of wine business.
Jane Anson has lived in Bordeaux since 2003 and is author of Inside Bordeaux (BB&R Press 2020, called a “category buster” by Wine Anorak and “the Bordeaux bible” by Le Figaro), Haut-Bailly (First Press Editions 2021), Wine Revolution (Quarto 2017), The Club of Nine (Katz Publishing 2016) Angélus (Editions de la Martiniere, 2016) and Bordeaux Legends, a history of the 1855 First Growth wines (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013), as well as co-author or translator of over a dozen wine and travel books. She has won several awards for her writing, including Louis Roederer Wine Online Communicator of the Year 2020, and Born Digital Best Editorial 2020.
Chinedu Rita Rosa is the CEO and Founder of Vines By Rosa, the first black-owned wine export and marketing consultancy in Bordeaux France. With over 22 years of experience in the wine trade, she brings a friendly but firm African approach to the wine industry with a passion for success. Chinedu is also the President and Founder of the Bordeaux Business Network, an organization created to help English-speaking Entrepreneurs in the Aquitaine Region in France.
This opportunity is available to all subscribers of janeanson.com – or through nomination by a subscriber. “All you need to do is join up first or ask your employer or friend who does subscribe to nominate you,” says Jane Anson. Applications are open until April 30, 2022. Simply send your details, with information about your current role and why you would be interested in attending the week, to firstname.lastname@example.org, clearly marked The Mentor Week. All applications will be reviewed by a panel including Jane, Chinedu, and the industry partners, with the successful candidates announced by mid May 2022.
Charlie Leary earned his PhD in history at Cornell University. He has served as a wine director for restaurants in New Orleans, southern France, Canada, Costa Rica and Panama since 1995. He is a certified Spanish Wine Specialist, Cava Educator and Expert and has studied wine through Washington State University, the Wine Scholar Guild, California Wine Institute, and the Rioja Academy. Charlie is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers.