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 email@example.com, 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.
The regulatory board of D.O. Cava in Catalunya, Spain, just announced sales figures for 2021. I take a look at the fascinating trends and surprising developments, many of which are tied to a new commercialization strategy announced in 2020. Areas to watch: organic production and higher-end categories of the Spanish sparkler, where terroir takes center stage.
Announcing 2021 sales and export figures today, a press release from the regulatory board of the D.O. Cava in Spain also pointed out intriguing trends and encouraging practices related to this most famous of Spanish sparkling wines. Domestic consumption in Spain recovered last year, but the real news here is that exports of wine from D.O. Cava’s 38,000 hectares of vineyards saw jaw-dropping growth. Sales of Cava made from certified organic grapes and finer, longer-aged wines constitute two categories representing Cava’s future and the board’s new strategy.
The larger Rioja DOCa, with almost 66,000 hectares of vineyards, and Cava are the denomination of origin wines that lead Spanish exports. Cava outdid itself in 2021 with 17.34%, overall growth and a sales volume of 252 million bottles. The real standouts posted figures way beyond this, however; organic Cava sales grew 65% and those of the new Guarda Superior category by an astounding 104.25%. Rioja, for comparison, had overall growth of 8.6% in 2021, with sales of Gran Reserva wines showing a 15.7% rise.
Cava is a sparkling wine that, since July 2020, is placed into two broad categories (although all Cava is made from the traditional double fermentation method, the same as for Champagnes). Cava de Guarda includes wines aged in the bottle for a minimum of nine months, showing a lighter flavor of fresh fruit and citrus accompanied by fast, lively bubbles in the glass. This is the lower level of Cava wines. Cava de Guarda Superior is the higher level, and this is where the growth occurred. Superior includes three levels of wine: Reserva, Gran Reserva, and Paraje Calificado. Reserva wines must have aged a minimum of 18 months in the bottle; for Gran Reserva this time period is extended to 30 months, though many go much longer than this. The resulting wines have much more character, including flavors associated with sophisticated aged sparkling wines, including tertiary aromas. Reservas can run the gamut of sweetness styles from Brut Nature and Extra Brut through Semi Seco (semi dry) and Dulce (sweet).
Cava de Paraje Calificado is wine tied to a single vineyard or area. This is the regulatory board’s answer to many of the D.O. winegrowers’ goals of expressing terroir or terruño in their wines. In fact, a few years ago some famous producers left the D.O. over such issues; and the regulatory board has responded quickly, thoughtfully, and strongly. Paraje Calificado wines represent a concrete place, unique in expression, and quite distinct from even the broad Gran Reserva category. Here high quality and uniqueness are combined. These superbly complex wines age for a minimum of 36 months in bottle, some much more. Additional requirements for achieving this qualification include vineyards planted over 10 years ago; a maximum yield of 8,000 Kg/Ha; only manual harvesting of grape bunches; wines made on the property and always with a vintage; a limited extraction of 48 Hl/Ha; and serious oversight with complete traceability from the vineyard to the final sales point. Thus the vanguard in terms of fine wine production is also the wave of the future for the regulatory board. “As a D.O. based on origin, on our vineyards, and on long aging,” said President Javier Pages today, “we have a serious responsibility and a unique opportunity to take the exceptional success of Cava to even greater heights.”
The international wine world has taken note. Exports constitute 71% of total Cava sales. The European Union countries like Cava--a lot--but with a little more three percent rise, overall the E.U. is not the growth market. By contrast, sales rises in what the board calls “third countries” was considerable at 30.43%. While sales to Japan grew 7.94%, the bubbliest pace was in places like Austria (65.54%), Brazil (37.69%), and Poland (27.35%).
The news that really caught my attention relates to organic wines. Part of the new regulations established 2025 as the year that the entire category of Guarda Superior wines (Reserva, Gran Reserva, Paraje Calificado) must be 100% organic. That’s coming up very soon!
The number of bottles of organic Cava now exceeds 22,797,356, with an impressive growth of 65.43% compared to 2020. This shows the 2020 regulation taking effect, as more and more producers achieve certified organic status, having changed their viticultural practices; thus the board refers to “a state of transition for certain winemakers in the Designation of Origin.” This is good for the wine and its consumers, the D.O., and the environment. The Guarda Superior segment contributed hugely to the overall growth in sales, with a remarkable figure of 104.25%, representing 42.09% of the total organic Cava category.
This is a targeted trajectory for sales growth and strengthening quality that comes not only from the regulatory board, but also from the winemakers and grape farmers. One can clearly see that the new segmentation and zoning, the strong focus on sustainability, and the attention to producing unique, expressive sparkling wines that rival the best of Champagne is quickly paying off. Gran Reserva and Paraje Calificado wines represent a huge value in comparison with the prices of Champagne wines.
More changes are afoot, including education campaigns. This year will also see the launch of the first quality seals under the new regulations, telling consumers about the Cava’s geographical origin and product segment, such as Guarda Superior.
Charlie Leary earned his PhD 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 Cava Educator and Expert and has studied wine through Washington State University, the Wine Scholar Guild, California Wine Institute, and the Rioja Academy.