The sights of the Rioja Alavesa wine route

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I have just been pointed to a video promoting the Rioja Alavesa wine route.

On the whole the images are interesting, but I feel they got the music BADLY wrong. I also think they got the balance of images slightly off by showing just a little too much old sandstone buildings and limestone cliffs. Of course these dominate the landscape and make it great to visit, but I the overall impression, especially with the music, is that this is some sort of South American or “wild west” landscape, with old dusty towns, vast expanses of vine-growing plains and jagged, imposing mountains.

In fact, it is an easily travelled, gentle and culturally rich landscape with lots of modern facilities balanced with historical towns that are very much still alive.

Come and visit and see what you think

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A tapas night out on Calle Laurel

On a recent trip to Rioja with a great bunch of wine lovers from a well known luxury hotel chain, I was also accompanied by a friend, Tom Jacques (@tomjacques) who happens to be a great photographer.

Check out some of his photos from that night. Calle Laurel is Logroño’s tapas quarter – a growing warren of streets that serve tapas, wine and beer and are a great place to hang out with friends.

Next week I will also post some of his other photos of Bilbao, Laguardia, Logroño and Dinastia Vivanco from the trip

Logroño Tapas Crawl with Vivanco

White Tempranillo

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What is White Tempranillo? Have you even heard of it before?

White Tempranillo or Tempranillo Blanco grapes

Not your "usual" bunch of Tempranillo grapes

Let’s get one thing straight from the start, it has nothing to do with White Zinfandel. That is a white wine made from red grapes and often in a fruity style.

Tempranillo Blanco, or White Tempranillo, is a relatively ‘new’ grape. It is the result of a natural mutation of the more common ‘red’ Tempranillo, and was discovered on a vine in a vineyard in Murillo de Rio Leza in 1988 by the owner, Jesús Galilea Esteban. DNA analysis proved that this really was tempranillo, but that a natural ‘albinism’ had affected the genes relating to the skin colour that resulted in a yellow/green skin pigmentation instead of the usual blue/purple.

You can read a few more details on the Wikipedia page, ungenerously listed under the title “Tempranillo White Mutant

Rioja only allows a small number of “official” grapes to be used for its wines, but as this grape was effectively “born” in Rioja, they could hardly not allow it. However, it took a few years of testing by the official Rioja regulatory bodies first. They took the cutting, grew the plant, used this to take more cuttings and so on, until they had a small number of vines from which to produce grapes and test the resulting wine.

The initial results were positive, so a limited number of producers, including Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco, were allowed limit plantings of the vines as “experimental” varieties. This too was successful and finally, in 2007, Tempranillo Blanco was approved as a minority variety in white wine blends.

Of course wineries need to grow the grapes first before they can make the wines, and it takes around 3 years to mature a young vine enough to produce good grapes. However, the pioneers of this production have now started to see the benefit of the early investment and so in 2010 and 2011 some Tempranillo Blanco will start to appear in bottles of Rioja white wines, although it is still planted in tiny quantities exclusively in Rioja.

According to Dinastia Vivanco:

Tempranillo Blanco wines offer intense fruity aromas, with banana, green apple, citrus and floral characters.

Whilst Tom Perry, of Inside Rioja, tasted one of the very first versions of this wine which I think was aged in acacia wood barrels for a period and reported:

The wine was surprisingly tasty:  straw yellow color, a nose that combined citrus, butter and dried apricots which reminded me a little of viognier if it weren’t for the citrus.  It had a medium mouthfeel, and tasted  citrusy with apricots along with a little black licorice.

I look forward to seeing what producers do with it and to tasting as many as I can.

Through a documentary-maker's eyes

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Bobal Screening

Image by Ryan Opaz via Flickr

Every winery and wine family have a story to tell, but few get the chance to tell it to a wide audience through the medium of film, and in particular with the artistic expression of a documentary film maker and artist such as Zev Robinson.

Zev, originally from the UK & Canada, comes from a Fine Art background, and it shows in his work. However, it seems he has found the medium of film documentaries to be a great way to capture the histories and the personalities behind the wine stories he is witnessing while currently living in Spain.

Zev has already succesfully released his labour of love about a little known grape, La Bobal, and has continued to train his camera on the wine culture of both Spain and Portugal ever since.

One of these subjects was the Vivanco family from Rioja where he spent over a year recording the first-hand accounts of three generations of the family who started out as local grape growers and have become one of the most influential families in the region. This is about their passion for wine culture, and Rioja in particular. It is about their winery, Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco, but it is also about their Museum of Wine Culture, and the Dinastia Vivanco Foundation. It is a very personal account about how this came about, in their own words, but very much through the documentary-maker’s eyes.

Zev has described in detail how his film came about on his own site, and I recommend reading it:

“Of all the many remarkable stories and interviews for which I am very grateful to have shared, that of Pedro Vivanco has to rank as the most incredible and unique.” Zev Robinson

The result is “Dinastia Vivanco: Giving Back to Wine What Wine has Given Us” which will see its first full premiere in London on March 17th 2011 at the Roxy Bar & Screen on Borough High Street. (see below for the preview, and click on the link to go to the Facebook Event page).

There are still a few £10 tickets for this premiere as well as a guest list of wine, film and London bloggers and media.

The premiere will be a chance to try some of the Dinastia Vivanco wines during the reception before the film, but also in an exclusive tasting after the screening, where we can also hear your views on the documentary.

For more information, and to book tickets, visit the Roxy Bar & Screen site or contact me at robert@thirstforrioja.co.uk about getting on the guest list.

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A new sweet Rioja wine from Dinastia Vivanco

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My tastings will never be the same.

I’ve been conducting tastings of Dinastia Vivanco wines for 7 years, and in all that time, whenever we had a full dinner to match our wines to, I had to apologise when we got to the dessert as “Dinastia Vivanco don’t make sweet wines“.

dried rioja grapes on the vine

Dried out grapes on the vine in January

I was very surprised to hear, therefore, not only that Rafael Vivanco WILL be making an experimental quantity of a sweet wine, but that there is an ancient local tradition of these ‘raisined wines’ in Rioja. To be fair, it is a largely forgotten tradition, but it is well-known enough that the Rioja DOCa should be accepting these wines as ‘Rioja’.

Below is the press release that went out today which you can read on PR Web too, but you can get in touch with me, or even come to Bibendum‘s Annual Tasting in London today (January 26th, 2011) to speak to Rafael if you are in town.

Vivanco and the January Vintage in Rioja

Wine Culture has always been the thread that strings together developments at Dinastia Vivanco. On this occasion, Rafael Vivanco, winemaker at Dinastia Vivanco, is proposing to rediscover an ancient, deep-rooted Rioja tradition now sadly forgotten; the sweet wines known locally as “Vinos Supurados” or “Raisined Wines”.

The winery harvested the grapes for the Raisined Wine in Briones on Wednesday 19th January 2011. These grapes were the Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes from the El Cantillo vineyard that surrounds the winery in Briones. One of Rafael Vivanco’s experimental projects, this research project is driven by his passion to recover and promote the diversity and richness of Rioja’s winemaking heritage. This will be the second vintage of this wine as a tiny quantity was made in 2009 to provide technical experience and parameters for future vintages.

The Rioja “Raisined Wine” tradition is part of an ancient, local grape growers’ custom of storing grapes at home to eat, dried, until Christmas. They usually selected the most mature fruit and loose bunches (often Garnacha) that would be desiccated after a few months – hence the translation as “Raisined”, or even “Shrivelled” and “Rotten”. At Christmas the remaining bunches would be pressed and fermented in demijohns or other receptacles. The result, once fermentation had stopped after a few months, was a wine with very high residual sugar. This wine, sweet but fresh thanks to the remaining acidity, was used both as a dessert wine and medicinally, for its ‘restorative’ properties.

The Dinastia Vivanco grapes used for this vinification of Raisined Wine have remained on the vine in search of the benefits of noble rot (botrytis). As the agent of some of the world’s most prestigious wines, such as Sauternes, this noble rot, encouraged by the early morning vineyard mists rising from the nearby River Ebro, will add complexity and longevity to the resulting wine. Rafael Vivanco has experience of making these unique wines from his own winemaking education in Bordeaux in 1999.