One Day in Haro (#WorldWineTravel)

Once upon a time, way back in 2013, Greg and I took a trip to Spain. My sister-from-another-mister, Antonella was studying abroad in Barcelona and we took advantage of the opportunity to go visit her there; however, that was merely our jumping-off point for a road trip looping the Iberian Peninsula. From Barcelona, we drove south, making our way around southern Spain, then west towards the Atlantic, made our way up through Portugal, before turning back inland to make our way back through a few wine regions, then back to Barcelona. This all occurred over the course of two weeks at the end of November, and it proved to be a VERY aggressive itinerary.

This trip was an odyssey with lots of highs and some very low, lows. We were there during the off-season, so a lot of things were closed . . . and I got the impression that in Spain business hours were merely a suggestion as to when a business was more likely to be open in general, but especially in the off-season. It was unseasonably cold and very rainy in southern Spain that year, and a lot of our Airbnb’s were not equipped with creature comforts we spoiled Americans are used to like temperature control and lots of hot water for showers lasting more than 5 minutes. (To be fair, I’m sure that in many of the places we went, heating isn’t needed all that often in a year, we just happened to be there when it was.) Altogether, my memories of southern Spain are of alternately of being awed by jaw-droppingly gorgeous sights and architecture, and then being extremely uncomfortable due to being very cold, frustrated because something had gone wrong (and LOTS of things went wrong), or hungry due to not being able to find any place open to eat, and often being disappointed with whatever we did find. I’ve learned over time that for me, the lion’s share of basic contentment is based simply on getting enough sleep, eating, and temperature control, and we were regularly striking out on all fronts.

By the time we looped back around to make our way through our wine region stops in northern Spain though, we’d managed to regain our footing, started to hit our stride, and we were having a good time. Plus, wine! I’m pretty sure that better wine and food overall helped improve our outlooks on this leg of the trip, so even when there were hiccups, we were better able to handle them. All in all, my memories of this part of the trip are much more positive. It's amazing how quickly good wine and food lift my mood!

I always intended to blog about our adventures and misadventures on this trip, and somehow it just never happened. (Many of these misadventures seem quite funny to me now.) However, the newly formed World Wine Travel blogging group has decided to spend 2021 exploring Spanish wine regions, and the first three months of the year will be dedicated to the wine regions we visited, finally giving me the nudge to write about our time there. I'm also excited about this year's exploration since I love Spanish wines and think they're completely undervalued and generally very food friendly.

Despite my happiness at the opportunity to finally write about this trip, I've run into a minor hurdle –
which is perhaps in keeping in the spirit of that trip!  I’ve kept notes on almost every wine trip we’ve ever taken. I’m certain I took notes on this one, however,  I cannot find them. *POOF!* They’ve just vanished, and that somehow seems annoyingly appropriate. Therefore, I’ll just have to rely on my faulty memories of the places we visited.

We’re kicking things off today by revisiting memories from Rioja.


Rioja Cheat Sheet


Before I jump into sharing our tasting adventures, let’s cover a few basics on the area.  (We have also previously taken a look at Rioja here.)

Rioja is probably Spain’s most famous wine region, so there’s a good chance that if you’ve only tried one type of Spanish wine, it was from here. It also holds the honor of being only one of two wine regions, along with Priorat, to hold Spain’s top wine designation of DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada or "Qualified Designation of Origin”).

Grapes: Tempranillo is Rioja’s star grape, followed by Garnacha, but Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan) can also play supporting roles. A fifth grape called Maturana Tinta is also permitted as of 2009. These are used for both reds and rosados (rosés). The traditional white grapes are Viura (aka Macabeo), Malvasía, and Garnacha blanca, but a few others are also permitted. 


Map borrowed from WineFolly.com.

Location: Rioja is located in northern Spain just south of Bilbao. The region is centered around the regional capital of Logroño, and vineyards largely follow the Ebro River for about 100 kilometers (60 miles) between the towns of Haro and Alfaro. The region is bordered to the north and west by the Cantabrain Mountains.

Subregions: Rioja is divides into three subregions which from west to east are Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Oriental (Rioja Baja until 2018).  We'll be looking at wineries in Rioja Alta today, which is the highest elevation area of the three, as suggested by the name. 

Map borrowed from WineFolly.com.

Categories: You might also see terms on the bottle like Joven, Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. These are all based on the length of time the wine has been aged in oak. We went into greater detail in this post, but here are the basics of each term:

  • Rioja Genérico (formerly Joven) wines spend little or no time in oak – jóven is Spanish for "young". These wines are intended for early consumption. The category may also include wines that have undergone aging but don’t fit otherwise fit into the higher categories.
  • Crianza red wines are aged for at least one year in oak, and one year in bottle. They are released in the third year. White Crianza wines must also be aged for two years but only six months of which needs to be in casks.
  • Reserva red wines are aged for at least three years,  and at least one year must be in oak. The white Reserva wines need only spend six months of the three years in barrel.
  • Gran Reserva red wines undergo a total of five years of aging with at least two years spent in barrel, and at least two years in bottle. The white wines must age for at least four years, with a minimum of 12 months in casks. These wines are only made in the best years.

As of 2018, Rioja also has new classifications based on geographical location and vineyard designations. We’re not going to delve too deeply into this today, but very basically they’re:

  •     Vino de Zona – grapes are grown, vinified and aged within the zone (i.e. subregion). This is indicated by VZ on the label.
  •     Vino de Municipio – similar to a village level wine elsewhere in Europe. Grapes are grown grapes are grown, vinified, and aged within a municpality. This is indicated by VM on the label.
  •     Viñedo Singular – A single vineyard wine from a long established single estate site, made and bottled on that estate. Viñedo Singular will appear on the Rioja label.


Haro's Barrio de la Estación


Given our super intense travel schedule, we only spent one day in each of the wine regions we visited. We stopped off in Haro, in the subregion of Rioja Alta, and visited three wineries during our stay.  It was extremely convenient that several esteemed and historic bodegas are grouped together around the town’s train station, which made it convenient to ship the wines out in times past. In fact, after phylloxera hit France in the 1860s, many French winemakers headed south to Rioja, which hadn’t been hit yet by the demon louse, to buy both bottled and bulk wines. The opening of the Tudela-Bilbao railway in 1863, which had a stop Haro, helped facilitate trade between the regions. The French, in turn, shared their wine-making and barrel-aging techniques with the winemakers in Rioja.

The area is aptly named Barrio de la Estación, or the Station District. We visited Bodegas Muga, CVNE and López de Heredia. Another favorite of mine, La Rioja Alta S.A., is also in this area, although we did not have the chance to visit on that trip.

As I mentioned, my notes from the trip seem to have run away, so I’ll just share some history and favorite memories from each of our stops, and some of Greg’s beautiful photos, along with a few pairing ideas of course.

Note: Our visits were comped as I’m a member of the wine industry. No compensation was received and all opinions are my own.


Bodegas Muga

We started out the day at Bodegas Muga, which has been a family-run business from its beginning in 1932. It was founded by Isaac Muga and Aurora Caña, and is now in its third generation. The winery was originally in a different part of Haro, but moved the Barrio de la Estación in 1970.



While all three, wineries we visited are very classic bodegas of the region, Muga’s style is the most modern of the three, combining traditional methods, with more cutting-edge techniques. A favorite memory was having the chance to see their in-house cooperage. They only cellar in Spain with a master cooper and they have three in-house barrel-makers. We were able to see barrels at different stages of production and at different toast levels. The size of a barrel, its age, and the degree to which it’s charred, or toasted, on the inside has an effect on the wines. Smaller, newer, and more toasted barrels, will give more intense flavors to the wine.



On the day we were there, they were fining some of their wines with egg whites, so there were  huge pallets with eggs around, and I’d never seen the process in practice before (or since for that matter). Egg whites can be used to gently remove particles and phenolic compounds from wines, as the proteins from the egg whites bind with these particles. Some of these compounds can be rather astringent, so removing them helps to soften the wines and gives them a more supple texture, in addition to improving the clarity of the wine. 

 

I also remember that our tour guide was a vivacious woman in a fur coat (at least while we were in the cellars), who’s friendly enthusiasm and knowledge of the winery helped make for a lovely tour.

Wines to look out for: Muga makes delicious wines are every price point, and they even make a Cava that is very nice. Prado Enea is their Gran Reserva, and Torre Muga is their flagship wine and it’s deep, dark, and delicious, but elegant as well.

Pairings:


CVNE

CVNE stands for  Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company). Along the way, the acronym became CUNE (coo-nay), which is much easier to say, and it now appears printed that way on most of their labels. It was founded in 1879 by two brothers, Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa, and is now controlled by the fifth generation of the family.

The cellars at CVNE are gorgeous. Aleixandre Gustave Eiffel (as in the Eiffel Tower) designed one of them, which was renovated in 2007. The Real de Asúa winery was built in 2005 as an independent winery within the walls of the original CVNE winery site and is also beautiful. The winery has also hosted art exhibitions on the property.

The underground cellars and wine crypt are fascinating. Many decades of library vintages are housed here, and the bottles are covered in thick layers of mold. (More on that in a bit.) I felt like I was stepping into Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” while walking around these cellars.



My favorite part of the visit though was definitely getting to taste and have lunch with CVNE’s head winemaker Maria Larrea, and Jesús de Madrazo, who was then winemaker at CVNE’s Contino estate. Having just met them for the first time, of course, the lunch started out reserved, but by the end, we were all laughing and having a good time, so much so that our visit ran over and we were late for our next appointment. (They were nice enough to call over and let them on our behalf.)

Wines to look out for: They have several lines of wines – CVNE with Imperial as its top tier, Viña Real, and Contino. Each line has its own winery, winemaker, and philosophy behind the wine. Imperial and Viña Real are the flagship wines and both are beautiful.

The CVNE and Imperial wines use grapes from the Rioja Alta subregion and come in a Bordeaux bottle. Viña Real’s grapes come from Rioja Alavesa and come in a Burgundy bottle. The bottles also indicate  where the wines are taking their style cues from, at least in spirit.

Contino is a bit different in that it’s a single estate line from its own vineyards in Rioja Alavesa. I remember particularly liking the Graciano and Viña del Olivo wines from this line.



Pairings:


R. López de Heredia

Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta founded the winery in 1877, and it remains family-owned and operated. The wines, which are made from all estate fruit, are definitely the most traditional in style of the three wineries we visited, using aging times for their wines that are much longer than required by law. The wines, therefore, are not fruit-driven but taste more tertiary flavors like leather and tobacco.

The 19th-century winery is iconic and the more modern tasting room was designed Zaha Hadid, an avant-garde Iraqi architect. “The Cask of Amontillado” feeling only grew while walking around the cellars and “wine cemetery” at López de Heredia. They were possibly even more fond of their mold here, explaining that they felt it was very much a part of their ecosystem and that apparently they help to maintain the proper humidity levels in the cellars. 

 


Another interesting feature of the caves here is that there are tracks with cars to help move things around the winery. The winery also has its own cooperage as well.


Wines to look out for: Wine geeks LOVE the Lopez de Heredia wines, but they’re definitely an acquired taste. (Bring a bottle to a wine geek event and watch us all go "YAY!") The white wines, in particular, are really something quite unique as they're made in an oxidative style and it’s uncommon to find other white wines that have been aged in advance of selling to the degree these are. They're kind of the standard bearers of the style. The wines are also not that expensive given all the time and attention given to them.

The winery’s Grand Reservas appear under the Tondonia and Bosconia labels, each named for a vineyard. However, I particularly think the white Viña Gravonia Crianza is a great value (usually in the $30s) and a good intro into these very distinctive wines. As a general rule, I recommend decanting all of the Lopez de Herdia wines (of all colors) or at least giving them time to breath in the glass, as they can smell a bit musty at first, and I really think they tend to need a lot of air to show well.




Pairings: I don’t have any links to share with this one, but the whites are great with aged cheeses, risotto, and dishes with complex flavors like paella.


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Check out these other posts related to Rioja with more pairing ideas:

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The rest of the World Wine Travel group (#WorldWineTravel) will be exploring Rioja this month, hosted by Jeff of Food Wine Click! Be sure to check out their posts:


Additional sources used and related reading:
WineSearcher.com
The Oxford Companion to Wine on JancisRobinson.com
The Wine Region of Rioja - This is a really useful book with lots of information on the region, the wineries, and it also includes lots of delicious recipes for pairing suggestions.

This post contains affiliate links, including these Amazon Associate links, from which I might receive a commission at no cost to you.

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18 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your trip with us, even the bad parts...glad that you see humor in it now and hope that you get to go back again one day during season.

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    1. Thanks Wendy -- and like I said, it's amazing what good food and wine will do to turn my mood around!

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  2. What an AMAZING opportunity...despite all the misadventures. Thanks for sharing this with the group. Lots of wines to track down and dishes to make. Very inspiring, Nicole.

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    1. SUCH an amazing opportunity, and the misadventures now make for good stories. Thanks Camilla!

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  3. Very informative and descriptive post! I love all the photos! Seems Gravonia is getting lots of press!

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    1. Thanks Marcia! And I know you agree that the attention is well-deserved. :-)

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  4. Wow, what an amazing trip! Even if you lost your individual tasting notes it sounds like you still have a vivid memory of the experiences.

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  5. What a magical trip! Well at least this day in Haro. I can imagine how exciting it was to see the cooperages and the fining technique in action!
    I'm fascinated with the "Wine cemetary" idea in Spain. A Cellar of libraried wines, being called a "cemetary", brings to mind the cultural differences in this word, perhaps not thinking of the dead as "dead", but having moved to another phase? Do you know any details on this naming?

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    1. It really was exciting to me, having only read about the techniques etc until that point. As far as the naming, no not really. I have to admit that I don't think it occurred to me to ask since it was so inline with what it looked like.

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  6. Loved hearing about your adventure Nicole. We visited the same wineries in Haro. How about the mold at Lopez de Heredia?!? I tried to buy a solo bottle of their rosado but they'd only sell it in packs of three wines. I'll bet you wished you had more time there, one day is quick!

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    1. So fun that you visited the same ones! And yes, one day was very quick!

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  7. What fun to tag along on your trips to these hallmark wineries! And I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion to decant the white wines from LDH; the two I tried were significantly more enjoyable after being open for a day. I hope you get to revisit the south of Spain, too; it really is a wonderful place.

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    1. Thanks Lauren. And I also hope to revisit the S. of Spain. It really was gorgeous, we just go unlucky with weather and eating!

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  8. Misadventures can make for good storytelling - long afterwards, of course. As they say, it was a learning experience, right? Enjoyed traveling along vicariously as you recounted your day in Haro. Great details!

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  9. You're right! So ironic we were both in Spain in 2013! And I'd have to agree with characterizing your itinerary as aggressive. We also did quite a bit of Spain North, Central and Souther)but we were there for three weeks (we were there in September so the weather was good other than a bit of rain here and there. It looks like you visited some great Bodegas! Cheers Nicole!

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    1. We've learned since then and have tried to tamp down our aggressive itineraries. I'm sure it was beautiful while you were there -- everywhere we went in the eastern and southern parts of the country people kept telling us how beautiful the weather had been in previous months. Haha

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!