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Day 11 – May 12th
Since today was a rest day, we woke up late and relaxed a little. It was Mother’s Day so I called home and spoke to Mom for a bit. Afterwards, a few of decided to walk to the nearby town of Alesanco for lunch. It was such a gorgeous day, even a bit hot which surprised all of us. We snapped photos and bonded, it was very nice. We ended up having an amazing lunch at DO, a hotel where Astinn works. They treated us very well and we came back to the Palacio with full bellies. A great way to spend Sunday and get ready for the busy week we have ahead of us.
Day 12 – May 13th
After breakfast we headed to La Rioja Alta, a massive compound with neat and perfect landscaping and one of the most gorgeous shops I have ever seen. It reminded me of a library, only with wine! We had our tour of the cellars and the old
wooden casks. We also were able go above the tanks (which we had not been able to do before) and see the upper view of the tanks. We got to see old bottles that were made especially for club members in the past. I saw a bottle dated back to 1890! We entered the oldest cellars and got to see the infamous Gran Reserva 904’s, which was very impressive. We also were able to see a racking in progress, a man was placing sulphur into the wooden barrels. As fascinated as we were to watch, a lot of could not handle the smell and started to cough right away. Finally, we were able to taste these great wines! We were taken to a beautiful tasting room. We tasted a Vina Alberdi Crianza 2006, which I found drinkable and fruity, but I thought that the aromatic and expressive nose set up high expectations for the taste, which didn’t deliver as well. Vina Ardanza Reserva 2004 was next and I really enjoyed this one. I loved the earthy nose with hints of stewed red fruit and dominant fruit on the mouth. Then we tasted the much anticipated Gran Reserva 904 2001. I liked its rusty orange color and oaky nose with notes of fresh herbs and fresh red fruit. The taste was interesting, almost salty in the front of the mouth with good solid structure and complexity. While I found it complex, I still found it drinkable and I liked that contrast. Next we tried the Gran Reserva 890 1998. I smelled eucalyptus and red cooked fruit; on the mouth I tasted soft tannin with a full body and slight acidity. I gave this wine 100 points! I really enjoyed this tasting and I loved touring the beautiful grounds.
Next we headed across the street to Vina Tondonia, a picturesque compound that reminded me a tiny town in the Swiss
Alps. It was very pretty, with red painted shutters and beams. I was enjoying the old world feel until I came across something that I had been waiting to see, but definitely had not expected to see there in that quaint town; the decanter! I had read about this structure, a modern designed little lounge bar that was shaped and built to look like a wine decanter. It was pure steel, glass and metal and I loved it! The contrast between this structure and the old world style of Vina Tondonia was my favorite part of this place. We began our tour and our guide explained that the winery still used the age-old techniques the winery had first used. The old wooden casks were made of Yugoslavian oak, another first for me. We got to see the old cooperage, a treat since most wineries imported their barrels form larger companies. We were even able to see a cooper at work! We were then walked through a very old underground cellar, covered in spider webs. It even had a track for mine carts! We were then escorted to the aging cellar, with the oldest bottles (not as old as Marques de Riscal, but just a few years shy!). The big difference was that things seems to have been cleaned at Riscal and at Tondonia, the mold was growing over the bottles, almost covering them completely! I have never seen cobwebs so thick and black, they almost looked like fabric. We walked through and could feel the humidity and mold, which I loved. You can sense the history, almost imagine the bottled being placed there, new and clean and then the years passing by like a time lapse, mold growing over them. I thought that our tour was almost over when I heard the gasps from the students ahead of me. As I walked into an open space, I was halted by what I saw. An ancient room, with an ancient wooden table and old, dirty bottles of wine sat in the middle of the room, in the middle of the cobwebs and the spiders. And in the middle of the wooden table sat an ancient vine, long dead and reaching up towards the ceiling in a very creepy, silent way. I’m not sure what it was, but when I saw the other vines I could feel their life, with this one, it was like a mummy. An artifact. Then I began to imagine the historical tastings that took place in this room, people gathering around the table with the years vintages, blends, wines and tasting, critiquing and giving suggestions. I think that it was at that moment that I fully appreciated what it was we were doing on this trip. We were seeing the sources of our studies, for me, the source of my passion and we were experiencing the histories of the world’s oldest beverage. I was floored and came out of Vina Tondonia much more appreciative than I was before I walked into that ancient room.
We tasted two wines at Vina Tondonia; a Vina Gravonia, 100% Viura from 2003. What impressed me the most about this wine was that it drank like a red. It was full bodied with a full mouth feel. It was complex and unique and although it was not one of my favorites, I still enjoyed tasting it. Second, we tasted a Reserva 2001 blend, with medium tannin, complexity and good fruit. What I discovered from tasting these wines is that they did not stand up to the other wineries wines. I thought about it for a while and realized that since Tondonia is still using their old original techniques for wine making, it would be expected that their wines would taste somewhat like the original wines, which have not evolved the way other wineries have, with new techniques and equipment. I was happy that although the wines were not the best, they remained true to their original style.
We stopped for an hour in a center plaza and I tried a “Pica,” or a beer with lemonade. I enjoyed it a lot and then did a little bit of shopping with Noelle and Ozzie.
Back at the palace, Chip had a very special wine tasting. First we tried a Vina Grajera 1981 that was given to him as a gift from the government facility. It was very fruit forward with softened tannin and an interesting complexity, which built up as it opened. We tasted a Coto de Imaz 1982 that had little to no tannin and a soft structure with little acidity. It tasted like raspberries, vanilla and dark chocolate. Vina Grajera 1994 was next and had a silky mouth feel, soft tannin with notes of stewed red fruit that went away on the finish. It had some spice and a long tannic finish. I gave this wine a 100! Lastly, we tasted students Merlot from the university with a nose of pine and cedar and red currant. I tasted some mint and a little vegetal.
It was great to taste all these wines with Chip; it was really special for me.
Journal written by Nicole Lindares vindepresse.com
Nicole Linares is a student at the Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality, USA, an active member of her schools Wine Academy and budding wine writer