I couldn’t have asked for a better location to write the last Wine Ways: on a sun-bathed veranda, caressed by a soft spring breeze, overlooking the broad, bustling Ramlas, Barcelona’s magnificent promenade.
From here I set out a few weeks ago to visit the world-renowned Bodegas Bilbainas, the oldest registered winery still operating in Spain. It’s been running continuously since it was established in 1852 in Rioja, near the fabled wine town of Haro. (Holiday note: With Golden Week coming up fast, include both Bilbainas and Haro in your “most wanted” destinations.)
More than 1,000 years after its founding, Haro, one of the first cities in Spain to have electricity, remains unhurried and unharassed. And the wines of Bodegas Bilbainas — imported to Japan by Mercian — remain outstanding. Among them is a richly satisfying Gran Reserva, aged two years in cask and at least three years in bottle before being released. Bilbainas also produces Reserva and Criandza, requiring less time in cask and bottle but still excellent.
Principal among the grapes used in Rioja red wines is the tempranillo, typically straightforward when young (try it with pizza) and velvety smooth when mature. Rich in black cherry and other fruit flavors, it often conveys hints of tobacco, licorice and cedar. Not surprisingly, tempranillo has become a quite popular grape in Japan in recent years. Partnered with the tempranillo grape in red Rioja is mazuela, deep-colored and full of fruit, and sometimes graciano, refreshing on the nose. Bilbainas produces about twice as many reds as whites — the reds are particularly recommended.
Bodegas Bilbainas was bought out in 1901 by a group dedicated to using its own grapes grown on vineyards suited to their distinctive development. This is the best way to ensure not only quality but also the wine’s personality, as it is defined by the soil characteristics in the exact place where the fruit is grown.
Such wines are called “estate wines,” a term often seen on the labels of wine bottles. Some of Bilbainas’ very special estates, such as Vina Pomal, La Vicalanda and Vina Zaco, have wines named after them. Bodegas Bilbainas lies in Alta Rioja in the heart of Rioja Doc, at a point where the Atlantic and Mediterranean breezes converge and the heat is moderate. Good for the grapes and good for you. The Alta Rioja region, known as the “Merry Vineyard Route,” is the home of the original Rioja where the river Oja feeds the Ebro River. The Oja/Ebro area is scenic and noted for its variety of soils — lime, clay and alluvial.
Bodegas Bilbainas was acquired in 1997 by Grupo Codomiu, the distinguished maker of cava (sparkling wine). And now . . . thanks for joining me all these years in Wine Ways. I’ll miss you. Cheers! Bon appetit!