Spain Trip Log (Part 8), Day 4 (Part 2): Rioja Alavesa
Leaving Bodegas Muga after lunch, we return to Hotel Villa de Laguardia for a few hours of downtime. By now my middle-aged bones are beginning to feel a little road weary. I use the free time to visit the aptly named Wine Oil Spa at the hotel which features several healthful treatments incorporating, you guessed it, wine and olive oil! Time is of the essence however, so I settle for a first-rate shiatsu massage instead. But if I ever find myself back here again with the requisite time on my hands….
Refreshed and invigorated, our troupe sets back out in the late afternoon to the village of Samaniego and an intimate visit with yet another inventive Riojan winemaker (no complaints here, mind you). However, merely referring to Fernando Remirez de Ganuza of Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza as simply “inventive” is probably short of the mark. The terms “perfectionist” and “visionary” are perhaps more suitable.
Samaniego may be the most charming of towns in a region filled with them. This little hamlet in Rioja Alavesa is tucked neatly at the base of the Sierra Cantabrias. Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza is so close, you almost feel that you could reach out with a hand and touch the giant stone outcroppings. A stroll through the vineyards nearest to the winery with Fernando and his export manager Luis Martinez reveals the first hint of innovation: the winery employs a practice known as cepillado de las cepas in which the trunks of the vines are brushed, removing the dried strips of bark. This is done to promote vine health by naturally reducing pests and vine diseases.
The innovative process continues inside the winery too. For example, start with selecting what part of each grape cluster makes it into the finished wine (Fernando only uses the “shoulders” of each bunch). Then implement an unconventional crush process (utilizing a large water-filled plastic bag to gently press the grapes). Follow that up with adding white grape skins (skins only!) to his red wine to increase color and complexity. At Remirez de Ganuza, attention to every detail is extensively paid in the pursuit of making great wine.
Inventiveness aside, the source for Remirez de Ganuza’s wines is roughly 30 hectares of old-vine, estate fruit from five single vineyards in Rioja Alavesa (El Sotillo, San Miguel, Lagillos, Ermita y Cofrades, La Coqueta) with diverse exposures and soils (calcareous clay-limestone, chalk, gravel). Tasting through their small portfolio reveals terrior driven wines with plenty of soul.
Throughout my two-week trek across Spain, I would ultimately taste several wines as compelling as Fernando’s, but none better.
Jim Greeley, Wine Supervisor, SW Florida
BTW: ABCFWS currently has a very limited allocation of the stellar 2001 Remirez de Ganuza Rioja Reserva ($75.99). It is rated 97 points in the Wine Advocate.