Ah, Rioja! All those years spent at the International Wine Center studying the differences between the soil of the Rioja Alavesa above the Elbo river, and the Rioja Baja and Rioja Alta finally paid off.
This was a scholarly trip with a group of very well-educated educators, with a focus on the wines and wineries of Groupo Faustino. We began with their winery in Navarra, which is just about a half hour from our hotel in Logrono. Our leader was the very affable and fun Javier pictured above with an equally fun member of our group.
The wineries include Campillo and Marques de Vitoria also in Rioja; the above-mentioned Valcarlos in Navarra; Condesa de Leganza in La Mancha; Bodegas Portia in Ribera del Duero; and Bodegas Victorianas, which offers varietal table wine from across Spain.
The winery was founded 150 years ago, and by the 1930s, the Faustinos made a name for themselves by being the first winery in Rioja to bottle wine. In those days, wine was basically carted by cask to a restaurant or people filled up bottles from the winery to take to their homes. Visitors from around the world wanted to bring Faustino wine home with them, so the Faustinos started to bottle it.
The Valcarlos winery is sleek and modern and after an extensive tour of the vineyard and the modern winery we had a tasting of the line, followed by dinner.
The following day we had a two-hour drive to the Faustino winery in Portia — very sleek and modern. The wines were delicious as well!
That evening, we enjoyed a “Tapas Run” at Calle Laurel de Logrono, the traditional spot to “tapas hop.” Each tapas bar has its specialty, such as shrimp or ham or mushrooms, and we enjoyed different wines at different bars. The evening was very hot … can’t imagine what it would be like in summer if it was like this in May.
On the last day of this three-day trip we visited the Faustino Winery and museum, and were lucky enough to have lunch in the very room where the family has its lunches today. They grilled baby lamb for us on old vines, and tasted some fabulous vintage wine.
Here is my write up of the event:
“The president of Spain chose Faustino wines out of a blind tasting for both his daughters’ weddings,” said Javiar, our affable guide to the Faustino winery and museum.
Our gorgeous sunny Rioja day started off in the vineyard where we examined the graciano grapes in the soft chalk soils and the explored the winery with its giant stainless steel tanks and oak barrel rooms where we learned the barrels are cleaned every four months to erase the film that develops during this time on the barrel’s interior surface and blocks the oxygen exchange.
While the barrels are being cleaned the wine goes into stainless steel so the winemaker can analyze it and see what sort of oak (younger or older barrels) is needed when it goes back to barrel.
The museum has pictures of the founders, replications of the portraits you can find on the Faustino labels, and ancient winemaking tools.
The tasting featured some fabulous vintage wines, the star being the Faustino 1 Gran Reserva 1981 with its faded brick color and aromas of strawberry and leather and Faustino 1 Gran Reserva 1999 which is surprising youthful and the currant vintage in the UK market today.
Talk around the tasting table centered on the differences between the traditional ’81 Gran Reserva and the powerful ‘modern’ Robert Parker style Autor 2004 with a bold cherry nose and rather tannic structure. Though they both spent many months in oak they represent two dramatically different styles.
Highlights during lunch in the exclusive private dining room included Gran Reserva 2000 still young after 12 years with a concentrated purple color and bold tannins.