Monday, November 21, 2011

A golden wine in La Rioja

You know you´re in the sticks when you ask someone at the hotel desk where the nearest Internet cafe is, and she suggests going to the local library, which is on the second floor of the building containing the local tourist office and is only open in the afternoon, which in this case means from 5PM to 9PM. Such is life in Ezcaray, a small town in mountainous La Rioja that´s home to Echaurren, a hotel and restaurant run by the same family for five generations. I´m writing from one of the five computers in the library.

The wine list at Echaurren suggests the region´s isolation and its unaffected approach to wine. Most of the entries are local products that go for under €30, and there were several older reserve reds from CVNE, a respected producer in Haro, the center of the region´s wine trade, for €60. Virtually all of the whites are young with the notable exception of three from Lopez de Heredia, including the 1993 Vina Tondonia that I ordered to go with a salad of raw mushroom (in season now), arugala, and a few raw shrimp followed by hake with clams and a few mushrooms.

Lopez makes all of its wines to age, even its roses, which it generally releases about a decade after the grapes are harvested. The Tondonia blanco is a blend of 90% viura, also known as Macabeo, a grape grown primarily in La Rioja, the area near Barcelona where it´s used to make Cava, and Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, as well as 10% Malvasia. The producer aged the wine in oak for six years, and the result after more than a decade in the bottle is delicious. Lopez´s whites have a sherry-like nose and taste that can be quite strong in the younger wines, which are still ten years old, but in this bottle had mellowed and receded to blend with honey and even floral smells on the nose. The wine was perfect with the mushrooms and shrimp, whose sweetness accentuated that trait in the wine, and went very well with the hake, where the clams brought out the acidic backbone in the wine which the mild fish smoothed over. MFWC drank only half of the bottle at dinner on Saturday, and the restaurant graciously saved the rest for Sunday lunch, a soup of chickpeas, clams and hake in a fish broth. The wine lost a fraction of its subtlety, but the nose was still entrancing and the soup accentuated the wine´s sherry-like elements - again, though, in an understated way, not like, say, the 2000 Lopez de Heredia Gravonia blanco, which was majestic when I had it last year, or, to be less affected, the Harvey´s Bristol Cream that your grandparents drank before dinner and you could smell three rooms away.

I´m headed to Lopez´s Haro winery tomorrow and will post on that later this week, but I should give a final shout-out to the folks at Echaurren, who run a fine hotel and restaurant in a gorgeous region.

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