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  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
  • Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past
1. Participating producers from Haro and Bordeaux 2. Tasting at Real de Asúa 3. Atmosphere in the Barrio de la Estación 4.Tasting at Roda 5. Glasses 6. Degorgement at Bodegas Bilbaínas 7. Exhibition of abstract art at Cvne Photos: A.C. and Y.O.A.


Haro and Bordeaux rekindle their shared past

Amaya Cervera and Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | March 23rd, 2022

The soul of Rioja is Bordelaise. Adopting the winemaking practices of the French region during the 19th century -notably destemming and ageing the wines in barrels for at least two years- led to the birth of Rioja as we know it today.

Adventurous pioneers included the priest Manuel Quintano, the Médoc Alavés project backed by the Provincial Government of Álava and followed by Marqués de Riscal, or the early wines of Luciano de Murrieta at the Duque de la Victoria bodega before launching his own venture with the purchase of the Ygay estate. The process speeded up as powdery mildew ravaged the French vineyards towards 1855 and particularly when the first phylloxera outbreaks appeared near Bordeaux in 1869.

In their search of a similar style of wine, many Bordeaux négociants set their eyes on Rioja. The railway line had been timely established and ensured swift shipments. In his book Un vaso de bon vino (A glass of good wine) Rioja expert Manuel Llano Gorostiza writes: "The Frenchmen arrived in large numbers and even allowed themselves the privilege of appointing agents in the most important villages. At first, they purchased wines with high alcohol content. Next, they bought land to produce wine using their own techniques. At first, they sought the wines of Alfaro, because of their high alcohol. But as the plague spread across France and their knowledge of Spain increased, they refined their demands, favouring the finesse of the wines made in Haro, Briones, Laguardia and Labastida".

Wine trade between the two regions flourished during the years that the French-Spanish trade agreement was in place (1882-1892). As a result, Spanish wines below 15.9% abv. exported to France saw a drop of 1.5 francs per hectolitre.

Haro meets the world

Located between Tudela and Bilbao, the Haro railway station was officially opened on 30 August 1863. Its location in the Cantarranas site (also known as Vicuana) was intended to be temporary while the definitive settlement on a higher area was under study, but the idea was discarded indefinitely given the high costs of the works and the technical difficulties to overcome a steep slope.

Away from the city centre, Cantarranas had suitable soils to dig underground cellars with good conditions for wine ageing. A long list of French négociants settled near the train station: Armand Heff, Phillipe Savignon, Alphonse Vigier, François Blondeau, Charles Boisot, Eugene Krüger, Louis Parlier, Jules Leenhardt... Some of the current wineries in the Barrio de la Estación were built on this legacy. Tondonia (1877), which is no longer part of the Barrio de la Estación Encounters, bought into the old Heff cellars, whereas Bilbaínas (1901) used the premises of the Savignon brothers. 

Cvne (1879) was established as a trading company by Eusebio Real de Asúa, who was born in Bilbao. As he suffered from respiratory problems, Real de Asúa settled in Haro to breathe purer air and was fascinated by the town's bustling wine trade. In addition to his brother Raimundo, Cvne’s main partners were Isidro Corcuera, who worked as an agent for French brokers, and Louis María José Perré, a négociant from Neully and a former classmate at the Lycée de Bordeaux.

La Rioja Alta was founded a little later, in 1890. The company's capital was entirely Spanish, but from the very beginning they relied on the expertise of French winemaker Albert Vigier. We know that a barrel of that first vintage, oak vessel included, was sold for 200 pesetas (€1.20).

Gómez Cruzado is somewhat different because the founder, Ángel Gómez de Arteche, was a man ahead of his time. A pharmacist and chemist by trade, he embarked on a number of ventures in different fields, created one of the first fertiliser factories and even wrote about wine-growing soils in local publications. One of his most celebrated wines at the end of the 19th century was Rioja Clarete, which was sold with a wire netting to prevent forgeries.

French terms like Claret or Médoc were common on the labels of many of those early riojas, and they weren't limited to red wines. The off-dry white Brillante that Bodegas Bilbaínas produced until the 2000 vintage was first labelled as Cepa Sauternes.

Subsequent occupants of the Barrio de la Estación, like Muga, which moved to this location in 1970, and Roda, whose facilities began to be built in 1991 on a hundred-year-old cellar overlooking the Ebro river, do not have such historical ties, but their wines certainly follow Bordeaux's winemaking methods. Several members of the Muga family have studied or spent time in France and Bordeaux has been a source of inspiration for them. The release of Torre Muga, their first modern red, is a good example, as the wine is the result of several experiences conducted in the 1980s to age highly concentrated grapes sourced from old vineyards in Rioja Alta in new French oak barrels.

Cvne is perhaps the company with the closest ties to Bordeaux in modern times thanks to Basilio Izquierdo, who was the house’s winemaker for almost three decades. Izquierdo studied in Bordeaux with famous classmates like wine professionals Michel Rolland and Serge Fourton. The current technical director, María Larrea, also did an internship in the French region and the winery has partnered with the University of Bordeaux in various studies.  

Highlights of the I International Wine Encounter

The windy and somewhat bleak day failed to dampen the expectations of the first gathering with international guests in Haro's Barrio de la Estación. The event, held at Bodegas Bilbaínas, featured the six wineries in Haro interspersed with eight Bordeaux producers. Several appellations from Bordeaux, both from the Médoc on the left bank (Péssac-Leognan, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe) and the right bank (St-Émilion, Pomerol, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux), were represented. Although some estates poured vintages that are no longer available, most of the brands can be found in Spain thanks to importers such as FAP Grand Cru, Primeras Marcas or Vila Viniteca.

Simultaneously, the local bodegas held tastings and events at their wineries in the Barrio de la Estación. Bilbaínas, with a centenary tradition in sparkling wine production, showed the disgorgement technique; Cvne presented a vertical tasting of its modern-style red Real de Asúa in their airy wooden vat cellar, where this brand is made together with Imperial; Gómez Cruzado offered a vertical tasting of its Montes Obarenes white wine, while La Rioja Alta had a horizontal tasting of the excellent 2001 vintage of its reds, including Viña Alberdi with shorter ageing. Muga showed how their estate-made barrels are traced and Roda charted its evolution with a selection of wines and practices that were never released but helped to shape the project forward and make future decisions. The youngest member of the Barrio de la Estación also presented a preview of the new Roda I white that will be released later in autumn.

Of all these events will be explained in more detail on our social media in the coming days. In this piece, we focus our attention on a selection of wines that we liked, or that we think deserve to be more widely known. Some of them are no longer for sale; others will be released in the coming months. We also write briefly about the Bordeaux producers in Haro and the diversity of styles in both regions.

Our Bordeaux selection

Our tasting impressions are arranged geographically, starting on the north of the Left Bank towards the south along the Médoc. This area, drained by the Dutch in the mid-17th century and running parallel to the Gironde estuary, is home to Bordeaux's most famous and lavish châteaux; in this humid region, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme.

The journey begins in Saint-Estèphe with Château Ormes de Pez 2016. It was a very good vintage in the region, resulting in balanced wines combining ripeness and acidity. In this lively, ready to drink red, Merlot (52%) dominates over Cabernet (42%). It is juicy and not overly complex, but certainly pleasant and won’t make a hole in your pockets (the 2017 vintage is sold in Spain for around €35). The château is in the hands of the Cazes family, who also own Château Lynch Bages, a fifth grand cru classé that is rated like a second and comes from Pauillac AOC, downstream from Saint-Estèphe to the south and famous for its structured, long-lived reds. With Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for 70% of the blend in the 2019 vintage, this red boasts a great deal of everything: fruit, tannin, persistence, ripeness, herbal undertones that add freshness and also higher alcohol (14.5% vol. compared to 13.5% vol. in Ormes de Pez). A Bordeaux wine to lay down that can be found in Spain for €180 a bottle.

Following the Gironde river downstream, the next AOC is Saint-Julien. From this area we tasted the second cru clasée Château Léoville-Barton. The winery brought the 2011 vintage, a somewhat difficult year that was saved thanks to the good September weather. The 2017 is now on sale in Spain for just under €100. With a greater presence of Cabernet Sauvignon (82%) and a 13% vol., the wine showed a very good evolution with spicy notes and herbal undertones. Rich in aromas on the palate, juicy and persistent.

Margaux was represented by Rauzan-Ségla, the second cru classé owned by Chanel since 1996 as a result of the growing interest in wine of the big luxury groups. We tasted a 2006, which was a very good vintage for Merlot (44% of the blend along with 53% Cabernet Sauvignon plus some Petit Verdot). With the extra complexity that comes from bottle ageing, it is a time-honoured red that is approachable now, with a core of red fruit and a subtle hint of spice. Current vintages are available for €95 to €100.

The last stop on the Left Bank was Smith-Haut-Lafitte, a grand cru classé from Graves, in the AOC Pessac-Léognan. This area, which bears the brunt of urban pressure from the city of Bordeaux, produces one of the most prestigious whites in the region and is renowned for its longevity. The 2019 on the table was very youthful, with depth and freshness amidst the opulence of a warm vintage that pushed the alcohol up to 14.5% vol. Only 20,000 bottles are made and the blend includes 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon and 5% Sauvignon Gris. This latter variety, according to winemaker Yann Laudeho, contributes to define the wine's intense and deep aromas.

Some 100,000 bottles are made of the estate's 2019 red. It was powerful, with plenty of substance and a big core of fruit on the palate, firm and with enough acidity to develop brilliantly in the bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon represents 59% of the blend with 36% Merlot and the remainder Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Both are wines intended for cellaring and sell in Spain for around €130.

Right bank, Merlot country

The Garonne River is the natural border between the Médoc and Graves, on the Left Bank, and Pomerol and St-Émilion, the two most prestigious wine-producing regions on the Right Bank. Both are dominated by Merlot, which is often supplemented by Cabernet Franc and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon, which sometimes struggles to ripen in this area further away from the ocean and with fresher soils.

With no classification system, Pomerol sits on a plateau with deep gravel and clay soils and generally offers perfumed wines that generally do not require decades to be at their best. This is the case of Château Beauregard, a winery owned by the Moulin and Cathiard families of Smith Haut Lafitte, whose 2016, grown organically, showed notes of black fruit and chocolate with polished tannins, good acidity and balance. Located almost opposite, Château Petit Village consists of a 10.5 ha estate with all of its vines in a single block. The Moulin family, to which it belongs, brought its 2017 vintage to Haro, which combines 71% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc and 9% old vine Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a vintage of contrasts, but the wine is juicy and structured, yet ready to drink. Both wines are priced at around €65-70.

From the Right Bank, the Neipperg family came to Haro to present Château d'Aiguilhe, their 90-hectare estate in the Castillon Côte de Bordeaux appellation, and Château Canon La Gaffelière, their first Grand Cru Classé located on the limestone hillside south of St-Émilion. The proportion of Cabernet Franc in the 2016 vintage is 40%, which brings fresh herbal and pencil lead notes to a blend that features 50% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon. A mineral and firm wine with a long finish in a vintage considered very good in Bordeaux for its balanced ripeness and acidity. This wine can be found in Spain for around €150.

Our Rioja selection

Bodegas Bilbaínas. This producer, which owns more vineyards in Haro than any other bodega in the Barrio de la Estación, continues to shape its range of wines. In May it will launch La Vicalanda Tempranillo Blanco, a white that is fermented in wooden vats and is left to develop in foudre. This wine replaces the previous Reserva wines in the experimental Viñedos Singulares range. Replacing the 2012 vintage, Viña Pomal Gran Reserva 2014 will be released around the same time for around €30. It is a blend of Tempranillo (90%) and Graciano (10%) that captures the classic soul of the house and delivers the slow ageing that can be expected from this category. Spicy nose with a background of brandied fruit and minty notes followed by a pleasant and balanced palate. Sheer enjoyment in this wine that is ready to drink.

Cvne. The vertical tasting of Real de Asúa showed the slow evolution of the estate's most modern style and how important -and difficult- it is to choose the right moment to open a bottle. For its part, the white Monopole, revived as Clásico with the old recipe of blending in a little manzanilla from Sanlúcar, is ready to uncork and enjoy liberally at any time (we tasted the 2018 vintage). Imperial Reserva 2017 is somewhere in between. It is the most affordable (€27.50) of the reds made in the charming and historically resonant oak vat room. A blend of Tempranillo with other intermixed varieties (about 15%) in over 40-year-old vineyards in Rioja Alta (the cooler area around Villalba to Briones and Torremontalbo). The vineyards are aged separately and the most exceptional ones in the finest vintages are reserved for Imperial Gran Reserva. The Reserva 2017 looks very promising: it is serious, with a dark and mineral background, good structure on the palate, persistence and it avoids the warmth of this vintage. We also squeezed in a visit to Cvne to see an exhibition of Pablo Palazuelo, one of Spain's leading abstract artists, featuring about 20 paintings and a dozen sculptures.

Gómez Cruzado. The smallest winery in the Barrio is about to conclude the reorganisation of its range of wines. The house has recovered historical brands that are very much in tune with the house’s vintage labels, which conceal contemporary and interesting wines. We liked the change in Cerro Las Cuevas. The single vineyard wine has gained freshness since the 2017 vintage, when the grapes from Leza were replaced by their own fruit, sourced from a vineyard in Ollauri. We particularly liked Honorable 2017, the winery's flagship brand, which has gained exposure over the years and is perhaps not as well known to the public as Pancrudo, the crisp Garnacha from Badarán, or Montes Obarenes, the white Viura and Tempranillo Blanco blend. Honorable captures the expression of the hillsides of the Sierra de Cantabria and comes from a selection of traditional vineyards in cooler sites in Lanciego, San Vicente, Samaniego and Labastida. The blend is mostly Tempranillo, but it includes other varieties found naturally in these vineyards. Fresh, savoury, sapid and long, this red wine reveals a clever selection of fruit during the difficult and frost-hit 2017 vintage. The wine is priced at around €27.

La Rioja Alta. For this first International Encounter, La Rioja Alta chose to present to an audience of professionals a selection of bottles from the 2001 vintage, which its technical director, Julio Sáenz, defined as "legendary, with small, very healthy bunches and wines with concentrated aromas and colour". The tasting began with a mature but still fairly intact Viña Alberdi, followed by a bottle of the more classic Viña Arana which showed iodine notes in a vintage blended with Mazuelo instead of the current Graciano. The 2001 Viña Ardanza had the privilege of being only the third vintage to be labelled as Reserva Especial (after 64 and 73) but the overall winner of the day, rather than the Gran Reserva 890, to which the best grapes of the house are dedicated and which rests six years in oak barrels, was undoubtedly the subtle, delicate and persistent Gran Reserva 904. Made from 90% Tempranillo from Briñas, Villalba and Labastida and 10% Graciano from Briones and Rodezno, it was released in December 2012. As Sáenz said, this wine "knows how to grow older without getting old" and sets very high expectations for the current 904 2011, also very elegant, but perhaps a little warmer given the evolution of the climate. This recent vintage was available for tasting alongside other wines from La Rioja Alta in the lively show where producers from Haro and Bordeaux exhibited their wines. With the same varieties, four years in barrel and eight rackings, Gran Reserva 904 2011 is on sale for around €47.

Muga. There were several novelties on the Muga table, such as the very fresh 2018 Selección Especial, which will be released in June and has the nerve and tension that define this vintage, and a preview of the Torre Muga 2019, which is still powerful and tight. The velvety and spicy Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2015 (on sale now, around €55) stood in contrast to Aro 2019, due for release in October-November this year.It is significant that the house's most expensive and limited red is made, like the Gran Reserva, from grapes grown in the coolest family vineyards under the influence of the Obarenes Mountains. But while Prado Enea is a classic blend with all the traditional red varieties and shows the finesse of prolonged ageing, Aro is a blast of fruit and energy, in now small part due to the 30% Graciano, which adds tension and fresh herbal notes to this Tempranillo blend. Every wine lover should try Aro at some point, ideally with a little more time in bottle.

Roda. The youngest producer in the Barrio de la Estación announced the launch of its first white wine. Called Roda I, it is due to be released in the autumn at the same price as its red equivalent. It is made from the white grapes on the highest parts of the estate's oldest vines in Haro, mostly Viura with some Malvasía Riojana and Garnacha Blanca, which were previously sold to other wineries. This is a white with volume on the palate and meant to be aged -judging by what we tasted, it needs some time in the bottle to integrate all its elements. Among the wines currently on release, we particularly liked Roda I 2017, another excellent example of what can be accomplished in a difficult year through careful work and selection in the vineyard. All the second bud break clusters were discarded, and this abnormally early vintage delivers finesse and moderation. It is probably the most fragrant and balsamic Roda I that we remember, with almost exuberant menthol and herbal intensity, with a mouth-filling palate, spherical rather than firm, fragrant rather than tannic. Ready to drink, enjoy and be seduced by its silky texture.


Haro’s Barrio de la Estación opens up to the world
Classic bodegas in Rioja reflect upon tradition and innovation
Haro’s traditional producers champion blended wines
Old and new Rioja around Haro’s railway station
Spanish producers seek international exposure at La Place de Bordeaux
De La Riva, Algueira and Matallana, new releases at La Place de Bordeaux
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