Literary Inspiration for A Traveller in Wines

"Here," cried Don Quixote, "here, brother Sancho Panza, we shall be able to dip our hands up to the elbows, in what is called adventure. . ." – Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

"People talk of the glorious dreams of opium-smokers, the frenzied exhilaration that hashish can give, but I, who have studied both, assure you that neither can for a moment compare with the delirious joy of fifty or sixty Spaniards applauding a dancer in the upper room of a café in Seville!" – From Paris to Cádiz, Alexandre Dumas pere

"Of one thing the reader may be assured, – that dear will be to him, as is now to us, the remembrance of those wild and weary rides through tawny Spain. . ." – Gatherings From Spain, Richard Ford.

"The traveller in wines, finding these topics a little beyond his comprehension, remarked loudly that Sénécal was forgetting a lot of scandals." – Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert, whose work was greatly influenced by Cervantes's Don Quixote.

Gerry Dawes at Marisquería Rafa in Madrid.
Photo by John Sconzo, Docsconz: Musings on Food & Life

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Roda & Contino - Rioja's Two-part Harmony

Agustín Santolaya, Managing Director of Roda & Jesús Madrazo, Winemaker, Contino pour each other's wines at Hector Oribe Restaurant in La Rioja.

Roda & Contino - Rioja's Two-part Harmony

Text & Photographs by Gerry Dawes, copyright 2006

For at least a decade or more, I have had a love-hate relationship with the wines of Rioja - a region responsible for some of my life's most memorable tasting experiences. I prized the best of the old guard wines (R. López de Heredia, CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Marqués de Riscal and others) - yet recognized the mediocrity of many - and grated against the brashness of a gush of new wave Riojas that left palate-scalding new oak and high alcohol in their wake. Not surprisingly, the passage of time has seen most of the stalwarts evolving toward a more modern style and many of the newcomers toning down their brash styles to a degree that moves them closer to the classic wines that made Rioja famous in the first place. Among the most captivating of these maverick makers, Viñedos del Contino has emerged as Spain's most important "château" and Bodegas Roda as one of its most significant and innovative wineries founded in the past 25 years. Both are now at or near the top of almost everyone's list of the greatest wines of the modern Spanish era, including mine. And because each has accrued substantial track records - Contino with more than 30 vintages, Roda with more than 15 - the time is ripe to reassess their evolutions.

Contino Estate, La Rioja Alavesa

Located in La Rioja Alavesa district, a few miles northwest of Logroño, La Rioja's provincial capital, Contino is a single-vineyard pago that produces a reserva and gran reserva, the unusual varietal Graciano and the stunning single-parcel wine, El Olivo. Roda, a state-of-the-art winery that also embraces some notable, time-honored influences, is located next door to R. López de Heredia's centenarian bodegas in the celebrated Barrio de la Estación in Haro. Roda makes the entry-level Roda (formerly Roda II), Roda I (the bodega's flagship 100 percent Tempranillo) and the super-luxury cuvée, Cirsion (named for the thistle blossom that is the winery's logo).

Agustín Santolaya pouring for the late night tasting at Roda.

The genesis for this article actually came about three springs ago at the Salón Internacional de Gourmets in Madrid when Agustín Santolaya, the tall, handsome, affable general manager of Roda, made me an offer I couldn't refuse: "Come up to the winery in La Rioja after the Salón closes and I will open every wine we have made since 1992 and prove to you how great Roda wines really are." Two years prior, I had questioned his approach to winemaking in print and he was eager to gently but firmly defend Roda's prominently proclaimed scientific approach to viticultural techniques and winemaking, and prove me wrong in the process.

See The Wine News for the full story:

Historic Tasting at Contino

Contino's now famous El Olivo vineyard.

Gerry Dawes©2008
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