Believe it or not, Karen and I had never been on a tour of a vineyard and winery together. We have visited a few vineyards together, but they were not a "proper" tour. I knew we couldn't leave Spain without touring a good wine region. It was my first time to go as a paying customer and hers as a pretty good taster.
We could have gone to Ribereo de Duoro, or a local Madrid winery but we went to Don Quixote land: La Mancha! La Mancha is one of the largest wine regions in the world and a two hour trip south of Madrid.
We were smart enough to book a good wine tour with a company that offered much more than the usual tours. You know the kind - they stop for 15 minutes in 20 different places so you can "see it all"! We scheduled our tour with winetourismspain.com. (Click on link) _ Our personal wine guide was Raul, who made the day a pleasure from the time he picked us up until he dropped us off 12 hours later! If you are ever near Madrid, we highly recommend them! And ask for Raul!
In the morning we stopped at Finca Antigua (Click on link) which is one of the operations of the Familia Martinez Bujanda Group, established in 1889. This company has two other operations throughout Spain: Finca Valpierdra and Finca Montepedroso. All of the company's wines are available for tasting and purchasing at this one location. 75 percent of their production is exported. With the quality of their wines, the value pricing and the drop in the exchange rates I can see why they are exporting so much of their production.
This is not a "mom and pop" winery. They produce well over one million bottles of wine per year.
Visits to vineyards take the same format wherever you go in the world:
- A look at the vineyards
- The receiving platform for the grapes at harvest time
- A de-stalking machine
- Grape crushing styles
- Fermentation vats, barrels and holding tanks
- And lots of hoses and equipment.
- Once you have seen that, you can taste wines. Three in most cases. Just by chance the tasting room is also a store, for your eyes to be bigger than your consumption levels.
I usually look for something different in a wine and I found it at this winery. There are five grapes known as the Bordeaux Blend. One of them, Petit Verdot, was available for tasting. 100% Petit Verdot-no blend. This is uncommon, as it is difficult to get this grape to taste good on its own. Petit Verdot is a blending grape. The one we tasted had a really subtle bouquet and a big leathery taste. It needed food, and was crying out for the country's top cheese, Manchego, which is made from sheep's milk.
Mont-Reaga (Click on link) was the afternoon winery and my focus was on the Spanish labelling system.
- Crianza on a label, confirms a limited time in a cask, usually made using a combination of American and French oak barrels.
- Reserva on a lable usually means a minimum of eighteen months in barrel.
- Gran Reserva - 24 to 36 months in barrel.
The star wine of the day was a deep red wine. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grape, matured in barrels for two years and further bottle aging at the winery for another four to six years.
This practice takes place in several wineries around the world, and means the consumer can drink the wine with proper aging. Mature wines taste much better than those drunk too young.
The Gran Reserva wine we were offered was Las Liras. It is 14.5% alcohol and tastes like a deep rich velvet nectar! Unfortunately, you cannot buy their wines in the USA. They will ship to you, but it is quite expensive. We brought a bottle home with us that we intend to enjoy for Christmas dinner!
Sidebar: Las Liras translates to "the lyres" which is a musical instrument. The winery has a lyre on display that was once owned by Napoleon.
I have an easy system for wine: my expectations are that quality and value be fairly equal - wherever you are drinking it.
When eating and drinking in restaurants in Madrid, our checks were about 30% less than at home. We purchased wine by the glass or bottle, for usually one-third of the price of Naples restaurants, bars and wine stores.
I would encourage you to try some Spanish wines. Karen's favorite is a Monastrell made by Juan Gil. We had a bottle of 2007 in Naples a few years ago and it was wonderful. It is almost impossible to find the '07 now. You might try finding the oldest vintage you can. We had a bottle of 2011 at a restaurant in Madrid and it was super. Not as good as the '07, but very nice. Look for it in Whole Foods stores.
We had a wonderful time at the wineries and a great time in Madrid. We we were sad to leave, but also glad to be home. What we won't be happy to see, however, is the price of wine on our next restaurant check!
Adiós y viajes de vino felices!