Rioja, day 1

First day in Rioja. Three very different wineries visited. First, Finca Allende: modern, terroir driven, with lovely wines, including the brilliant Calvario, a single-vineyard offering. Good white, too. Aurus, their top wine, a little too rich and oak-influenced for me.

Second, La Rioja Alta. One of the traditional Haro wineries, making older-styled wines. But these are excellent older-styled wines, with some elegance. Lovely Arano 2001, sturdy but delicious Ardanza 2001. Gran Reservas – 1997 904 and 1995 890 – both brilliantly aromatic.

Finally, Valdemar, whose star turn is working with the ‘alternative’ Rioja varities. Conde de Valdemar Garnacha is brilliantly fresh and focused with nice pure fruit. Well priced at £10. Inspiracion Graciano is a superb interpretation of this variety that’s dense, focused and structured with fresh, spicy fruit tempered by nice acidity. Graciano rocks! White Tempranillo is really interesting – a new variety just approved, which makes very rich, fruit-laden whites. The oddity here is the Maturana, a new old variety rediscovered. Their Inspiracion Coleccion Varietales is 100% Maturana, and it tastes like a really good Carmenere.

The pictures. Top, inside a basket press. Below this is the view of the vineyards over the roof of the Allende winery in Briones. Then some harvesting of high-end grapes at Allende – this is probably going to be Aureus. Directly above and bottom, racking the barrels at La Rioja Alta. There are 43 000 of them – and they are racked by gravity into a clean barrel. Below: grapes at Allende. Looking good.

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